Iraqi election law hinders hundreds of thousands of IDPs from voting

“No one is concerned about our livelihood, and now they are trying to take away our right to vote.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Displaced Iraqis argue that Iraq’s anticipated election law will prevent Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who live in the Kurdistan Region and other parts of Iraq from voting in the provincial council elections.

The amendment to Iraq’s provincial election law is set to begin on April 1, 2020. The new law prevents displaced people from voting at the camps or anywhere other than their hometowns.

The law has garnered criticism from displaced persons and activists alike. Basna Mirza, an IDP from Sinjar (Shingal) and a women’s rights activist, said individuals should be permitted to vote at the camps.

“If [the government] is concerned about fraud during the elections, they are welcome to station dozens of governmental observers at the camps,” Mirza told local media. “It’s unclear to us why the Iraqi government refuses to set up voting stations inside the camps.”

However, if the Iraqi government wants us to return home, then they need “to expel the illegal militia forces in Shingal and renovate the area for us,” she added, referring to Iran-backed Shia militias. “Only then we will return to our homes.”

According to the rights activist, the cost living in Shingal is IQD 30,000 despite the deteriorated security situation and poor condition of roads.

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Meanwhile, an Arab IDP who lives at the Kurdistan Region’s Bahrka camp told Kurdistan 24 on condition of anonymity that they refuse to leave the camps for election purposes because of a lack of services in liberated areas following the war with the so-called Islamic State.

“I have been displaced at the Bahrka camp for five years,” the IDP said. “No one is concerned about our livelihood, and now they are trying to take away our right to vote.”

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Rebwar Hadi, head of the legal committee at the Iraqi Parliament, said the new law would put a lot of pressure on the displaced persons and prevent a majority of them from voting.    

“At this point, the law can only be legally objected,” Hadi told Kurdistan 24. “According to Article 16 of the amendment, the law forces the IDPs to return to their homes, which is unconstitutional.”

Nearly five million Iraqis have been displaced since the Islamic State overran two-thirds of the country in mid-2014. Authorities say half of them have returned to their homes, but the other half remain displaced, with most residing in the Kurdistan Region.

Although their areas have been liberated from the extremist group, about 1.1 million IDPs and refugees continue to stay in the autonomous Kurdish region due to a lack of security and essential services in their hometowns.  

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Additional reporting by Renas Ali)