Iraqi expatriates fail to register for poll
Financial Times
By Roula Khalaf

Opinion surveys conducted in Iraq are predicting a massive turnout in Sunday’s elections but the results of expatriate registration for the poll suggest a different outcome.

The International Organisation for Migration, which is organising the out-of-country voting, yesterday said only 280,303 expatriate Iraqis had registered for the elections, out of an estimated 1m eligible voters.

The low turnout sharply contrasts with estimates from the Baghdad-based Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies and the International Republican Institute, a non-partisan American organisation helping Iraqis prepare for the elections.

A recent survey by the IRI showed over 80 per cent of Iraqis stating that they were very likely or somewhat likely to vote on January 30. More than 1,900 people were interviewed face to face for the survey, which was conducted in 16 out of Iraq’s 18 governorates, between the end of December and the beginning of this month.

The Iraq Center’s survey, meanwhile, covered only the mostly Shia southern provinces and Baghdad. It showed that 75-80 per cent of Iraqis surveyed would “definitely participate” in the national assembly elections.

Western experts involved in the elections estimate that even in Sunni areas where intimidation of voters will be rampant and choices limited, given a boycott by most Sunni parties a 20-30 per cent turnout is possible.

They said unpublished IRI survey results of voter preferences showed that the United Iraqi Alliance, blessed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was the clear frontrunner, though they estimate it would not win more than 35 per cent of the vote. A coalition led by Kurds would come in second, with between 16 and 25 per cent of votes.

Candidates on the Shia list warn against taking such figures for granted. Their expectation is that the list would win at least 40 per cent of the vote and could reach well above 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, the first part of the study by the Iraqi Center for Research and Strategic Studies conducted in Baghdad, Basra, Thequire and Babylon provinces showed that 25.5 per cent of respondents said they would “definitely” vote for the Shia list and 14.8 per cent said they “may” vote for it.

In another sample taken in Baghdad, Qadisiya, Muthana and Nisan, 53.7 per cent of respondents were planning to vote for the Shia list, with another 10.7 per cent saying they “may” do the same.

The survey highlighted the fact that religious leaders had a big influence on the choices of voters, with around 35 per cent (in the eight governorates) of respondents saying they would follow the order of clerics.

Western experts say the list by Iyad Allawi, interim prime minister, is the “wild card” in the elections.

The IRI research is said to show that his list will get no more than 12 per cent of electoral votes. Mr Allawi’s group fared better in the Iraq Center poll in the eight governorates. Respondents who said they would definitely vote for his list ranged from 11 to 15 per cent only but at least as many said they “may” vote for the list.

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