Counting Votes in Iraq
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
RAY SUAREZ: Edward Wong, welcome. The early reporting from Iraq on the weekend’s elections stressed high turnout and relative safety, now this talk of too many ballots. Tell us what you know about this audit.
EDWARD WONG: The Electoral Commission told us today that they’re looking into possible voter fraud in some of the provinces around Iraq. What they’re looking at are polling centers that have recorded lots of yes votes for the constitution. Apparently there are some provinces that are reporting yes votes of more than 90 percent and they think that this is fairly improbable.
RAY SUAREZ: So what would that indicate then, ballot box stuffing or accounting of ballots other than the ones that were cast? What are the possibilities?
EDWARD WONG: It’s too soon to tell. There might be ballot box stuffing. There might be miscounting after the ballot boxes were already closed. There might have been some fraudulent use of voter rolls or repeat voters. It’s completely unclear right now. It could turn out to be nothing. They say it’s just an investigation at this point. There is no evidence that there was fraud so they’re just looking into it.
RAY SUAREZ: Was the vote carried out peacefully in most places across the country.
EDWARD WONG: It did occur fairly peacefully. We were surprised by that because last January during the elections for this transitional government there was a lot of violence. It was one of the most violent days of the war last January but this year it unfolded fairly quietly. There were a few instances of attacks but not many, some pot shots being taken at some polling centers.
There was one exception to the violence, one notable exception I’d say which was the city of Ramadi to the west of Baghdad where we had a correspondent there who reported that there were mortars. There were –there was gunfire and as a result there did not seem to be a high turnout at the polling centers there.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ramadi is the capital of Al Anbar Province which is known as the Sunni heartland. Did voting continue there after that violence flared up?
EDWARD WONG: Well, yesterday there were some air strikes by the Americans on some areas around Ramadi. The Americans report that they struck at two different groups of people. In one group they say they killed 20 people whom they say are insurgents. And in the other group, they say they killed 50 people. And they also say that these people were insurgents.
But some news agencies have spoken to witnesses out there who say that these were civilians or maybe a certain number of these people were civilians. And as with all stories coming out of Anbar it’s very hard to tell exactly what the truth is because oftentimes you have the residents of Anbar accusing the Americans of killing civilians and often it’s hard to just figure out exactly who is telling the truth.
RAY SUAREZ: Last week there was a surge of encouragement of the Sunni-Arabs to participate in the balloting. Is there any way to know yet how well it worked?
EDWARD WONG: There has been a surge of voting among Sunni-Arabs especially in some neighborhoods in Baghdad and in Fallujah, which is a former insurgent stronghold near Ramadi. Part of the reason why we think they turned out in large numbers in Fallujah, for example, is there was a lot of security in the streets. The insurgents there are somewhat active but not nearly as active as in Ramadi. And also a lot of the clerics and the political leaders of Fallujah told their constituents to go out and vote and to make their voices heard.
And we also heard some other Sunni political leaders around Baghdad saying last week that they wanted people to vote on the constitution no matter what they voted so there are places where Sunnis came out. I was in Atamia neighborhood which is a very hard-line neighborhood which has seen a lot of violence and there were lots of people coming out to vote there. And for the most part they were voting no on the constitution. They were rejecting it. They were rejecting the type of government that it would form and they were saying that this isn’t the future we want for our country. So even though they were voting in this referendum, that doesn’t mean they’ll buy into the government that comes next.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the rules for the referendum said that if three provinces rejected the constitution, it wouldn’t pass. Is there any sign that there are three provinces that have voted no?
EDWARD WONG: Well, right now we’re getting signs that at least two provinces have a no vote. That’s Anbar with Ramadi and Fallujah. And the other one is Salahuddin, which has Tikrit which is Saddam’s hometown. So those are Sunni heavy provinces that we believe voted no from early results. And two other provinces that had a chance of meeting that two thirds requirement, Nineveh province and Diyala province appeared to have voted yes or appeared to have voted no only maybe by a slight margin and failed to meet the two thirds requirement. So either way those two provinces didn’t meet the two thirds requirement from what the initial results are showing right now.
RAY SUAREZ: Have you spoken to Sunni Arabs who have voted yes, who tell you that they voted yes because they’re tired of everything that’s led up to this election?
EDWARD WONG: I did speak with some in Atamia who voted yes. There were two young men who told me that they voted yes to the constitution. They thought it was a good thing. They wanted to move forward. And they also wanted to take part in the December elections for a permanent government. They wanted to vote for someone they could trust. They wanted these December elections to take place. These were two young men who voted for Iyad Allawi last January.
Mr. Allawi is a former Baath Party member and considered a fairly strong leader here in Iraq. He’s secular and many secular voters, whether they’re Sunnis or whether they’re Shiites have supported Mr. Allawi but he lost out to the religious vote last January.
So there are some Sunni Arabs, secular, middle class ones, who do want the elections to take place in December because they want to back people like Mr. Allawi.
RAY SUAREZ: Edward Wong in Baghdad, thanks for being with us.
EDWARD WONG: Thanks a lot.