WASHINGTON – Lack of genuine representation,ignorance of election laws,vague election law language and daunting security challenges are some of the problems facing Iraq's elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
Two Iraqi intellectuals discussed the expectations and realties of the Iraqi elections Wednesday at a panel held by the Middle East Institute.
“I really spent the last days looking for positive aspects of the Iraqi elections – it's really hard to find,” said Abbas K. Kadhim,a doctoral candidate at the department of Near Eastern studies of the University of California-Berkeley.
There is freedom of expression,with some negatives,but there is optimism. Iraqis still think that a future is coming. He said he also saw smiling faces when he visited the Iraqi Embassy,something he never used to see.
But there are a lot of negatives,Kadhim said.
“Security is the biggest issue or obstacle facing elections,” and people think of the elections as an end itself without thinking of the bigger picture,“what elections would bring to us,” he said.
Even with election laws and rules in Arabic,they are “hard to understand,vague and [include] the wrong use of terminology,” Kadhim said.
People don't know what the rules are and what they should do,and “You will receive a lot of ‘I don't knows'” in response to questions,Kadhim said.
Making Iraq one electoral district for parliamentary elections neglects the country's ethnic make up,Kadhim said.
Sunni voters will chose local representatives but will also be asked to vote for Shiite candidates from far away cities. “I don't know where that came from,” Kaghim said of the plan. The United Nations,which is supervising the elections,and the interim government “denied the least right of people to elect someone they know and trust.”
Finally,there are hundreds of parties,and some of them change their views and take inconsistent positions. “Attitudes are changing by day; alliances are shifting with or against,” Kaghim said.
Laith Kubba,a senior program officer for Middle East and North Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy,agreed with Kaghim. He said that security deterioration is a result of the lack of a political process,not a cause.
“We are now like a water under a bridge,a bottleneck situation,” Kubba said,and the only way to get Iraq out of this situation is elections. “Elections will put Iraq on solid footing.”
Although politics,agendas and democracy are not carried out by genuine representatives, “look at what you've got,and what other options do you have?” Kubba said.
The only way to solve the problem,Kubba said,is to have 18 electoral districts that would result in at least a “balance,” and not give a majority to one group.
Iraqis are to choose 275 representatives to a parliament that will elect the Iraqi cabinet and create a new constitution. They will also choose local officials and,Kurds will choose their parliament.
Campaign ads,including biographies,interviews and posters will start Dec.15 and last to Jan.28.
Last week,insurgents set fire in a big building in Mosul,the third-largest province in Iraq,that was used to store ballots. The government's response was that new ballots should be printed as soon as possible.
Multi-national and Iraqi military forces will be stationed at all polling centers,but insurgents have threatened to attack anyway.
Forty-six groups and political entities declared they will boycott the elections. Ordinary Iraqis have received threats from insurgents and troublemakers telling them they will be killed if they vote.
Those calling for a boycott say the elections don't represent the Iraqi people,and the Iraqi interim government is trying to add legitimacy by asking all Iraqi groups to take part in a process that will end up eliminating most of them.
Political groups and at least 100 public figures,including scholars,journalists and Iraqis who live outside,have declared they favor a boycott by signing their names on a list on one of the most popular Iraqi Web sites.
Sunnis,who were most associated with Saddam Hussein,are leading the boycott. But nine of the groups are Shiites,who are the majority of the population. However,most Shiite clerics announced that elections should be held on time.
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will travel to Germany and Jordan to meet ex-patriots,tribal leaders and opponents of the occupation to discuss the elections and offer them his hand to be part of the new Iraq.
Similarly,the boycott parties sent a delegation to neighboring Arab countries,starting with Damascus,Syria,to give a realistic picture of what is happening and to present the reasons behind the boycott. Among this delegation was the spokesman of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadir.
Other political entities initially proposed postponing elections for at least six months because of the security issues,including the Iraqi Islamic Party,which has members in the interim cabinet. The party subsequently reversed its stand.
“Postponement is not an option,” Kubba said. If the Sunnis say they need some time to think of their situation and participate in the political process he could support “postponement for a political deal” that would result in elections soon. Otherwise,postponement will create more deterioration and chaos,he said.
“It would be a big problem,” Kadhim said,if Iraq moved into elections with the current problems. “Sunnis would be deprived of their rights,” he said.
“I don't want to say it,but it would be a disaster,” Kubba said,“We would have a divided Iraq based on ethnicity.”
* Marwan Sadiq reported from Washington and drew other information from Arabic-language Web sites that cover Iraq,including Al Jazeera,Al Hyatt newspaper and the Iraqi News Agency,some of which quote English-language wire services such as the AP and Reuters.