As election day approaches close, electoral campaigning intensifies as well, these campaigns are taking several forms and unfortunately this includes violence which we were hoping we wouldn’t have to see emerge among the competing parties.
Probably the worst case of violence was the one when militia men attacked an office of the communist party (running as part of Allawi’s list) in Sdar city during an electoral event and resulted in killing two of the party members.
Iraqis may be in some ways rather like Americans: Mohammed tells us that the voters would prefer that candidates talk about policy, rather than accusing each other of wrongdoing:
However, people in the street think that candidates should focus more on their political platforms rather than on exchanging accusations and allegations.
As in campaigns with which we Americans are familiar, behavior often descends to the absurd:
The other battlefield of electoral campaigns can be seen in the posters war. Tearing posters of other parties has become so common that there are specialized contractors who get paid to do this! And they either tear the posters or paste their client’s poster over them.
One man who works in this field said to me “there are no more walls left in Baghdad and we had to buy a new set of tall ladders in order to reach the highest spots possible…” while a taxi driver felt sorry for the “money being wasted on these posters” and added “if they used this money to offer free clothes to the poor in this winter I’d give them my vote”.
The war of words sometimes touches on the positively risible:
Aside from what parties put on their posters or say in the speeches they make, the people themselves are also using a portion of the walls to write whatever they like with or against this or that list; one funny line I saw yesterday said something that translates like this:
Vote for Allawi and your wife will buy malawi (heavy bracelets of gold) and vote for the I’tilaf (the united alliance) and you’ll go back to the tlath-talaf (3,000 in reference to the old poor salaries that Saddam paid us).
(I am told that this story is especially funny to native speakers of Arabic.)
Much more seriously, one has to be inspired by the courage of Iraqis, who are about to vote into office the first ever democratially elected parliament in the Arab world, despite the violent opposition of a minority in their own country, and the — less violent, but still disheartening — opposition of what may well be a larger minority of people here in the United States:
Civil society organizations have their role too; the most significant initiative came from a new network of 90 NGOs who call themselves “Iraq Without Violence”. This network recruited 1,000 volunteers to watch and report for any violent incidents during electoral campaigns. The network in a statement given to al-Sabah explained that they’ll work to “prevent and expose electoral corruption, fraud and violence and that includes terrorizing voters in any way or interference with voters’ choices even when the case is domestic like when a husband forces his wife to vote for any particular candidate or prevents her from voting at all”.
As far as I know, we here in the US do not yet have any safeguards that might impede a husband's efforts to prevent his wife from voting. (I am quite certain that this sort of thing happens, even if it is relatively rare.) But we Americans are a rather primitive people; some have expressed doubts that we are entirely ready for democracy and, judging by the turnouts at our elections, some might wonder whether we still really care about it.