2013-04-20 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) Iraqis went to the polls Saturday in their first provincial elections since the United States withdrew its military presence.
Despite weeks of violence and bloodshed leading up to the elections, voting in 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces took place in a state of relative stability and amid tight security. Reports of scattered violence during the first several hours of voting did not prove deadly and seemed not to dissuade voters.
The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako of Baghdad, said interest among Iraqi citizens in exercising their right to vote was good.
“I think the situation is much better today because of the security, and the police and the army are controlling the city of Baghdad in which we are living,” he said. “And many people are going to vote for their candidates and, among them, Christians, to vote for people who can do something for them and to be able to ask for their rights and also for their interests.”
The patriarch said he had issued an appeal leading up to the elections, urging Christians to vote. He reported that several Christians were among the thousands of candidates running for 378 positions, and that Christians were among those heading to the polls.
“Now they are going to vote but you know many Christians already left Baghdad. But they are participating. I don’t know exactly what is the percentage but really they are participating in the elections,” he stated
There are 13.8 million citizens eligible to vote in the 12 provinces where elections were being held. Officials delayed voting in six provinces, among them Kirkuk and in the northern Kurdish region, due to security concerns.
Archbishop Sako added that the general situation for Christians in Iraq has seemingly improved.
“There is an improvement of security on all levels. There are also explosions but nothing against Christians as it was before that. And also they can have their jobs and also their work. The problem is the future,” he said. “There is no real stability. Therefore they are a little bit worried, not only the Christians but also the others.”
The patriarch also maintained that the Christian presence in Iraq remains important for the country’s future.
“The role of Christians doesn’t depend on their number but on their qualifications and I think everybody is looking (at) them as an elite, and they can do a lot if they want, if they are not afraid,” he emphasized. “And given their open-mindedness and also their skill(s), I think they are able to do a lot for the country, and to show also their role and their contribution.”
“I think they should be encouraged to stay and to persevere here and to vote. Iraq is their country, (throughout) history, they still have something to give to Iraqi citizens,” he concluded.
Election results are not expected for several days and will not directly affect the shape of Iraq’s national government. But the vote is seen as an important barometer heading into the parliamentary election, set to take place next year.
Listen to the report by Laura Ieraci: