Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes a moving account of a middle-aged People’s Unity activist campaigning for votes in Baghdad:
Hopping between sewage pools is a man in his early 50s, wearing an old blue jacket and a pair of torn brown trousers. His shirt is buttoned up and his grizzled hair laid flat on his head. Thick glasses rest on his nose.
His hand is clutching a thick bundle of papers. “Vote for the People’s Alliance,” he says to people as he hands them the fliers. On one side of the paper there is a drawing of a circle with sunrays coming out of it, and giving instructions on how to vote; on the other side there is a calendar.
The man is a communist, walking the streets of a conservative Shia district where old man Sistani is watching from every street corner.
I follow, keeping a good distance. Every time he approaches someone I close my eyes, expecting a gunshot or at least some sharp object to find its way to his head. It doesn’t happen. Instead, people appear happy to stick the leaflets in their pockets. “Look, it has a calendar,” one woman tells her friend as they admire the little leaflet. A couple of children follow the man for a couple of blocks and every time he hands out a leaflet they run in front of him asking for more.
“Do we have to vote for you if we take some of these?” asks one of the kids.
“No, no,” says the man, waving his hands. “It is up to you to choose who you vote for.”
The man – brave enough to hand out communist leaflets in the middle of bomb-torn Baghdad, but not brave enough to agree to have his name published in this paper – was trained as a teacher but lost his job after spending long periods in Saddam’s prisons. For him, elections are the way to undo the miseries of his past.
“It doesn’t matter who wins, it is the election that counts. When people go out and vote they will never allow a new Saddam to emerge again.” He says it cheerfully.