Chaos, is the word I can describe the situation when I went to vote today in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
All the arrangements by the Iraqi election commission is just a farce.
We arrived around noon, we were four families with women, children and the elderly.
I was anticipating the strong presence of the Kurdish community, so I was not surprised to see them celebrating and chanting their centered-sun flags on many spots and in the hands of the young and old. I did not see the Iraqi flag, any version of it, held by anyone except for a man and his son.
The first sight of festivities was in the parking lot, seeing five young men standing next to their car, taking photos for each other with their digital camera and dancing on the sound of the song "Shid Heelak Ya Iraq" playing loud from the car stereo. Just outside the parking lot, and in a very big open area there was a group of men and women, hand in hand, doing the traditional dance on Kurdish music coming loud from the speakers of a car. Few meters walking further towards the first entrance gate there was a crowd watching another group of Kurdish people doing the same song, or maybe another song, I don't speak Kurdish so I won't be able to recognize what is what.
At the main Entrance, on its right side there was a space allocated for people to leave their belongings, such as cameras, mobile phones, handbags...etc No one asked me, though, so I just walked onwards and there was the big surprise waiting for me: hundreds of people queuing, not queuing, in fact piling up like sardines. On the rare left side there were two TV camera's put on stand, one of them of the Iraqi official TV channel, AlIraqiya and the other of Kurdish News Network, but no one was behind either of them.
After seeing the situation, the families I am with decided on letting the children behind with one or two of us, and the rest start with their patriotic struggle! However, after just 10 minutes one of the families with us left and did not come back, they stayed in the car till we finished voting. When I came back I found out that they finished three packs of chewing gum with the children with them.
There was no consideration for the old, the children, or the ill. Every now and then someone emerge behind the high fence and call specific name. OK!!! even if he would find the man or woman he is looking for, how would he expect him to pass through???? From time to time the gate is open for one or two and suddenly it is opened and a batch of groups rush inside. Why is this? I don't know
I should not only blame the commission for this chaos, there are some people who just don't have any respect or the least of manners, like that young man in his late twenties who just indulged himself to the front of an old lady just to have a Kurdish chit-chat with his friend. Talking to him was no use, he just tried to say something in Arabic about a phone call. It did not stop to that, while the wave of people kept on pushing, that guy and his friend did not think for a moment about the people behind them, so I stretched my arm around the old woman and started to push the two guys away as I can.
A big man with the a badge hanging from his neck emerged from behind the check-point white tent and starting making signals to someone he knew among the crowd, and shouted "lift the baby-cart and come here" and signaled to move from behind the people. I could not take it anymore, I shouted at the man while pointing to the family left and behind me (a man, his wife, a baby in his small wagon and a small girl of 5 or 6) by saying "what is their guilt of this family then? why discriminate this family from the other. There are a lot of families stuck here". He murmured something, maybe cursed me, I could not hear him, but that generated anger in the young family man and exploded and started screaming as hard as he could:
"Shame on you, shame on all of you. We ran from Saddam's tyranny years ago, and now we are getting humiliated by you. Shame on you, bastards".
After almost two hours shouting and protesting this horrible trap they have been put into, someone behind the fence, half leg in his car and the other half outside was calling us, the voters, by the microphone and saying in Kurdish, Dutch and Arabic that they are going to organize the queue for all of us and he pleaded to assist the police to separate the old and families with children so they go in advance. That created more protests by the people, because there is no way to make such a separation, but at the end they managed and both the young family I mentioned earlier and the old lady got a chance to go in.
Did I mention that the cold weather? it drilled our bodies in spite of the heavy clothes we were wearing? There was a young man in his thirties wearing a white winter coat, hands in his pockets and standing like a chained man from top to toe except the one centimeter steps he was taking when pushed. The man was shivering in a way I have never seen, and because of the packed place, the vibration from that was felt by people surrounding him.
After a couple of time moving forward we stopped for sometimes on the small bridge that separate the main entrance from the path way we came from. It was an angel where I could see the packed pathway with people, and seeing many families give up and treat back for good. Suddenly, a man with short red hair standing in the middle of the crowd turned himself and started talking to the woman standing behind him... he quickly held her, the woman was fainting on his hand, he kept like pushing her to the back trying to find a gap to get her through the crowd. She was holding herself from falling, still had strength, but when they moved out of the crowd to a small corner she lost consciousness. The police came and a female police agent sat down on the floor and took the woman in her arms and started to give her first aid while talking to her and try to comfort her.
After that, like 15 minutes passed I managed to get through the main gate to the check-point white tent where two large metal detectors were erected on each side. At that moment, only the family man of one of the four families was with me. The rest were lost in the crowd. After checking what my pockets and what I have in my pockets - my cigarette lighter was confiscated - I went through the main yard to the main entrance of the voting compound. A young man was standing at the door giving pooling station numbers to every person want to vote. However, he did not give me a number - and I saw many people later did not have numbers and entered the voting station.
The voting compound reminds me of a bazaar, something like the Beverwijk bazaar here in the Netherlands or Souq Al Hamidiya in Damascus. No smoking is allowed but I could feel and see the smoke in the air. While waiting I talked and listen to some people who had one thing in common: they were very angry and extremely frustrated from the way the election high commission organized the event. There was a family of three woman in their thirties who came with other families in a bus all the way from France. They were furious, they even mentioned something about had a fight with the election commission representative at the check-point white tent. One of the two women screamed "There must be someone here who would observe all this crap and write about it on the internet. Someone must tell the truth about all this nonsense farce." A man who was talking to her said that they were not the only people from outside the Netherlands, there are other people came here by bus from Belgium.
The voting process was not that hard or complicated. The three men sitting in the voting station controlled my papers, they were very nice and they varied in the way they tried to show their official official or seriousness, I even exchanged traditional Arab jokes with one of them, a man of 50's with a very warm smile before I left them and gave my vote. I noticed while watching TV that the way we submit the voting application inside Iraq is different than the way we have been asked to do it. Here the voting application must be folded after choosing my candidate, put in a A5 envelop, seal the A5 envelop and put it inside an A3 type envelop, and seal, then I am allowed to put the big envelop in the voting plastic box.
So... a process of merely 5 minutes took me exactly 5 hours to complete
Here, you can find pictures of the event with an article in Dutch
Below is a video from Dutch Broadcasting Foundation (NOS) on the elections:
And the below video is from Radio Netherlands Wordlwide: