Saturday, December 6, 2008

Controversy Could Be Growing Over Ban On Using Religious Symbols During Provincial Elections

When the provisional election law was passed by parliament in September 2008 it banned the use of religious figures on campaign materials, and limited the use of mosques. This was seen as a defeat for the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) that had been pushing hard to defeat this restriction. The SIIC argued that using religious images was important for electioneering because of the high rate of illiteracy amongst Iraqis. During the 2005 elections, the SIIC and the United Iraqi Alliance had relied heavily on photos of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The ayatollah is the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, and is highly revered. Many Shiites interviewed after the vote on ratifying the constitution for example, said they were casting ballots for it because Ayatollah Sistani had endorsed it. Moqtada al-Sadr had also used images of himself and his father in 2005.

Several parties that opposed the ruling coalition successfully pushed through this article during debate on the law. This consisted of former Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, the Basra based Fadhila party, the Sadrists, the Sunni National Dialogue Council and National Dialogue Front, the National Reform Party of former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and a few others. They represented the main opposition parties in parliament to the coalition behind Maliki’s government that consists of the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Supreme Council, the Dawa Party, and the Iraqi Islamic Party. In early July the SIIC dropped their opposition to the article, but after the first version of the law was vetoed by the Presidential Council, the SIIC brought up using religious symbols and mosques again.

Now that the law has been passed, members of the Supreme Council and Dawa parties are violating the religious ban. The SIIC and Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani who has joined the Dawa Party claim that Grand Ayatollah Sistani supports them. The Iraqi Election Commission has charged both with using the cleric’s pictures in their campaign material. An SIIC candidate said that was not true, but that they would continue to use Sistani’s image regardless. This has apparently raised the ire of the Ayatollah, as IraqSlogger reported that a source close to him recently announced that Sistani does not want his photo used by any political party in the run-up to the provincial elections. It will have to be seen whether the Election Commission has the ability to enforce the election law, and if they issue any punishments against the two parties for breaking it. The Commission would have to exercise a large amount of independence and daring to do so as they would be going up against the newfound popularity and standing of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political party, and the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council who are battling it out for power in the southern half of the country.

SOURCES

Aswat al-Iraq, “Parliamentary blocs demand solving provincial elections pending issues,” 6/22/08

Filkins, Dexter and Worth, Robert, “Monitors in Iraq Review Votes Where ‘Yes’ Ballots Hit 90%,” New York Times, 10/18/05

IraqSlogger.com, “Sistani: No Pictures of Me in Election Campaign,” 12/3/08

Lynch, Marc, “definitely, maybe,” Abu Aardvark Blog, 9/24/08

Ramzi, Kholoud, “daawa-siic conflict splits Shiite unity,” Niqash,” 11/27/08

Robertson, Campbell, “Iraqi Forces Raid Mosque With Links to Sadrists,” New York Times, 7/12/08

Visser, Reidar, “Hakim’s Insincerity on the Local Elections,” Historiae.org, 9/11/08
- “Iraq’s Provincial Elections: Another D-Day Approaching,” Historiae.com, 6/16/08
- “The Kirkuk Issue Exposes Weaknesses in Iraq’s Ruling Coalition,” Historiae.org, 8/7/08

Yacoub, Sameer, “Iraq bans pictures of non-candidates in vote,” Associated Press, 7/3/08

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