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Noted by the IPU Governing Council at its 176th session
1. The programme for the out-of country voting for the Transitional National Assembly of Iraq was organised in a very short space of time. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) decided to entrust the task of organising the out-of-country poll to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) towards the end of 2004. On 11 November, the IECI signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the IOM, authorising the latter to conduct an out-of-country voting programme on its behalf, and under its supervision. The IOM had 69 days to set up its operation before the elections began on 28 January.
2. The IECI chose the IOM for the implementation of the Iraq OCV Program because it had wide experience in organising such external voting programmes, for example in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro) and East Timor. In 2004, the IOM organised the largest such programme ever, giving 850,000 Afghans residing in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran the opportunity to take part in Afghanistan's first democratic election.
3. The initial step taken by the IOM was to sign an individual Memorandum of Understanding with each of the governments of the 14 countries in which it had been decided that the poll would be held. The 14 countries, selected according to the size of their expatriate Iraqi populations, were Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The first of these memoranda was signed with the Government of Denmark on 11 December 2004, followed by Australia on 21 December and the Islamic Republic of Iran on 22 December. By the time all the memoranda had been signed, nearly 800 registration and polling stations had been set up in 75 locations worldwide.
4. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) was apprised of these activities late in the month of December. It was also informed that an International Mission for Iraqi Elections (IMIE), designed to monitor both the polls inside Iraq and the out-of country voting, was being set up by Elections Canada, the Canadian Electoral Commission. Elections Canada established a steering group made up of representatives of other national electoral commissions at a meeting held in Ottawa from 18 to 20 December 2004. The IPU was subsequently asked to participate in the out-of-country election monitoring.
5. On that basis, and following consultations with the President of the IPU, the IPU Secretary General approached the Executive Committee in January 2005 to seek its approval for the Union's involvement. The leaders of the 13 IPU Member Parliaments within the countries concerned (the parliament of the United States of America is not a Member) would subsequently be asked to select parliamentarians to observe the polls in their respective countries. The Executive Committee was overwhelmingly in favour of the initiative.
6. The Secretary General accordingly wrote to the 13 parliaments concerned, and received a favourable response from seven: Canada, Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Netherlands, Sweden and the Syrian Arab Republic. Some of the remaining parliaments replied that insufficient time was available for them to provide support for the initiative.
B. Observer activities during the 28-30 January 2005 poll
7. From 28 to 30 January 2005, IPU parliamentary observers monitored the out-of-country polls at numerous polling and counting centres in the following locations:
8. Furthermore, the Director of the IPU Observer Office in New York visited the polling and counting centres in Washington, D.C.
C. Conclusions of the mission
9. Broadly speaking, the polls observed in the various countries listed above were considered to be well organised and free of any noteworthy irregularities. There were no recorded cases of interference by national authorities in the process set up by the IOM. Indeed, the national authorities provided much assistance, and cooperation appeared to be exemplary.
Polling station personnel
14. In some cases, however, the observers found that the presence of the media in the polling stations generated very ambiguous situations. The elections for the Transitional Assembly of Iraq were exceptional because of the extreme dangers involved for Iraqi citizens who went out to vote. Everybody was aware of the threats coming from Iraq. Although most of the dangers affected people inside Iraq, many who were voting outside the country did so against a backdrop of fears for their families and friends in Iraq, and therefore wished to remain anonymous and not to be filmed. Others may have wished to protect their anonymity because of their relations with immigration services in their country of residence. On a number of occasions, observers saw TV cameramen inside the polling stations showing complete indifference to the voters' wish for privacy (for example in Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic). There were also accounts of cameramen filming actual ballot papers (for example in the Islamic Republic of Iran). The IECI code of conduct bans interviewing inside the polling station, but this was not always respected. It may therefore be worth discussing the question of media access in highly sensitive elections such as these.
15. In Amsterdam, the presence of one media crew was viewed from a rather different angle. An IPU observer noted "… the arrival of the camera crew of Al Jazeera creates some fuss. People of different ethnic backgrounds raise their voices against these journalists, who in their opinion glorify terrorism and ridicule the Iraqi elections: the crew is not welcome. Even though they have been accredited by the IOM, the Dutch military police sends them away, to keep the peace …".
17. One IPU observer in Cologne made a point about voter identification. She was told by a polling station official that he could not entirely exclude the possibility that certain voters may not have been bona fide Iraqi nationals; they previously might have falsified their origins in order to acquire refugee status in Germany.
Advertising and publicity
Location of polling stations
20. The shortage of polling stations sometimes caused overcrowding. A Swedish IPU observer wrote: "The fact that there were too few polling stations was confirmed once again when I returned to the station in Skärholmen. I was there for the first time on Friday when, after a short wait for the security controls, I was able to enter the premises and observe the entire process. When I returned on Saturday, I couldn’t even get into the polling station; the queues were so enormous and there was no separate entrance for observers, or the security staff did not know of any such entrance. I was unable to wait in the cold for an hour to go through the security control, so in the end I gave up."
Other details of the polling premises
23. A number of different reasons were put forward to explain the low registration rate. There were, first, the physical obstacles to registration mentioned above: long distances and the need to make two journeys, one to register and one to vote, sometimes in severe winter weather. Poor weather was referred to in the United States of America, and an observer in the Islamic Republic of Iran also commented on the difficulties of travelling "long distances in the worst possible weather conditions".
24. It is also significant that the Muslim feast of Eid-al-Adha fell in the middle of the registration period.
25. In some cases, certain types of documentary evidence of identity proved to be insufficient, and this created a disincentive to vote. In Iran, an IPU observer noted: "the voters had to present additional evidence to prove their Iraqi citizenship, as their immigration documents were not accepted as sufficient to identify them".
26. The argument offered most frequently to explain the low registration rate was that some expatriate Iraqis were afraid that their personal details would make their way into the hands of the police and other officials of their country of residence. In many cases, residency permits and other documentation of the potential voters may have been outdated or irregular in one way or another. The IOM did its best to make it clear that all personal details would be treated in strict confidentiality, but this was not sufficient to allay the fears of some potential voters who felt extremely wary of officialdom after having to flee their country in the first place.
27. A closely related reason for disassociation from the process was, of course, the call for a boycott of the elections. Last, and certainly not least, was fear of death threats from extremists in Iraq.