“Some candidates already violate, what if they reach parliament?!”

KirkukNow Raouf Ahmed, a taxi driver, drives throughout Baghdad’s neighbourhoods on daily basis, due to his profession. He observes myridas of signboards and posters with photos of parliamentary candidates, hung over the apartments and crossroads of the city. As Raouf heard in the news, the election campaign is yet to commence, he asks then why these ads are present already? A number of candidates started their election campaign days prior to the official time set by IHEC to be begin, which is considered as a clear violation of the campaign statute set by IHEC. “The law does not permit any candidate or political entity to start the election campaign before the time set by IHEC,” said Muhammad al-Batat, a political analyst and scholar. IHEC had set 14 of April as the official time to start campaigning for parliamentary elections. According to the election campaigning statute, number 11 of 2018, the campaign ends on 11 May, 24 hours prior to opening ballot boxes in voting centres.          A few days prior to the official timeline of campaigning, Kirkuk Now observed numerous signboards and posters along the way of Baghdad and Ninawa, with photos of political figures along with the name of the political blocs that they lead for the election. Another example recorded as “violation of election campaigning instructions” is posting complementary sign boards and posters where a candidate, with his/her photo is congratulated on the ad. According to the boards, people of a certain region or tribe congratulate certain candidates as they have “already” made victory and reached parliament. al-Batat told Kirkuk Now, “Some candidates want to sideline their acts while going beyond the statute number 11 of 2018 for elections, through distributing their photos and names, as if residents of a certain area or tribe have congratulated their son because of his nomination; they also often do not mark the number of their political bloc or their own candidacy number in the boards.” al-Batat said the instructions consist of “campaigning, in political terms” which include “a candidate or list announcing to their audience about their nomination, conveying the message that urges: Vote for me”. al-Batat, who teaches Political Science in the University of al-Mustansiriya insisted that the above-mentioned way is “considered election campaigning, where the candidate want to play games through the legal loopholes, claiming that the bloc’s number is not written, or claiming that they have nothing to do with the board, and residents of the area, certain tribes or clans have conducted the work and hung it as well”.      Legal expert Tariq Harb considered such phenomena as a “clear violation” of the campaigning instructions set by the IHEC for parliamentary elections. “Violation of election campaigning instructions” has gone beyond the ground and led into the virtual pages of the internet. In a statement to Kirkuk Now, Tariq Harb said, “A large number of candidates have violated the election law. Such candidates, even if not violated the law on the ground, have violated it through the social networks such as Facebook.” Journalist Manar Izzaddin observed that some election campaign ads on the social networks are “sponsored”, meaning that the candidates have spent money to reach the largest number of voters and visitors. IHEC has determined a punitive financial measure against those who violate the instructions, starting from 3 million [around 2400 USD] Iraqi dinars up to 50 million [around 40,000 USD], in case of repeating the violation by the candidate. al-Batat explained that election campaign statute bans any form of campaign, which includes myriads of public instructions, regulating campaigns in all streets and apartments, along with the virtual world of the internet and social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.       Harb urged IHEC to be more insistent in implementing punitive measures against the violators, especially when the time for campaigning is only some days away and “no firm and tough stance is represented IHEC”. In case of violating the election campaign, it is not only the candidate who is punished, but any means of media which take part is also included, according to Harb. “While covering the developments, media outlets introduce their guests to the audience as guests not with their ordinary capacity or current position as ministers, managers, doctors, etc. They also allow them to propagate for their candidacy.” A number of TV channels had already started campaigning. A TV channel presented a slogan of one of the political blocs on the upper-right of the screen, as some other channels invite candidates and allow them to discuss their election programs in detail. Harb said, “Media outlets deliberately want to show these [certain] candidates on screen. For example, a political analyst, which happens to be a candidate as well, is invited, while tens of other political analysts [are ignored] as they are not election candidates.” He asked for the reason behind such act, as media outlets, whether TV, radio or paper, only invite candidates, of which there are seven thousand candidates. He urged media outlets not to present the candidates in the time before the actual campaign, and invite other people from the 36 million residents of Iraq.        He noticed that the campaign budget has a role in inviting the news, programs, and show guests, produced by myriads of media outlets. Another way of “illegal election campaign”, as Harb explained, is to conduct forums, festivals and seminars under the supervision of certain candidates. Article 23 of the statute says, “IHEC is allowed to impose punitive “financial” measures against a candidate of a political party, or dissolve their candidacy, or prevent them from nomination for one or two future elections, if violations were made against the conduct of political parties which have signed this [statute], along with taking legal measures in a way where such instructions are implemented in the election.” On its part, IHEC announced that they have monitoring teams in all provinces to record any violation of the election campaign. The teams are recording all violations on the ground and on the internet, or broadcasted by media outlets, according to Rzgar Hama, deputy president of Commissionaires Council in IHEC. He noticed that 10 violations have been recorded in campaigning, conducted by a number of candidates, and their bloc heads have been warned about them. He said the candidates will face punitive measures, and if repeated, the measures will be multiplied.       Hama insisted, “IHEC takes sufficient measures to prevent any violation according to the election campaign statute number 11 of 2018.” The taxi driver, while surprised, said, “If the candidates violate the statute set by IHEC  from now on, what will they do when they reach the parliament or power?!”    

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