LONDON: With pride and cautious optimism for the future, Iraqi expatriates in the UK cast their votes in the national parliamentary elections on Thursday.
In Central London, voters young and old cheerfully participated in the plebiscite under the watchful gaze of election observers.
“Oh. Baghdad. Your love sits in my heart,” warbled Kadam Al-Ahmady, dropping his vote in the ballot box, proudly raising an index finger stained purple with election ink.
“It would be shameful to let go of your love,” the elderly Al-Ahmady intoned.
An upbeat mood prevailed on Thursday morning, as voters snapped selfies at the ballot boxes after selecting their choice of representatives for the Iraqi legislature.
While the vote, which will be held on Saturday in Iraq, marks the fourth parliamentary election since the US-led invasion in 2003, it is the first time Iraqis will head to nationwide polls since the defeat of Daesh last summer.
If previous elections have been held against the backdrop of intense sectarian violence, the comparative calm prevailing today has led some Iraqi voters to believe the election to form a new government will help bring the country together. Younger voters in particular expressed eagerness for increased national unity.
“We should all think about Iraq … without difference for Kurdish or Turkmen or Sunni or Shiite,” said Mohammad Al-Bayati, a PhD student who traveled from Portsmouth with his wife and young sons. “It’s not just for us, but for our children,” he said.
“This is another step in the right direction,” said Ali Khadr, a British Iraqi.
Fifteen years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Khadr said that Iraqis are no strangers to the democratic process.
“Voting in previous years felt almost routine. Whereas, now, for the first time in years, Iraq is witnessing visible progress. Certainly within my family, here and in Iraq, there is a real optimism for better days,”
Others voters, however, were less enthusiastic.
“If you look at all the manifestos … regardless of which religious or ethnic group, all of them talk about building an Iraq full of institutions, and Iraq that is free of sectarianism,” said Mohanad Abdel Rahman, an Iraqi national who has lived most of his life in the UK.
“It’s all nice platitudes but the reality on the ground suggests there is a very long way to go. “
Rawnaq Abdul Hamid, however, counts herself among the optimists. “I’ve got hope,” she told Arab News. The expectant mother, who has been living in the UK for 11 years, could scarcely hide her smile as she cast her ballot.
“I came from Harrow to here just to vote,” she said.
“We are looking forward to our country being better than before.”
According to Raad Tamimi, who organized the UK proceedings on behalf of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, more than 10,000 expatriates will cast ballots at eight polling stations across the UK in the coming days. Voting procedures are being scrutinized by election monitors from Iraq’s political parties and members of civil society. Previous elections have been marred by allegations of fraud, and some remain concerned about ballot rigging.
While a new biometric system implemented in Iraq makes voter fraud difficult within the country, election monitor Farhad Maruf worried that physical ballot boxes at UK polling stations could be manipulated.
“My concern is fairness of the election, that’s the most important thing for me,” he said, his eyes fixed on a plastic ballot box sealed with tamper-evident zip-ties.