Arab League proclaims Sunni boycott devalues Iraq polls
* Iraqi exiles attribute low voter turnout to lack of information
CAIRO: The Arab League said on Tuesday a Sunni Arab boycott of Sunday’s Iraqi elections would damage the credibility of the poll and Iraq’s US-backed government had made only small moves towards reconciliation with its opponents.
“(The boycott) will affect the credibility of the outcome and if the outcome is to be a national assembly that is to draft a constitution, there will be a major problem,” Arab League spokesman Hossam Zaki said.
Iraqi voters will choose the national assembly’s 275 members, whose main task will be to debate and approve a new constitution. Iraq’s Kurds and Shi’ites, oppressed by Saddam Hussein, are expected to dominate the poll.
Some Sunni Arab groups, including the Iraqi Islamic Party, are boycotting the election and have said it should be delayed because violence in Sunni Arab areas will deter voters. The Sunni Muslim Clerics Association has also called for a boycott.
“You end up having an electoral process that is secretive because of the security situation and which is not comprehensive because of a boycott by a significant component of the society,” Zaki told Reuters.
The Arab League has called for Iraq’s US-backed interim government to hold a conference to promote reconciliation with its opponents to ensure election participation.
An international conference in Egypt on Iraq’s political future in November pressed Baghdad to hold such a conference.
Zaki said Baghdad had taken only “shy and very small moves” towards reconciliation. “None of the big actors, the significant actors, in Iraq responded positively to this,” he said.
Lack of information: An Iraqi exile community in Australia seen as the “star” of worldwide voter registration with a 96 percent turnout on Tuesday blamed lack of information rather than fear for disappointing registration figures.
The rural community of Shepparton in the state of Victoria has only signed up a few hundred voters, but the high proportion has caught the attention of election organisers from Iraq, who made an official visit to the town on Tuesday to learn more.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which is organising the vote outside Iraq, has blamed low registration figures on fear among a traumatised community and concerns about what would happen to information.
But Adnan Al-Ghazal, an Iraqi community leader in Shepparton, told AFP that it achieved its impressive figures through a concerted drive ensuring local exiles were properly informed, which he regarded as a more significant factor.
The IOM had not always chosen the most appropriate means of publicising the vote, he said, for example by using Arabic-language media which Iraqi exiles did not generally follow.
“Basically we didn’t follow the formal standard method used by the IOM. We created our own method in publicising,” he said.
This involved local religious leaders and a determined effort to ensure that potential voters were contacted.
This has resulted in people driving from other parts of Australia to register in Shepparton.
Shepparton has signed up 417 of the more than 10,000 Iraqis who have registered in Australia, including around 360 locals, most of whom came as refugees and many of whom now do seasonal work in the area as fruit pickers. agencies