29 December 2004
Iraqis Prepare for First Open Elections in 50 Years
Democratically elected assembly will draft new constitution
By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- An estimated 13.9 million Iraqis are eligible to cast ballots January 30, 2005, in the countryâ€™s first open, direct, multiparty legislative elections in more than 50 years.
The ballots will list more than 100 parties, coalitions and individuals vying for seats in the Transitional National Assembly.Â With all of the independent candidates and all of the participants on the party lists, there are more than 7,000 candidates for the 275 seats.Â Each voter will have the right to select one entry on the ballot, whether a party slate or independent candidate.
Seats in the assembly will be assigned on the basis of proportional representation.Â Any candidate or party that receives 1/275th of the vote will have a seat.Â A party that receives 20 percent of the votes would be assigned 20 percent of the seats, allowing it to send the top 55 people on its list to the assembly.
The primary purpose of the assembly will be to draft a new Iraqi Constitution.Â According to the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), â€œThis Assembly shall carry out this responsibility in part by encouraging debate on the constitution through regular general public meetings in all parts of Iraq and through the media, and receiving proposals from the citizens of Iraq as it writes the constitution.â€
The assembly has until August 15, 2005, to propose a constitution.Â The proposed constitution will then be published and submitted to a general nationwide referendum no later than October 15, 2005.Â If the Iraqi voters approve the document, national elections based on the provisions of the new constitution will be held by December 15, 2005, and a new government will take office on December 31, 2005.
The assembly will also serve as the national legislature during the transitional period and exercise oversight over the executive officials that it selects.Â The members will choose a president and two deputy presidents from their ranks to serve as heads of state.Â This three-member presidency council will have two weeks to choose a prime minister, and the prime minister will then have one month to form a council of ministers.Â The ministers will be subject to a vote of confidence from the assembly before assuming their posts.
In addition to the National Assembly election, most governorates also will be voting for a 41-seat governorate council, the exception being Baghdad with a 51-seat council; voters in the Kurdish region will be electing a 111-seat Kurdistan National Assembly.
The January 30, 2005, elections are Iraq's first direct multiparty parliamentary elections since 1953.Â During the first half of the 20th century, Iraq took limited steps toward establishing a constitutional monarchy amid a period of political turbulence characterized by numerous short-lived governments.Â Following the 1958 coup by Army General Abdul Karim Kassem, there were no legislative elections until the Baâ€™ath Party created a tightly controlled National Assembly in 1980.
According to the TAL, candidates for the new Transitional National Assembly must be at least 30 years old and have at least a secondary school diploma.Â They cannot be active members of the military and cannot have been high-ranking Baâ€™ath Party officials.Â The TAL also disqualifies anyone from candidacy who has worked for state agencies of repression, such as the former regimeâ€™s secret service, gained personal wealth at the expense of the public finances or been convicted of crimes of moral turpitude.
Individual candidates and parties wishing to have a space on the ballot were required to submit petitions with 500 signatures to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) by December 15.Â Some individuals chose to run independently.Â All party slates were required to have a minimum of 12 candidates and a maximum of 275 candidates.Â
In addition, at least every third name on party lists had to be that of a woman.Â The IECI adopted this provision in order to satisfy the goal set forth in the TAL that at least 25 percent of the assembly should be female.
Parties from across the country registered lists.Â Some of the better known lists include the predominately Shiâ€™a United National Alliance, the Kurdish Alliance, Prime Minister Allawiâ€™s secular Iraqi National Accord and President al-Yawarâ€™s Iraqisâ€™ Party List.
The IECI held a nationally televised lottery December 20 to determine the order in which each of the party slates and independent candidates would be listed on the ballot.Â Each ballot entry will include the partyâ€™s symbol, the partyâ€™s name and a number.Â This system was designed to help voters navigate the numerous entries on the ballot.
The IECI is independent from all other Iraqi government bodies.Â U.N. officials chose the eight commissioners on the IECI out of 1,800 applications they received from all over Iraq.Â By design, the commissioners have no political affiliation.
The IECI hired 6,000 Iraqis to assist in voter registration and candidate registration.Â The voter roll is based on the existing food distribution list, and citizens had a six-week period in which to correct any mistakes on the roll at any one of the more than 500 registration sites located around the country.
The IECI is also hiring and training more than 100,000 Iraqis to work at the 6,000 to 7,000 polling sites on January 30, 2005.Â These individuals include both poll workers and election monitors.Â Several nongovernmental organizations and political parties also are training their members to serve as election monitors
The IECI has not yet announced where all of the polling sites will be located, but they plan to use easily protected facilities that allow voters to line up indoors.Â The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior is handling security arrangements.Â All polling sites will be staffed and secured only by Iraqi nationals.
Iraqis living outside of Iraq also will be allowed to cast ballots in the national election.Â The IECI identified 14 countries with large Iraqi populations where it would like to conduct out-of-country voting.Â So far Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States have agreed to host polling sites.Â Discussions are still under way with Syria, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
All Iraqi citizens at or over the age of 18, as well as those eligible to reclaim Iraqi citizenship, are eligible to vote at polling sites in one of these countries.Â Although limited demographic information makes it difficult to predict how many expatriate Iraqis might register to vote abroad, the IECI is prepared to process as many as 1 million out-of-country votes.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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