Report – By Manar Al-Ansari
For the first time in New Zealand, Iraqis were given the chance to make their vote count in this year’s Iraq elections.
Previously, Iraqi residents had to fund their own travels to Australia in order to vote but a demand for New Zealand to have its own centre was heard this year.
An official voting centre was set up in the Pakuranga area of Auckland earlier this week.
It was organised and managed by a team of people, one of which was retired business owner Ameen Mudafar.
Mudafar, who has been in New Zealand for almost 19 years, says the people were really excited to take part in the election and there was a big turn-out, but unfortunately a lot of them had to be turned away due to strict procedures.
“The problem was not a lot of them had original Iraqi IDs which is what we wanted.
“That’s why the number of voters wasn’t high; it was only about 900 out of the 6-7000 Iraqis living in Auckland. If people had their IDs with them then the voting would have been at least 2000.”
Even with the low number of votes from New Zealand for Wednesday’s ballot, Mudafar says they will still push for another election centre in four years’ time and aim for softer ID procedures.
He believes every vote counts in slowly chipping away the dominant sectarian parties.
“Every election is more important than the one before because people learn more and they’re electing better people than the time before.
“This year we hope the next government will be able to clean out these Islamic fanatics which is a very difficult job.”
Not only was New Zealand partaking in the Iraq election for the first time but it was also the first country to vote in the 2014 election.
New Zealand resident and dentist Khalil Janabi was given media attention in Iraq as being the first person in the world to vote in this year’s election.
“I was not expecting it,” he says. “I was just excited to vote in the Iraq election for the first time in my life.”
Twenty-one year old University of Auckland engineering student Maes Shukur says the event made her feel patriotic and believes her vote will make a difference, even if it is only one.
“Everyone elected has a voice, no matter how small their party is. It could make a difference over time.”
Shukur expressed her frustration about people who can vote in their country, but choose not to.
“They take the right to vote for granted. People all over the world are killing themselves just to get the right to vote. They just want a democracy.”
Nouri al-Maliki has been the Prime Minister of Iraq since 2006, after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government.
Maliki is expected to win again this year, despite the heavy criticisms about him not delivering on his promises.
Mudafar believes Maliki’s competitors for this year’s election are a little better, but not by much.
“Maliki will most likely be elected. They [Iraqis] don’t really see anyone better than him.”
This year’s election was the first one since the US withdrew its troops in 2011.
Manar Al-Ansari is a second-year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist at AUT University.