With any news story, certain themes begin to emerge that drive the media coverage. For Iraq’s upcoming elections–the campaign officially began today–Reuters filed a report that suggests what the particular narrative will be for the vote scheduled on March 7th. Voter apathy, a stark departure from the triumphant, blue fingered salutes of the past national elections.
From Reuters, the lede:
Seven years after the U.S. invasion ushered in democracy, Iraqis living with only a few hours of power a day amid mounds of rubbish and pools of sewage are wondering whether to bother voting in a March election.
Last month, I visited a man in an Iraqi neighborhood who was responsible for handing out voting cards. He told me that only a few hundred–like 300–out of the 1400 or so cards he had had been picked up. He said there was “no enthusiasm at all” for the vote. He also said that the only people who had picked up the cards had been government officials themselves–apparently, he told me, the officials had received a letter that in order to keep getting paid they had to vote!
It’s certainly possible that as March 7th nears, there will be an uptick in excitement among the population. Everyone will get a day off to go to the polls, so it won’t be surprising to see the familiar blue finger/carnival like TV images. But, of the scores of interviews I’ve conducted over the past few months, I don’t think I found a single Iraqi voter who expressed anything nearing enthusiasm for the vote. Seriously, not one.
Per usual, the discrepancy between what I heard from Iraqis differed from what I heard from American officialdom. At a briefing from an American general, he said unequivocally that “every Iraqi [he] spoke to was excited for the elections.”
Putting rose colored glasses on, perhaps one could spin voter apathy as a positive sign for Iraq’s democracy. After all, it’s only taken a few years for Iraqis to go from excitement to the kind of complete disdain and distrust of the political process one finds in Western Europe and the United States–a sign of democratic maturity, to be sure.