Iraq to install thousands of surveillance cameras at polling stations to fight voter fraud

Iraq to install thousands of surveillance cameras at polling stations to fight voter fraud
Iraq's election body for the first time plans to install thousands of surveillance cameras at polling stations in an attempt to reduce organised voter fraud.
3 min read
04 July, 2023
Large-scale voter frauds by the traditional ruling parties have been a thorny issue in the sectarian political system that rules Iraq since 2003. {Getty}

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said it is making preparations to install surveillance cameras at the voting stations for the first time in the country’s history, to prevent voter fraud in the upcoming provincial elections scheduled to take place on 18 December. 

Large-scale voter fraud by the traditional ruling parties has been a thorny issue in the political sectarian system that was imposed on Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. 

The last provincial elections held in Iraq was on 20 April 2013, in which Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's former prime minister, won the majority vote. In the Iraqi Kurdistan region, elections have not been held since 2014. 

On 28 October 2019, the Iraqi parliament voted to dissolve the provincial councils; a key demand of the 2019 anti-corruption protests.

Nevertheless, political and civil society activists have criticised the new measure by the IHEC, arguing they do not go far enough and stressing that the ruling parties have been committing vote-rigging outside the polling stations via various techniques.

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"Surveillance cameras will be installed at 47,000 polling stations to reduce playing with the election results," Emad Jamil, an IHEC member, told local media outlets, in response to these critiques.

The IHEC announced it will soon open up sites for voters to register or renew their status according to the law for provincial elections passed by the Iraqi parliament earlier this year.

Elections are scheduled to be held across 15 Iraqi provinces, excluding the northern provinces in the Kurdistan region.

The electoral commission on Saturday announced it has started registering the names of political alliances that want to participate in the elections.  

The law includes articles obliging the IHEC to set up centres for checking the polling stations in all the provinces, announcing the results 24 hours after the elections, and sending the voting results from the stations electronically within six hours of the voting process. 

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"Installing surveillance cameras is a new measure that might hinder some groups who might want to make voter frauds; however, this does not mean the end of partisan plans to control the Iraqi cities via the provincial councils," Bassim Khashan, an independent Iraqi lawmaker, told TNA's Arabic-language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Iraq's law that regulates the political parties has several flaws, mainly the lack of transparency over sources of the parties' financing, and thus "political money" that the parties receive from public monies or from outside countries will eventually affect the election process, he opined. 

The Iraqi MP also suggested that the law should have identified spending on election campaigns so that the independent candidates could compete with those supported by the traditional political parties.

"Surveillance cameras do not mean the end of voter rigging, which often does not occur at the polling stations at all, but fraud is committed in different ways, including replacing the polling boxes during transporting them with previously ready-made boxes in favour of certain political parties," Ayham Rashad, an Iraqi political activist, remarked to the outlet.

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He also emphasised that another way of making voter fraud is via the mechanism for calculating the votes electronically.

"The upcoming elections will see severe competition among the traditional parties and political entities whose popularities have fallen severely," said Rashad. "Thus, those parties will depend on their tools for rigging the voting results or buying votes from individuals and even entities and candidates."

Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc won the largest share of votes with 73 seats in the parliamentary elections held on 10 October 2021, announced last year his "definitive retirement" from politics after his militias clashed with pro-Iran militias in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. 

Sources have told The New Arab that it is not still clear whether Iraq's influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will participate in the provincial elections.