Low Voter Turnout for Iraq's Assyrian Population

No major violence broke out in Iraq Saturday during the provincial elections, but critics are also fast to point out that voter turnout was low, especially among the mainly Christian minority group known as Assyrians.

Preliminary results for minorities in Iraq's northern Nineveh province, which is home to one of the largest Christian populations in Iraq, show very low voter turnout. Only about 30 percent of Assyrians showed up to vote in the province, according to Assyrian International News Agency.

In the largest Assyrian town in the Nineveh plain, Al Hamdanya, nearly 70 percent did not turn out to vote in the election despite the good security situation.

"Our people have lost hope in the political process, Assyrians no longer see any meaning in participating after the way they were treated in the Iraqi parliament," says Basem Ballo, head of the Tellkaif district in the Nineveh Plain, according to AINA.

Ballo was referring to the recent Iraqi Parliament decision to remove a clause, Article 50, from Iraq's constitution, which reserves seats for minorities in provincial councils.

Assyrians and other minorities say the removal of Article 50 will further silence the already oppressed people.

Islamic extremists have driven Assyrians out of Iraq with their systematic attacks, relentless abductions, death threats, and destruction of Christian-owned properties.

Before the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq war, there were an estimated 1.4 million Assyrian Christians. Now the number has plummeted to less than half a million. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Christians make up nearly half of those fleeing Iraq even though they make up only about three percent of the country's population.

Besides apathy, some reports indicate that many Assyrians decided not to vote because they fear losing food aid and security services. Assyrians have accused the pro-Kurdish party of threatening to withhold aid and security for them if they do not vote for its members.

For the nation overall, voter turnout was the lowest in the nation's short history of democracy. Only about 7.5 million of its more than 14 million, or about 51 percent, registered voters participated in the election, according to McClatchy newspaper.

That figure is much lower than the 76 percent turnout in national elections in December 2005, and below the 57 percent who went to the polls for provincial councils and their national assembly in January 2005.

According to preliminary results, it seems that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Party, Coalition of the State of Law, is the big winner. Final results will not be released until the end of the week.

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