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IRAQ: Low turnout mars Iraqi election

February 1, 2009 |  5:00 am

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They may have been peaceful, but Saturday's all-important provincial elections across Iraq appear to have suffered from a combination of apathy and confusion, resulting in a turnout of only 51 percent, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission announced today.

The numbers are likely to be a disappointment to election officials and U.N. and U.S. officials, who have portrayed the event as a barometer of Iraq's capacity for moving beyond bloodshed and embracing democratic change. With turnouts as limited as an estimated 40 percent in some provinces, losers could charge that the election results are illegitimate.

Reasons for the low turnout vary, but one problem that emerged Saturday was with voters who showed up at polling stations only to be turned away because their names were not on voter lists. In some cases, people had gone to the wrong polling stations. But some people alleged they were at their assigned stations and were the victims of either a political conspiracy or disorganization by election officials.

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Another issue was the vehicular ban imposed on most cities, which left would-be voters whose polling stations were far from home struggling to find a means to cast ballots. In an apparent move to resolve that problem, the Iraqi government Saturday lifted the car ban at 3 p.m. and extended voting until 6 p.m., an hour later than planned, but it may have been too late to remedy the situation for thousands of Iraqis.

Counting of ballots, meanwhile, has begun across the country. Countingblog3

Provisional results are expected later this week. Final results verified by international and national observers aren't expected until the end of February. At stake were 440 seats on 14 provincial councils across the country. They are the equivalent of state legislatures in the United States.

-- Tina Susman in Baghdad

Photos from top: Election workers stare solemnly at a plastic tub filled with ballots waiting to be unsealed after polls closed Saturday; impatient voters surround a poll worker Saturday in Baghdad clamoring for information about how to vote. Many voters say their names were missing from voter rolls; a tub filled with newly cast ballots is dumped onto a table for counting. Credits: Saad Khalaf, Los Angeles Times. 

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