ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – On Monday, the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission (IHERC) removed a major obstacle for those in the Diaspora taking part in the referendum for the Kurdistan Region.
The people of the Kurdistan Region are heading toward a historic day on Sep. 25 where they will vote whether to remain as part of Iraq or secede as a newly-established state.
The referendum will be held in the Kurdistan Region and the disputed territories which are currently under the protection of Peshmerga forces and administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
In total, over five million people are eligible to vote, many of which live in the Diaspora. Those in the Diaspora can vote online, but a required document - the ration card - has been the main concern for many as most no longer have or never had the cards in their name.
The ration card, or food coupon, is related to the Oil-for-Food Programme (OIP) established by the United Nations in 1995 under the UN Security Council Resolution 986. The program was created in response to UN sanctions on the dictatorial system in Iraq which allowed the country to sell oil in the world market in exchange for food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs for the citizens of Iraq.
The UN officially terminated the program on 21 November 2003, but it continues to be sponsored and provided for by the current federal government of Iraq.
In a press conference on Monday, Shirwan Zirar, the spokesperson for the IHERC stated that, upon the request of the Kurdistan Region's people in the Diaspora and the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region, the ration card has been removed from the required list of documents for those looking to register online and currently living outside of the region.
He mentioned that Iraqi IDs and citizenship documents will be used as a substitute for the people in the Diaspora.
In the late August, the IHERC launched the website (www.khec17.net) for Diaspora Kurdistanis to register to vote in the referendum.
The IHERC had initially given seven days for those abroad to register, starting from Sep. 1 until Sep.7, but eventually extended the deadline to September 22 as issues with the ration card arose.
Zirar also confirmed that Diaspora Kurdistanis can vote in the referendum by early ballot on Sep. 23 and Sep. 24.
Despite increasing pressure to postpone the referendum by the neighboring countries and major powers in the West, the Kurdish leadership has insisted on holding the vote, stating it is the core principle of international law.
As the referendum date nears, Kurds in the Kurdistan Region and the Diaspora have held rallies in support of independence.
Editing by G.H. Renaud