A lack of overseas polling stations in France is preventing roughly 7,000 Iraqi expats from participating in Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary elections. Some are ready to go to the Netherlands to have their vote counted.
Iraqis are preparing to elect their parliament for only the second time since the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Outside the country’s borders, the Iraqi diaspora is also looking forward to the March 5 election, which is seen as a key test of their homeland's fledgling democracy.
But Iraqis living in France will not be able to vote locally, even if Paris gave its approval for overseas polling stations. Iraqi officials say financial concerns have blocked the possibility of voting from France.
In the 1970s and 80s, some 7,000 Iraqis arrived to further their academic studies or to flee the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. Today they are mainly based near the cities of Paris, Lyon and Montpellier.
Iraq’s high commissioner for elections says certain countries had to be excluded because of financial and administrative limitations. But others say the decision to exclude Iraqi voices coming from France is politically motivated.
"The costs of elections abroad are very high,” says Iyad Al Kinani, who is in charge of organising overseas polling. Kinani explains that the organisation was forced to retain only 16 countries worldwide.
Excluding Iraqis in France
The Association of Iraqis in France, founded in 1985, says the official explanation is false. As in previous polls, the group has called on members to boycott the election. "The lack of polling stations in France is a violation of one of our most important civil rights," says its president Amir al Fourgi.
“[The Maliki administration] wants to exclude Iraqis living in France from this election because they know we do not share the same vision for the future of the country,” says Fourgi.
But the absence of polling stations in France has not deterred all Iraqi expats from casting their ballot. Some are preparing to vote from one of six other European countries, namely the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Austria, Sweden and Denmark.
A group of prominent Iraqi expats, drawing from across the political and religious spectrum, have organised a bus trip to Holland. The Iraqi embassy in France said it would not contribute in any way to the initiative.
Three buses will depart from the Gare de Lyon station for a 10-hour roundtrip. The 30-euro price tag is only symbolic, according to journalist Saad Messaoudi, one of the organisers.
“I am in constant contact with fellow Iraqis and I can assure you they are more enthusiastic for this election than on previous occasions,” says Messaoudi. “While they have integrated into French society, they still dream about returning home one day.”
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