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Here's how Iraq's election will work
by Thomas Hargrove
Scripps Howard News Service


January 07, 2005

Iraq's first multi-party parliamentary election in 50 years will take place in 5,900 schools and other public buildings where 150,000 new poll workers will pass out poster-size paper ballots and then dip voters' fingers into a pot of indelible ink to prevent fraud.

Less certain, however, is how many of the nation's 13.9 million eligible adults will show up Jan. 30 amid death threats by militant insurgents who have vowed to shut down the U.S.-backed vote.

Workers from several American pro-democracy agencies are in Baghdad this month to assist the complicated, and admittedly dangerous, run-up to the elections. They report widespread security concerns, especially in Kirkuk and other Sunni provinces where polls indicate most voters will sit out the balloting.

"This is an election that is being run by Iraqi election authorities with some technical advice from the international community," National Democratic Institute President Kenneth Wollack said this week.

"But ultimately, it will be the Iraqis that run it, the Iraqis that will participate in it and the Iraqis who will guarantee the integrity of the process," Wollack said. "It will be the Iraqis who will judge the legitimacy of the institutions that emerge from the elections."

The ballots will list more than 150 parties, political coalitions and groups seeking positions in the 275-seat Transitional National Assembly, which will draft a new Iraqi constitution and oversee election of a national government to be held no later than Dec. 15. There are so many candidates _ at least 7,000 by one estimate - that many will not be named publicly.

"In general, not every name will appear on the ballot," Hussain Hindawi, president of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, reported to the United Nations last month. "There will be a number (printed on the ballot) and a logo and the political party name. If a voter doesn't know the name of the political party he wants to vote for, he has the logo to help him."

The political parties have until Jan. 28 to campaign for votes and to display their election logos so that voters will know how to mark their ballots.

American volunteers report they have learned from mistakes made during last year's election in Afghanistan, where critics complained that supposedly "indelible ink" to mark fingers of voters who had cast ballots was easily washed off. Afghan officials were confused by election packets containing two pens, one of which was wrongly marked.

Polling officials in Iraq will be given only one pot of ink this month into which voters will be asked to dip their fingers after casting a ballot. "No one will be allowed to vote twice. They would have to cut off a finger to get rid of the ink," Hindawi said.

Far less certain, however, are expectations for participation in the election.

Two-thirds of the 1,931 Iraqi adults interviewed in a poll conducted in early December by the International Republican Institute said "yes" to the question: "Do you believe that Iraq will be ready to hold national elections by Jan. 30?"

Seventy-one percent said they "strongly intend" to vote in the coming election. But this varies dramatically by geography. More than 90 percent plan to vote in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq and in the nation's "mid-Euphrates" region.

But the number of people committed to voting dropped to 57 percent among Baghdad residents, to 40 percent for residents of Kirkuk and to 20 percent in "Sunni areas" near the capital.

The last free election in Iraq was held Jan. 17, 1953, when 125,000 people voted for King Faisal 2, a young pro-western monarch who was killed in a coup in 1958.


Reach Thomas Hargrove at hargrovet(at)

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