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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: UN to host grass roots election meetings

BAGHDAD, 14 May 2004 (IRIN) - Ordinary Iraqis will be asked their opinion about how to run the country in coming weeks in a series of town meetings that will encourage community participation, a top UN election official in Iraq said on Thursday.

The first "town meeting" is scheduled for Saturday, said Carina Perelli, chief of the electoral assistance division at the UN. But because of the uncertain security situation in the country, Perelli declined to say where it might be held, although she asked journalists to help publicise the process.

Creating election laws and discussing how voter registration is to happen are two main topics for the meetings to be held around the country, Perelli told journalists at a press conference. She didn't go into detail about how people would be informed of future meetings, where they would be held or how many there would be.

"We'll open up the debate to town hall meetings," Perelli said. "We need fundamental agreements. We need the broadest possible consensus of society on what form this [elections] should take," she added.

At the same time, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi is in the country this week meeting a broad range of people, ostensibly to start building a caretaker government that will run the country after the scheduled transfer of sovereignty on 30 June.

UN Security Council members are already in informal discussions about who should be in that government, Brahimi's spokesman Ahmed Fawzi has said.

Governing Council members appointed by US administrators have been at many of those meetings, Fawzi said. Women's groups, new political parties, respected politicians who were thrown out of government by former president Saddam Hussein and academics, farmers, lawyers and business people have all been consulted about the new government and the way forward, Fawzi said.

UN officials have suggested the caretaker government be made up of a president, two vice presidents, a prime minister and a cabinet. Leaders from around the country may be asked to help choose some of the temporary government in a meeting that would be scheduled immediately after 30 June.

"We're not there yet, but he has been meeting with a lot of people," Fawzi said. At the same time, the UN is trying to put together an independent election commission of eight people who will help run the election planned for next January. "Anyone can nominate someone, or nominate themselves," she said.

Perelli pointed out that it was too early to say what the UN role would be, but emphasisedthat it had to be an Iraqi process. "It's not the UN election, it's not my election," she maintained.

The top UN election official said those who want to be on the commission should apply in the next two days, applications are available in governorates around the country.

In terms of security for the planned election, Perelli said: "Candidates have to feel they can register themselves without being killed. People have to feel like they can demonstrate on the streets freely. And voters must feel free to vote without feeling repercussions for their choices."

She added that one of the most important things was to ensure the poll has the people's backing. "We know from experience once the election process starts, once we open that channel, it's a very active process of the citizens if they believe in the process."

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights




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