IPU Logo-middleInter-Parliamentary Union  
IPU Logo-bottomChemin du Pommier 5, C.P. 330, CH-1218 Le Grand-Saconnex/Geneva, Switzerland  


Noted by the IPU Governing Council at its 176th session
(Manila, 8 April 2005)

A.    Background

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:

Canada:Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto
Germany:Cologne, Mannheim and Munich
Islamic Republic of Iran:  Ahvaz, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Orumiyeh, Qom and Tehran
Jordan:Amman and Zarqa
Netherlands:Amsterdam and Rotterdam
Sweden:Stockholm and Gothenburg
Syrian Arab Republic:Damascus

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
10.    Most observers commented on the high level of competence among the polling station personnel, more than 80 per cent of whom were of Iraqi origin. The IOM had clearly performed very commendably in providing effective training. Observers' questions were always answered without hesitation. Tact and courtesy were shown in sensitive situations, such as in the Syrian Arab Republic where the veils worn by many women voters hampered visual identification. The personnel spared no efforts in explaining the procedures to the voters, most of whom had never voted in their lives.

11.    In certain countries it was apparent that some of the voters were illiterate, and thus not able to read the ballot papers. The ballot papers were voluminous sheets containing the names of over 90 parties and candidates. These voters had to be assisted by the polling station personnel. There were nonetheless occasional irregularities, for example as reported by the IPU observer in Gothenburg: "In general the election supervisors were excellent at helping the voters to maintain voter confidentiality. However, there were some cases where relatives “helped” voters. The worst example was when an election supervisor supplied three voting slips to a husband for himself, his wife and an elderly female family member, and the husband then entered the booth and filled in all the slips."

Indelible ink
12.    Voters were occasionally confused about the use of the indelible ink, which some appeared to think was for stamping the ballots rather than preventing repeat voting. In the counting centres, ballots marked with a finger-stamp rather than the requisite tick were examined individually. Where the intent of the voter was clear, the ballot was accepted as valid.

Media presence
13.    The media are essential to any election, for they convey to the electorate information that it needs to form opinions, and demonstrate to the world at large how voting is being run at polling stations. Presiding officers of polling stations who were interviewed on this point concurred that they welcomed the media's presence for these reasons, although not without reservations.

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 …".

16.    Notwithstanding the above comments, the security at the polling stations was, in rich and poor countries alike, considered to be very good. The polling stations were universally well protected. Nevertheless, one potential parliamentary observer in Sweden declined to observe the elections on the grounds that security levels were not sufficient to ensure his safety, although there were otherwise no security shortcomings observed in that country.

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
18.    Observers commented that the lack of any real election campaign, with all that it entails in terms of canvassing, advertising and publication of candidates' names, necessarily deprived the electorate of information needed to make informed choices. Indeed, some candidates for election to the Assembly withheld their names until a few days before the election out of fear of reprisals from violent factions determined to sabotage the poll. In such circumstances, it has to be concluded that the voters' rights to information about the candidates were only partially respected.

Location of polling stations
19.    The IPU observers acknowledged the remarkable efforts made by the IOM to set up so many polling centres in such limited time. Ideally, however, a wider distribution of polling stations would have facilitated a larger turnout. In the United States of America, for example, some voters travelled more than a thousand kilometres to register and then had to repeat the journey in order to vote. Others were simply unable to cover such distances. An IPU observer in the Netherlands reported on a married couple who flew from Italy to Amsterdam, and stayed in a hotel during the interval between registration and voting. Few could allow themselves such luxuries. An IPU observer in Sweden commented that many Iraqi and Kurdish refugees were very poor and could not afford to stay in Stockholm or Gothenburg for several days. Analogous comments were made by IPU observers in the Syrian Arab Republic, where all the polling stations were located in the capital, Damascus, despite a widely distributed Iraqi population. Some groups hired coaches in order to travel to the polling stations. It is not known if the payment for such transport arrangements was made by the voters themselves or if it came from political parties, and this was cited as a possible source of abuse. In Denmark, on the other hand, the Government subsidised rail travel for the voters.

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
21.    An IPU observer in Toronto reported that one polling station had too many mirrors. In another, electors were taking pictures of each other in the polling area, and a video recorder was placed on the desk of the ballot issuers, which was potentially intrusive for some. In another location, the reduction from five polling stations to three caused overcrowding. Other potential problems were noted in Toronto, for example: "there was a small confusion in storage of the unused ballots and the stamp and ink. Initially the staff were advised that it was sensitive material and hence had to be stored separately. However, counter-instructions were later given, and the stamp was stored with the ballots, creating a potential for spoiled ballots ".

Voter turnout
22.    Approximately 280,000 voters registered worldwide to vote in the out-of country elections, from a total of over one million eligible persons. This relatively low global figure conceals much sparser figures for some countries. For Jordan, to quote one example, the figure of 20,000 registrations - in the most generous estimate - came to only one sixteenth of all those eligible.

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.

Note: you can download a complete electronic version of the brochure "Results of the 112th Assembly and related meetings of the Inter-Parliamentary Union" in PDF format (file size approximately 495K). This version requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download free of charge.Get Acrobat Reader