Cablegate: Iraq Out-of-Country Voting Program Launches In
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 009898
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEC IZ JO
SUBJECT: IRAQ OUT-OF-COUNTRY VOTING PROGRAM LAUNCHES IN
1. (U) The International Organization for Migration
launched its Out-of-Country Voting (OCV) Program for Iraq
from its Amman headquarters on December 12. Eligible Iraqis
living outside Iraq will have the opportunity to register and
vote in 14 countries, in the national assembly election. A
significant portion of the OCV program's $92 million budget
will cover security costs. In Amman, Jordan's Interior
Ministry has signaled its support, but important details have
yet to be worked out. These include the location of
registration and polling stations, and how to deal with many
Iraqis in Jordan who have overstayed their visas. End
AMMAN TO SERVE AS OCV PROGRAM HQ
2. (U) The International Organization for Migration (IOM)
on December 12 launched in Amman its Out-of-Country Voting
(OCV) Program on behalf of the Independent Electoral
Commission of Iraq (IECI). The program will enable Iraqis
living abroad to participate in the Iraqi National Assembly
Election scheduled for January 30, 2005. (Note: Details
about the program can be found on its web site,
www.iraqocv.org. We have also faxed an OCV factsheet to
NEA/ELA and Embassy Baghdad.) During a briefing for select
members of the diplomatic corps in Amman prior to a press
conference announcing the launch, Peter Erben, director of
the OCV program, noted that the IECI selected the 14
countries participating based on their relatively large Iraqi
populations. They are: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France,
Germany, Iran, Jordan, Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey,
United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
3. (U) Given Jordan's proximity to Iraq and large Iraqi
expatriate community, estimated at up to 400,000, Amman will
serve as the headquarters for the OCV program. There are 150
OCV international staff in place in all 14 countries.
Currently located in Le Meridien Hotel in Amman, IOM Iraq
Election Unit headquarters will re-locate to its own office
space within the coming weeks. Erben said IOM is in the
process of finalizing memorandums of understanding (in some
cases "letters of understanding") with the 14 host
governments. Denmark was the first country to sign. In
Jordan, the Minister of Interior has initialed the MOU and
has forwarded it to the Prime Minister with a recommendation
that he sign. Once the PM signs, Erben claimed that the
details specific to Jordan can be worked out, including
polling locations, security arrangements, and accommodation
for Iraqis who have overstayed their Jordanian visas. He
said the process is different in each country; in some
places, the governments insisted that the details be worked
out before an MOU is signed. The OCV program will seek to
hire local Iraqis in each country to assist with
implementation, a process already underway. Erben stated
they are currently negotiating with the Interior Ministry to
win waivers for Iraqi residents in Jordan to obtain work
permits so the OCV program can hire them.
LIMITED COVERAGE INVITES CRITICISM
4. (U) Erben noted that the short time frame dictated the
limited program coverage, and the decision has already been
widely criticized by Iraqis living in non-participating
countries. According to Erben, Iraqis resident in other
countries may register and vote in any of the 14 countries,
but travel is the responsibility of the would-be voters. The
short time frame will not allow for registration or voting by
mail. He said preparations for a vote of this magnitude
would "normally" take one year.
5. (U) Erben elaborated on the registration and voting
process. He said that approximately two weeks before the
vote, a seven-day registration period will be held in each of
the 14 countries. In Jordan, he estimated there would be
about ten registration/voting centers, most of them in Amman
where the bulk of Iraqi expatriates reside. To be eligible
to vote, Iraqis must be born on or before 31 December 1986
and present specific supporting documentation as defined by
the IECI. Erben said he expects this guidance "any day now."
Registered voters will cast their ballots January 28-30. To
prevent voting more than once, each person casting a ballot
will have a finger marked with indelible ink. The "monster
tally" of all the out-of-country votes will be occur in
Amman, according to Erben.
6. (U) Due to the limited demographic data available, and
the fact that the absolute number of voters will not be known
until registration is complete, the program has built-in
flexibility to handle up to approximately one million voters
if necessary. Erben estimated a "successful turnout" in
Jordan as 100,000 Iraqis actually registering and voting.
SECURITY IS THE MAIN CHALLENGE
7. (U) Recognizing the "highly controversial" nature of the
Iraqi elections, the IECI has allocated $92 million for the
program, half of which is earmarked to cover security costs.
Erben reported that the first tranche has been distributed to
begin operations in each of the 14 countries. In Jordan, the
OCV officers have been working with the Ministry of Interior
on security arrangements and logistics, and they expect most
polling places to be located in Amman, where the bulk of
Iraqi citizens reside.
8. (U) Attendees at the briefing noted that fear of
intimidation may keep Iraqis abroad away from the polls.
This is a particular concern in Jordan, where the local
population is highly critical of the interim Iraqi government
and the election process, despite the GOJ's strong support.
Acknowledging the concern, Erben said they are doing
everything in their power to secure the sites, but that there
are no guarantees. The registration sites will be publicized
to attract as many potential voters as possible, and Iraqis
will register and vote in the same place. He emphasized that
the voter registrations lists themselves will not be shared
-- either with the public or with the host governments.
Registration lists will, however, be available for public
inspection and challenge at each registration station.
ELECTION OBSERVERS TO PLAY A ROLE
9. (U) Erben stated that international election observers
will play a role in the OCV program, in part to ward off
accusations of voter fraud and enhance the credibility of the
process. He said members of the diplomatic community in
Jordan (and presumably each country that hosts the OCV
program) will be able to become accredited to observe the
registration and voting process. However, he did not specify
how many observers will participate, or whether/when notional
training for the observers will begin.
10. (U) Baghdad minimize considered.
Please visit Embassy Amman's classified web site at
http://www.state.sgov/p/nea/amman/ or access the site through
the Department of State's SIPRNET home page.