Saturday, January 31, 2009

Live Blog: Iraq’s Provincial Elections

I walked more than three miles and four polling centers to vote today. I have lived in the same neighborhood for more than 30 years, but my name was not on the list.

With the sound of hovering American helicopters filling the unusual silence on the streets I walked to the polling center nearest my house to vote. First I had to be searched and take off my wristwatch, my box of cigarettes and my mobile telephone because an American patrol was watching the main checkpoint of the polling center.

I checked my name but I could not find it. An employee told me: “You may find it at another center.” So I started walking. But the guards wouldn’t let me go straight there because of the security cordons around polling centers. My route was like a sneaky puzzle. The streets were clear of vehicles and children exploited the occasion to amuse themselves by playing football or marbles in the streets, without any notion of the importance of this day.

While I was walking to the second polling center I met a friend of mine who smiled when he saw me, hoping that I would help him find his polling center. The worse moment came when I reached the second polling center about half a mile from the first. After again going through the long procedures of search and inspection the employee of the Independent High Electoral Commission told me in an offhand manner: “Do not bother yourself, go home and sleep. Your name is not here.”

I tried to find one of the IHEC staff to help me but it seems none of them have any basic details about the elections.

I carried on, going to a third polling center about 1.5 miles from the second. I found people wearing their best clothes, and you could see how glad and relaxed they were.

But I got the same answer at the third station: “Your name is not found.” I really felt depressed, because it seemed that it was not an organized process. As a result the Prime Minister gave the order to lift the curfew so that people could move to polling centers more easily.

I continued my trip, wondering about the solution and honestly I was cursing the IHEC while I was walking. Then I got help from a friend, who did an internet search for me to find out the details of my ration distributor. I was lucky.

The other bad experience came when I was finally able to vote at the fourth station, and I stood behind the screen. Then I discovered that I do not know any of those candidates who listed themselves under famous names like “the current Prime Minister”, and former prime ministers such as Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

I had not heard of any of them, and I think other people were experiencing the same thing. I looked through the list of candidates but it became even more of a blur.

At the end I found the name of a candidate whom I know to be moderate. But I do not know if my terrible trip was worth it: whether it will bring a positive change to this country or we will witness unseen hands interfering to bring destruction again upon our country.

For my wife it is all academic. We could not find her name on the list.

Mohammed Hussein is an Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Baghdad.

Baghdad Bureau

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