Election candidates bribe slum dwellers in Iraq’s Karbala

The slum dwellers are being exploited in a game that lacks any ethics

In Iraq’s upcoming federal elections, every last vote will doubtless count: and in Karbala candidates have been making sure that everyone there knows their names, even those poorer families living in the city’s slums.

"Over the last few days political candidates have regularly held gatherings in this area,” says Haj Abu Sami, one of the residents of a shanty town in Karbala. “They exploit the people here and make a lot of promises, telling them they can own the houses they live in, which are on state land, that they will pay them salaries and give them jobs. They also distribute poor quality food to get people to vote for them,” he complained.

“But most of the time the politicians forget these promises as soon as they are elected. And the people here are left with broken promises and meals of rice and tomato paste!”

During the last elections one of the female candidates campaigning here promised to get rid of a landfill near the shanty town if she was elected, says Khadija al-Shammari, another local resident. “And everyone living here voted for her. But she didn’t win a seat. So our dreams of living somewhere cleaner, away from this landfill, ended.”

The reason that the candidates come here and try so hard to make the lower income families and shanty dwellers vote for them is because they know they can fool them, Mohammed al-Hasnawi, a teacher who lives in another of Karbala’s shanty towns, told NIQASH. They don’t trust the wealthy or educated people to vote for them. “It’s more difficult for them to lie to those people, to tell them they have achieved a lot and that they have plans for projects in the future. But the poor people in these towns have no choice but to trust the candidate and they want to hang onto their hopes for a better future.”

Another resident, Yasser Haider, says he knows that some of the candidates have opened offices so that unemployed people can fill in job applications there; Haider himself is a graduate of a technical college and he is looking for a job too. But he says he won’t go and fill in one of these forms.
“The candidates doing this don’t care about the people or their needs,” Haider says. “They just want to be elected. And this is yet another deceitful way to get there. I think people are becoming more aware of their methods though,” he concluded.
One of the community leaders in the lower income area of Shuhada-e-Saif Saad, east of Karbala, said that a political candidate had set up a tent to campaign from, in his neighbourhood.

But when the candidate started to boast about his achievements and started making promises, Abdel Azim al-Najar told NIQASH, “locals started to leave the tent. They knew he was lying. Then the candidate also had to leave to avoid any conflict or embarrassment.”

In fact, al-Najar says, a lot of the local families decided not to accept the meals the candidate was offering; they knew the candidate would try to take advantage of them.

A local shop keeper says he forced one of the candidates who was trying to erect a campaign tent near his store to leave the area. Locals living in the neighbourhood went so far as to threaten the candidate, telling him they didn’t believe him and that he should not try to approach any more of them; they also told him not to stir up sectarian enmities or use sectarian rhetoric.

“It’s important that the people here realise what’s going on,” Ahmed Akeel, a local journalist, explained. “We need to tell the clerics at the mosques and the local tribal leaders that nobody should deal with these unscrupulous candidates. The slum dwellers are being exploited in a game that lacks any ethics. These candidates have nothing to offer people,” he concluded.

Another local man, Amir al-Asadi, a lawyer, said that Parliament should work out some way of regulating the behaviour of candidates during the election campaigning.

“Candidates who don’t respect the rules shouldn’t be allowed to run for Parliament,” al-Asadi suggested. “They should also have to pay fines if they violate the electoral code. And media outlets should run stories about these unscrupulous people so that voters can boycott them.”