Sunday, September 7, 2008

Provincial Election Update

Despite parliament not passing a new provincial election law before it went on summer vacation this year, the voting process continues to move ahead. Hundreds of new parties put their names forward, voting centers were established, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis signed up to vote. When the elections will happen however, how many Iraqis will take part, whether they will be free and fair, and their lasting affect, are all up for question.

These elections are seen as a turning point in Iraqi politics because it could empower several new parties, or maintain the ruling parties, or a mix of both. May 31, 2008 was the deadline for parties and individuals to register. Over 504 signed up, including 224 individuals. These included four Sunni parties in Anbar, each led by a different tribal sheikh (Ahmad Abu Risha, Ali al-Suleiman, Amer al-Suleiman, and Hamid al-Hayes), eight factions of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party (led Nouri al-Maliki, Abdel-Karim Ainzi, Mazin Makiya, Izzeddin Salim, three others, plus Ibrahim al-Jafaari’s new independent party that broke away from Dawa), three factions of the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) (Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, Haid al-Ameri’s Badr faction, and Vice President Adel Abdel-Mahdi), and Imam Mohammad al-Haideri’s Independent Solidarity Coalition that broke away from the SIIC. A plethora of other Shiite parties have signed up, which could make governance more difficult. If they gain power that could cause decision making to be more difficult with so many voices in office. On the Sunni side, the Awakening/Sons of Iraq parties are expected to sweep Vice President Tariq Hashemi’s Islamic Party out of office in Anbar, and possibly gain seats in central and northern Iraq as well. Because the Sunnis boycotted the first round of provincial elections in January 2005, the Kurds now rule Ninewa, Salahaddin and Tamim provinces that have large to majority Sunni Arab populations. The Kurdish parties are expected to lose control of them.

Voter registration has also moved forward, but not up to expectations. In July, 563 registration centers were established across the country. Iraqis originally had 30 days to sign up. That deadline was extended three times. By the beginning of September, the Election Commission reported that only two million out of a possible seventeen million voters had registered. In comparison, in 2005 eight million of a possible fourteen million cast their ballots. A Commission official said voter registration has been low across the country, not just in certain areas. Time magazine claimed the low voter sign-up was due to widespread apathy amongst Iraqis, many of who don’t believe that the elections will change their everyday lives. USA Today also reported that the government may be interfering in the voter roles. They said that in Sadr City, an Iraqi Army unit demanded that a registration center in Sadr City turn over the list of those that had signed up. A few days later a director of a registration center was arrested. The head of the Election Commission confirmed that security forces had been interfering in the registration process. This brings into question whether the election will be fair or fixed, and just how much democracy has a foothold in the public opinion of Iraqis.

All of these issues are moot until parliament actually passes a new provincial election law. When that will happen is anyone’s guess. The legislature is still on summer break, but will return to work on September 9. The Election Commission said that if a new law is passed by September 10, the election could happen by December 22. If it’s passed later this month, it could still occur by the end of 2008. Any later, and the vote will be pushed back until 2009. While the White House, the Anbar Awakening, Sons of Iraq, Basra’s Fadhila Party, the Iraqi National List, and the Iraqi Accordance Front have been pushing for the vote, the Kurds, SIIC, and parts of the Dawa wish them to be delayed. The latter, which make up the main factions in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, are afraid of the losses they may face in an open vote. The last version of the election law, which was vetoed in July, said that Iraqis could vote for parties or individuals. This could greatly open up the country’s politics, especially after so many new groups and people have registered to run for office.

SOURCES

Abouzeid, Rania, “Growing Apathy Toward Iraqi Elections,” Time, 9/5/08

al-Ansary, Khalid, “Iraq election law must pass mid-Sept for 2008 vote,” Reuters, 8/30/08

Biddle, Stephen, Nasr, Vali, Nash, William, “Political and Security Developments in Iraq and the Region,” Council on Foreign Relations, 6/12/08

Garcia-Navarro, Lourdes, “Iraqis Fear Delays of Critical Provincial Elections,” Morning Edition, NPR, 6/27/08

Kazimi, Nibras, “An Initial Look at the Registrants for Provincial Election,” Talisman Gate Blog, 6/12/08

Levinson, Charles, “Misconduct seen at Baghdad voting centers,” USA Today, 8/14/08

Missing Links Blog, “Suggested scapegoats for poor voter-registration,” 8/23/08

Robertson, Campbell and Oppel, Richard, “Iraqis Fail to Agree on Provincial Election Law,” New York Times, 8/7/08

Tavernise, Sabrina, and Muhammed, Riyadh, “Iraqi Measure on Provincial Voting Is Vetoed,” New York Times, 7/24/08

Visser, Reidar, “Iraq’s Provincial Elections: Another D-Day Approaching,” Historiae.com, 6/16/08
- “Iraqi Parliament Passes Provincial Elections Law,” Historiae.org, 7/22/08
- “The Kirkuk Issue Exposes Weaknesses in Iraq’s Ruling Coalition,” Historiae.org, 8/7/08

Voices of Iraq, “IHEC opens 563 voter registration update centers – UNAMI,” 7/15/08

Zavis, Alexandra, “Iraqi election law still incomplete,” Los Angeles Times, 7/14/08

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