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UN / US Urge Iraq To Reconsider Electoral Rule Changes

04 October 2005

The United Nations is questioning new election rules adopted by Iraq's Shi'ite and Kurdish lawmakers for this month's constitutional referendum.  Changes in the rules would make it almost impossible for the constitution to fail.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says U.N. officials have expressed concern to Iraqi authorities that last-minute changes in election rules are out of line with international standards.

"We have communicated with the Iraqi authorities, consistent with our mandate to advise them on relevant international standards on electoral processes," said Mr. Dujarric.  "We have conveyed our views and concerns to the Iraqi authorities, in relation to the changes in the laws."

Iraqi Shi'ite and Kurdish lawmakers approved the changes Sunday, less than two weeks before the October 15 constitutional referendum.

Under the original formula, the constitution would fail if it were rejected by two-thirds of the voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces. The new rules raise the standard to an almost impossible height, saying the constitution would have to be rejected by two-thirds of all registered voters in three provinces.

The move angered leaders of Iraq's minority Sunni community.  They had hoped to mobilize voters in three Sunni-majority provinces to defeat the constitution.  Following the rules change, they are threatening to boycott the referendum.

Spokesman Dujarric says U.N. elections experts are urging a reconsideration of the change, but he said the decision is up to Iraqi authorities.

"Ultimately, this will be a sovereign decision by the Iraqis and it's up to the Iraqi National Assembly to decide on the appropriate electoral framework," he added.  "That being said, it is our duty -- it is the U.N. role in Iraq -- to point out when the process does not meet international standards."

A senior State Department official says Washington is also encouraging Iraqis to reconsider the rules changes.

The official, briefing reporters on background, noted that there had been no change in Iraq's transitional administrative law, but rather a shift in interpretation of the law.  He said the United States, at several levels, including Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, has made approaches to Iraqi officials to express their concerns.

A U.N. official in Baghdad was quoted as saying he hopes the matter will be cleared up within a day.  Elections unit legal adviser Jose Aranaz said if the issue were not resolved, it would compromise the legitimacy of the referendum.

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