In his inaugural address, President Bush declared that “America speaks anew to the peoples of the world”: democratic reformers everywhere could find hope in “the power of our ideals.” These words come to mind as Iraqi expatriates cast their votes. Because the election is held not just at home but also in many other host countries, its inspirational effect is magnified.
“I feel as if I’ve just been born”; “It was the best thing I have actually ever done in my life”; “This is just like a dream.”
Those were the words of Iraqi expatriates Friday as they went to polling sites around the world to take part in the first free Iraqi elections in more than a half-century.
Around the world in 14 countries, tens of thousands of expatriates — many of them exiles who fled Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship — were jubilant as they had a say in their homeland’s government for the first time.
Organizers said more than 280,000 Iraqi expatriates registered to vote, and in many places can do so through Sunday.
The total number of registrations represents only about 25 percent of the Iraqis believed to be living abroad and eligible to vote.
In the United States, only 25,000 registered — barely more than 10 percent of the 235,000 Iraqis who organizers said were eligible to vote.
Peter Erben of the International Organization for Migration, which is overseeing the out-of-country voting effort, insisted the registration numbers are impressive.
A 25 percent voter turnout “in a diaspora vote is more than most democracies can boast of,” he said.
Of course, if security in Iraq severely depresses domestic turnout, much of these encouraging foreign results will be counteracted. On the other hand, perhaps expatriate experiences will help Iraqis overcome their fears.