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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


06 January 2005

Iraqi Candidates Launch Political Campaigns

Voters look for answers on jobs, health care, crime

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Political parties and candidates on the ballot for Iraq’s January 30 elections have begun reaching out to voters through public rallies, private gatherings and poster campaigns.  The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) declared January 2 the official starting date for the electoral campaign, and candidates will have until January 28 to communicate their views to the voters.

The January 30 election will determine the composition of a 275-seat Transitional National Assembly and fill the seats of governorate councils in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces.  Voters in the Kurdish region will also be electing a Kurdistan National Assembly.

The dynamics of the campaign vary across different parts of the country.  A senior State Department official in Baghdad explained that campaigning in Shi’a areas generally takes place in public rallies sponsored by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and in husseiniyyas, which are mosque-based community centers.  These gatherings are forums for both candidates and local community leaders to express their views on the upcoming elections.

The official said that candidates are also seeking the support of tribal sheikhs and leading clerics.

He said that NGO’s are almost entirely responsible for sponsoring campaign activities in the Kurdish region.  He noted that the Kurds have a better-established civil society and greater experience with elections given their relative autonomy from the regime in Baghdad since the early 1990s. 

Both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have networks of civic organizations including women’s groups, student groups and professional groups, which they are mobilizing for the campaign.  The KDP and the PUK have formed a joint party list, the Kurdistan Alliance, to compete for seats in the Transitional National Assembly, which will be charged with writing Iraq’s new constitution.

The official said that posters are going up across Baghdad advertising the party symbols and ballot numbers for various party lists.  It is important for parties to communicate their ballot numbers since voters will be allowed to choose only one entry out of more than 100 parties and independent candidates running for seats on the assembly.

He said that candidates in Sunni areas are also speaking to voters at private gatherings in people’s homes.  Working through networks of friends and associates, they find opportunities to address potential supporters in informal settings.

Unemployment, health care and crime are the issues weighing most heavily on the minds of the Iraqi voters, according to a survey commissioned by the International Republican Institute (IRI).  The survey, conducted by an Iraqi polling firm, included interviews with nearly 2,000 eligible voters from across Iraq in late November and early December of 2004.

More than a quarter of respondents said they would base their votes on candidates’ and parties’ views regarding important issues and constitutional matters.  On the economy, voters said they wanted to hear proposals for job creation and wage increases.  On social issues, they are looking for greater access to basic education, an increased role for religion in state affairs, and better access to health care.  On security matters, voters want to see an increase in the number and training of police officers.

Voters in the survey expressed a strong preference for national, unitary, cosmopolitan, faith-based and intellectual parties.

The poll also indicated that 84 percent of Iraqis intend to vote in the January 30 elections.  The numbers are in excess of 90 percent in predominantly Shi’a and Kurdish areas.  In Sunni areas, the numbers are closer to 55 percent.

The State Department official noted that senior Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, telling people that it is their duty to vote.  He said that this is having a tremendous impact on voter intentions in Shi’a areas.  He also observed that the Kurds have more experience with elections and are therefore more comfortable with the process.

The majority of the respondents in the IRI survey who said they do not intend to vote offered no explanation for their decision.  However, 12 percent cited the security situation as a factor, and only 2 percent said they had chosen to refrain from voting due to a call for a boycott of the elections.

The State Department official said the IECI and security forces are studying ways to adjust their plans in order to ensure greater security on election day, particularly in Sunni areas.  He said they would likely scale back the number of polling sites, with an eye to choosing easily defensible locations, and increase the number of voting stations at each site in order to process voters more rapidly.

He added that arrangements are being made for people who were displaced from their homes in Fallujah to vote at alternative locations.

(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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