Iraqi elections – After the media hype latest figures show turnout was very low

On the day of the elections the media led us to believe there had been a massive turnout, with pictures of Iraqis celebrating “democracy”. Now the real figures are out and the turnout was shown to be well below 50%, even 30%. As they lied about the reasons for the war, why not lie about the elections as well?

In his annual State of the Union address, President Bush boasted that the January 30 election for Iraq’s national assembly “opens a new phase” of US involvement in that country. He may well be right but not in the way he imagines. Of course, if you believe in Cinderella and in the Devil, as does the Christian fundamentalist George W. Bush, you can fall for this fairytale as well.

How many voted?

“Winston dialled ‘back numbers’ on the telescreen and called for the appropriate issues of The Times, which slid out of the pneumatic tube after only a few minutes’ delay. The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify. For example, it appeared from The Times of the seventeenth of March that Big Brother, in his speech of the previous day, had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but that a Eurasian offensive would shortly be launched in North Africa. As it happened, the Eurasian Higher Command had launched its offensive in South India and left North Africa alone. It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened.” (George Orwell, 1984)

In similar fashion to George Orwell’s 1984 Bush has been insisting that the elections have proved him right, while all Western governments and the capitalist media have declared that voter turnout has been high. They all did this, basing themselves on contradictory official figures and statements.

The BBC reported, “a high turnout in today’s election” (30 Jan). The French government hailed Iraq’s first free elections in half a century as a “great success for the international community” and called the surprisingly high voter turnout “good news”. “The initial figures included surprisingly high voter numbers around central Iraq where the rebels have carried out attack after attack.”

Reports from Baghdad Cited Election Commission officials who claimed hours before the elections were over that 95 per cent of Baghdadis had voted. Later they claimed – based on the same source – that the overall turned out was 72 percent. “Polling places across Iraq have just closed. And despite some terror attacks, an Iraqi election official says 72 percent of eligible voters have gone to the polls, but that has not been confirmed.” (Fox News)

The 72 percent turnout figure, which was on the lips of journalists and network TV talk shows, was based on an interview with the Minister of Planning in the interim government, on January 30th, at 11.45 GMT, more than two hours before the closing of the polls!

Soon after this the original 72 percent claim was revised downwards again to an estimated “only 60 percent “ Thus we have CNN reporting that “...this election appears, based on everything that we know right now, to have been a tremendous and even surprising success, particularly if the turnout to be as high as 60 percent, despite the participation or lack of it by the Sunnis... 8 million Iraqis went to the polls, about 60 percent of the electorate. That turnout, in some areas [was] as high as 95 percent. The mood in Baghdad tonight has been described as exuberant.” (CNN, 30 Jan, 6 PM EST)

However, a few hours later it appeared that the participation level had only reached “50 per cent.” (11.45 GMT, Al-Iraqiyah live satellite interview with Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafiz, from the Conference Centre in Baghdad, BBC Monitoring, 30 Jan 2005).

All these figures are based on “observations”, “feelings”, “word of mouth” “guessing”. Yet these are the figures quoted with authority by governments and news reports around the World:

“They all celebrated the great turnout, yet from 95 percent it became 72 percent, then 60 percent, then it went down to 50 percent. Now the word is that a 30 per cent overall turnout would be satisfactory (New Statesman, 31 January, 2005)

But why let the facts spoil a good story? Even if turnout is lower than 35 percent, “the election is expected to receive the international stamp of approval.” (Australian, 31 January, 2005). We could paraphrase the old saying and coin a new one, “there are lies, damned lies and there are the Iraqi elections turnout figures.”

Whatever the actual numbers will be, the result will be hailed as a great victory for... the will of the people of Iraq. It brings to mind not only Orwell but also Brecht, the East German playwright who sarcastically commented once of the government of East Germany, “If the people do not like the elected government it is time to replace the people.” It brings to mind the way the capitalist mass media reported the war during the invasion – lie upon lie.

Only the news that the people around the world should know

It is not that the reporters were in no position to know better. There were many indications that the real turnout was low. Yet why to tell the truth when Bush wants the world to know better, counting on the fact that when the real figures will be published the public will be busy with something else and remember only the great turnout? It is a classical method. Print the lie in big letters on the front pages, and when the truth comes out report on it in some tiny article tucked away on the inside... or better still don’t bother even reporting on it.

In five out of 18 governates, according to a Russian parliamentary observer, the elections were either cancelled due to the lack of security or were marked by a very low turnout. (Novosti, 30 January). This statement contradicts the figures presented by the IECI at the Press Conference, which indicate voter turnout of 50 percent or more in all the governates (including Sunni regions where there was a boycott, as confirmed by several press reports).

The boycott of the elections was not, however, limited to the Sunni areas as conveyed by the Western media. According to Muhammad Ayyash al-Kubaysi, of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), in an Al-Jazeera interview (31 January, 2005), the boycott was heeded in a number of “dominantly” Shiite areas. It is worth noting the position of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose supporters “have stopped short of calling for a boycott but insist they are not supporting the election.”

According to Xinhua (in a report issued 5 hours before the close of polling stations): “’the turnout was very low during the past few hours in Tikrit, Dujail, Balad and Tuz, much lower than expected,’ a source in the electoral body told Xinhua. ‘In addition, no voters showed up in Baiji, Samarra and Dour,’ said the source, who declined to be identified. The cities of Dujail and Balad have mixed population of Shiites and Sunnis, while Tuz has a mosaic of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. In Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, 75 percent of the voting stations have not been visited till now.” (Xinhua, 30 Jan 2005)

Apart from the low turnout there were other problems. For instance several cities in Iraq did not receive electoral material. “In the city of Mosul, the deputy governor said that four towns did not receive the election process materials. How do you justify this? These towns are Bashqa, Bartillah, Al-Hamdaniyah and Jihan. They did not receive the material for the election process.” (Iraqi Al-Sharqiyah TV, 30 January)

In the Kurdish areas the election was used to promote the creation of a separate state in Kurdistan. Therefore the turnout there would be influenced by this. In a number of polling stations in Kurdistan, the ballot included a referendum on the creation of a separate Kurdish state, which was barely mentioned in news reports. The British daily, The Independent, did refer to the fact that, “Outside most polling stations, members of a movement demanded the creation of an independent Kurdish state” (The Independent, 31 Jan 2005). The Boston Globe referred to the same phenomenon: “Many northern polling stations also held an unofficial referendum on independence, asking voters in favour to check a box next to a Kurdish flag, and those against to check an Iraqi flag” (Boston Globe, 31 January, 2005).

Another technique to get the voter participation up was the food rationing system. The electoral commission estimated that 14 million people were eligible to vote. This figure was based on the number who received ration coupons through the UN “Oil for Food programme”. The international observer mission recommended, “using the rolls for Iraq’s food rationing system as a sort of makeshift census to guide the effort.” (New York Times, 31 January, 2005).

One might think that this was just a “practical” way of getting an up to date list of people with voting rights. That is if you are naïve enough to believe such a thing. It comes as no surprise to us that in the weeks leading up to the election, there were reports that food rations would be cancelled if voters did not show up at the polls. In Fallujah, polling stations were set up “at centers that distribute food, water and cash payments to residents whose homes were devastated by the offensive” (Los Angeles Times, 31 January 2005). So if you want to eat turn up and vote, was the clear message being sent out.

According to Al-Basa'ir, the weekly journal of the Muslim Scholars’ Council in its pre-election January 19th issue: “...those who do not take part in the forthcoming elections will be punished... sanctions will be taken against those who refuse to vote or go to the polling stations.” The article goes on to say: “The Iraqis have become accustomed at the end of each year, specifically in the last month of the year, to replace their ration cards with new ones to cover the months of the new year.

However, December of last year has passed without any mention in the papers or on the radio or TV of any call on the people to replace their old cards. This gave rise to many rumours as to why the new cards were being delayed. The only explanation ordinary people could find for this before the elections was that, “the government intends to withhold these cards from the families that will not participate in the elections. Many Iraqis affirm that the new ration card has been printed and that it will be distributed to the head of the family while he votes and that those who do not go to the polling stations will not get their cards, and therefore will not receive the staples that are covered by the card as a punishment.” (BBC Monitoring, 24 January 2005)

Then there was the so-called high voter participation of the Iraqis living abroad. Most of the TV footage of Iraqis voting, shown in the West was in fact of Iraqis living abroad. In Israel we had an amazing development. Israelis of Iraqi origin were invited to vote! These are Jews who used to live in Iraq. Suddenly they were reminded of their Iraqi roots. The imperialists did not think of course about the message they were sending to the Israelis of Iraqi origin. Some Israelis of Iraqi origin are now asking themselves whether they are Iraqis or Israelis. As things move on in Iraq, and the poor Iraqi masses move in a decisive way against imperialism, this cynical manoeuvre will have the opposite effect to that which they are expecting. It will turn into an important link between poor Israelis of Iraqi origin and the struggling masses in Iraq.

In any case, according to Xinhua (31 January), only 25 percent of those eligible to vote outside Iraq had registered to take part in this “historic” poll. And of those who had registered in 14 foreign countries, the turnout was 60 percent, namely 15 percent of eligible voters of the Iraqi Diaspora. Therefore far from this massive turnout the media presented to us, only a tiny minority actually voted.

The danger to Iraq

Even though it is very clear now that only a very small minority voted, we will not know for sure how many people eligible to vote turned out. We can be sure however, that the larger turnout in Shi’ite localities and the lower turnout in the Sunni areas are an indication that US policies are dividing the Iraqi nation according to religious lines.

Contrary to Bush’s claims, the high voter turnout in the Shi’ite areas was not an endorsement of the continued US occupation of Iraq. It reflected in reality a desire of the reactionary leaders of the oppressed Shi’a under the rule of Saddam Hussein to rule over the other ethnic groups.

Any Shi’ite led government under the yoke of the imperialists will only lead to an intensification of the opposition to US troops in Iraq. The Sunni revolt will be further inflamed and many Shiites will join them for reasons we will explain later on.

The Kurds – the other large minority in Iraq – led by another reactionary leadership have so far been friendly towards the US occupation and turned out in large numbers to vote. They believe that through the help of the imperialists they can achieve their long sought national impendence, or at least autonomy. If the new government doesn’t fulfil their desire of nationhood and the US betrays the aspirations of the Kurds, then from a source of support, the Kurds can become another minority that moves in opposition to the imperialists in the future.

Let us remember that an “ally” of the USA, Turkey, is not too keen on seeing the Kurds in Iraq achieve any form of genuine self-determination. If this were to happen it would encourage the sizeable Kurdish minority that lives in South East Turkey. Therefore, the US has to hold back the Iraqi Kurds for fear of upsetting Turkey.

Turkey’s rulers have oppressed the Kurds for decades. From the time of Iraq’s creation in the 1920s, the Kurds were forced to be part of Iraq by the British and subsequent Sunni rulers. Their militias are the strongest in Iraq, and when they eventually turn against the US they will turn against their own reactionary leadership as well.

Thus these elections, and the way US imperialism is manoeuvring between the different groups, are posing the danger of the partition of Iraq. This is the logic of imperialist rule as we saw in India when it was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 and Palestine the same year. However, this is only one side of the coin. The other side is the growing opposition that will be intensified in the coming months. The elections will not solve anything. The resistance will continue. So while imperialist manoeuvring poses the danger of a break up, opposition to the occupation forces poses the perspective of the coming together of the resistance groups, and a nationwide struggle against imperialism developing.

The world capitalist media have tried to present a rosy picture of Iraq after the elections. They have danced to the tune of Bush. But what is most scandalous is the reaction of the leaders of the labour movement internationally.

For instance on 31 January, the ICFTU described the holding of the elections in Iraq as a key step towards democracy. Hailing the elections imposed by Bush, the ICFTU General Secretary, Guy Ryder, added his voice to the pro-Bush choir: “The determination of so many millions of people to take part in the election, under extremely difficult circumstances, shows just how determined Iraqis are to build a genuine democracy and take full control over their own destiny (Brussels, 31 January 2005, ICFTU Online). This is the same tune that came from the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who claimed that the election “augurs well for the transition process”.

However, not everyone is singing the same tune. Some international observers have been a little more honest in their appraisals. The internationally known reformist and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, has called the Iraqi parliamentary elections a desecration, according to Moscow News.

The Interfax news agency quoted the man who introduced glasnost and perestroika – the last steps in the dismantling of the former deformed workers’ state – as saying that the 30 January elections in Iraq were “very far from what true elections are”.

Gorbachev added, “And even though I am a supporter of elections and of the transfer of power to the people of Iraq, these elections were fake. I don’t think these elections will be of any use. They may even have a negative impact on the country. Democracy cannot be imposed or strengthened with guns and tanks,” Gorbachev said, according to Interfax.

While we do not usually share any of Gorbachev’s views, this time we have to agree with him. The elections in Iraq were a fabrication. They were a lie in line with Bush’s other lies, such as the imperialist war against Iraq being waged because of the weapons of mass destruction allegedly held by Saddam Hussein.

Of course Gorbachev can safely make his statements from his position as pensioner with no responsibilities of government. No doubt if he had been in power he may well have been singing another tune. Needless to say his fellow countryman, Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he believed the elections in Iraq were a “positive event” and that now they are on the road to “normalising the situation in the country”.

This is not the first time that the media have built up such a massive lie. Bush, who knows very little history, will not recall the line of the US administration during the fake elections held in South Vietnam in 1967. At that time we could read in the New York Times: (September 4, 1967):

“United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam’s presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

“The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the nation election based on the incomplete returns reaching here. Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.

“A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premier Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state, in Honolulu in February.

“The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Deim was overthrown by a military junta. Few members of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power...

“Before the results of the presidential election started to come in, the American officials warned that the turnout might be less than 80 per cent because the polling place would be open for two or three hours less than in the election a year ago. The turnout of 83 per cent was a welcome surprise. The turnout in the 1964 United States Presidential election was 62 per cent.”

Just compare this story to the story we have heard about the recent Iraqi elections.

The anti-imperialist united front

The people of Iraq are mounting a struggle and the resistance will grow in the coming months. At present it would seem that the insurgents are mainly the Sunni Arab minority. But that will change. The Shiites are divided along class lines. The rich and the reactionaries stand with the imperialists but they will soon enough expose themselves. The majority of the Shiite population hate the imperialists no less than their Sunni brothers and sisters The occupation of Lebanon by Israel will repeat itself in Iraq. When Israel invaded Lebanon many Shiites initially welcomed them. Israel was later forced to leave Lebanon under Shiite fire!

To prevent the break up of Iraq it is necessary to unify the masses around the working class led by a genuine revolutionary party, a party based on Marxism. The role of the Islamic reactionary leadership began to be exposed during these elections. Unfortunately the masses identify the Iraqi Communist Party – that is more than ready to participate once again in the puppet government – with Marxism. But the working class is struggling in Iraq, in spite of its leaders. In this struggle the opportunity will be provided to forge a genuine Marxist leadership.

In the coming months genuine democrats and revolutionaries will fight for unity in struggle and for a common anti-imperialist front. This militant unity of the national liberation struggle is the only way of guaranteeing a genuine democratic and independent Iraq. But such an Iraq could not survive on a capitalist basis. A capitalist Iraq will always be under the domination of imperialism. Therefore genuine national independence and genuine democracy can only be achieved through the struggle for a socialist Iraq.

Furthermore, an independent, socialist Iraq cannot be achieved in isolation. The struggle has to be international. The struggle of the Iraqi masses against the imperialist armies is presently preventing Bush from sending troops to Venezuela. Thus the struggle in Iraq and the struggle in Venezuela are part of the same process, except that in Venezuela it is more advanced. Nevertheless the future of Iraq is linked with the future of Venezuela as much as the future of Venezuela is connected with the victorious anti-imperialist struggle in Iraq.

The duty of our class-conscious brothers and sisters around the world is to assist the class in this struggle in both parts of the world. Long live the revolution in Venezuela! Long live the anti-imperialist struggle in Iraq.