Iraqis in Hamilton voting in historic election that follows defeat of Islamic State
Ashor Sworesho is one of hundreds of Hamiltonians voting in the Iraqi election
Over 9,000 kilometres from his home town in Northern Iraq, Ashor Sworesho cast his vote in Hamilton ahead of Saturday's Iraqi general election.
Sworesho is one of hundreds of Hamiltonians expected to vote in a downtown polling station for an Iraqi election being seen as historic — the first parliamentary election since the country declared victory over the Islamic State extremist group.
He walked out of the voting station with his finger stained with semi-permanent purple ink, signifying that he's cast a ballot. But the ink stain also represents to him that he has exercised his democratic right and that there is a change in the air.
Sworesho has called Hamilton home since 1997. This is the second Iraq election he has voted in since coming to a voting age in Canada. He says it's an important one.
Sworesho says the tradition now takes on a different meaning.
"It has become a status, a symbol of the blossoming democracy there," said Sworesho. "When you go out you show it saying that you supported [and] elect someone for Iraq."
The balloting is expected to be a referendum on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's tenure and his pledge to be more inclusive of Iraq's Sunni minority.
Voting in the city began Thursday with a steady stream of people flowing in Friday until polls close later tonight.
"It shows a growing community in Hamilton itself and at the same time it shows that a lot of people who had left Iraq hadn't done so voluntarily," said Sworesho.
"This helps Iraq —helps them to tell the Iraqis that are outside of Iraq that you still have a say in what happens in your home country."
There are 329 seats for the taking, with nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of different political alliances.
"This is hopefully a new start for all Iraqis and predominately I myself being Assyrian for the minorities there."
Voting from Canada
Thar Alkhayat of Toronto is working at the polling station after some training in Ottawa. Part of his job involves communicating with election officials in Iraq and sending them returns.
Alkhayat says there about 5,000 Iraqis in Hamilton and expects a turnout of about (2,000). He says on Thursday 300-400 showed up.
"I think this is the first time in Hamilton because we found that there were a lot of Iraqi people living here so we had to come here," said Alkhayat.
An electronic voting system is being used for the first time this year in Iraq to try to reduce fraud and speed up the counting process.
Security has been tightened across Iraq in the days before the election. Baghdad, Mosul and other major cities are imposing curfews on election day, and travel between provinces already has been restricted.
As of Friday, airports and border crossings will be closed. Islamic State militants no longer control significant pockets of Iraqi territory, but they do maintain a grip inside Syria along Iraq's border.
Along with a purple finger, Abdelvahab Mohamedali came out of the polling station with hope because he says last election it "didn't work."
"Now we're trying new people [and] maybe they are going to help our family there," said Mohamedali.
Results will be released within 48 hours of Saturday's poll close, according to the independent body overseeing the elections.
Few foresee a dramatic government shake-up, however. The most powerful alliances expected to win the most seats are headed by the same parties that have dominated Iraqi politics since 2003.
With files from The Associated Press