The geography of voter turnout in the 2010 Iraqi parliamentary elections

Earlier this month, Iraqi voters went to the polls to elect the 325 members of the Council of Representatives, who will elect the Prime Minister and the President of the country. As US troops prepare to withdraw, this electoral contest was seen by many political commentators as a test of Iraq’s security forces and its young democracy. After years of violence, unemployment and poor services, disillusionment is high and Iraqis will hope that the outcome of this election will bring better governance and stability to the country. Voters in the ethnically and religiously divided country were given a choice between Shia Islamist parties that have dominated Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s fall and secular rivals. More than 18 million of Iraq’s 27 million citizens were eligible to vote for 6,200 candidates from more than eighty political entities.

Thousands of Iraqis living abroad, the majority of whom fled following the 2003 US invasion, were also given a vote. In total, voting was held in sixteen countries.  A large proportion of those — particularly in Jordan and Syria — are Sunni Arabs who fled the wave of sectarian killings at the height of the Iraq war. That has made their votes a major focus of attention for Sunni leaders in Iraq, who are hoping a solid turnout among their community will counterbalance a strong vote among the Shiite majority for their own religious parties.

Interestingly, 25% of the incoming parliament has to be female as a matter of constitutional law (gendered electoral regulations such as this are becoming common within a number of emerging democratic states).  A large number of women’s rights activists were selected to run and the campaign saw all the major political parties feature these prominent women on their billboards across the country. As well as fulfilling constitutional requirements, this could also have acted to mobilise the masses of women that may not have otherwise turned out to vote for male candidates.

According to the country’s electoral commission, voter turnout nationally reached 62.4%. This figure exceeded predictions and Iraqis defied the threat of violence to cast their ballots, with nearly two out of three eligible voters turning out. At least 38 people were killed by militants on voting day. The geography of turnout that emerged was particularly diverse and interesting. The highest figure of 80% was recorded in the Dahok province, while the lowest figure was 50% and transpired in the southern province of Mesaan. The Irbil province witnessed a turnout rate of 76%, while the Salmaniya and Kirkuk provinces witnessed 73%. Turnout in Basra city stood at 57%. Turnout in the capital city Baghdad was relatively disappointing, seeing a turnout figure of just 53%, which was significantly below the national average. Many people may have been deterred from voting due to the five-hour bombardment attacks that occurred in the city that morning. In comparison, the predominantly Sunni Arab province of Salahuddin saw a turnout rating of nearly 75%. Sunni Arabs, a minority that prospered under the late President Saddam Hussein, had mobilized voters in hopes of gaining a larger voice in the government.

As I write, with 90% of the votes tallied, the coalition headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken a slim lead over the bloc led by his main challenger, Iyad Allawi. The official results should be released over the next few days.

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