01/26/2005, 00.00
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Iraqi elections: an overview

First open elections in after years of dictatorship, war and occupation.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After years of Saddam's regime, war, economic embargo and more recently foreign military occupation the face of Iraq will change in four days time when voters will choose among the 111 parties running for office.

Some 14 million Iraqis are eligible to vote, another million abroad and will choose among the 7,785 candidates running for one of the 275 seats in the National Assembly charged with drafting the country's new constitution.

For some experts the process is flawed because no census was taken before the elections so that it will be difficult to know whether the new parliamentary body will be representative of the ethnic and religious makeup of the country.

The current voters' list is in fact based on the lists drawn up by the United Nations to distribute food rations to the population during the embargo.

For Thomas Melia, of Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, strict proportional representation might cause a Sunni backlash.

"The upshot of this is that if you elect a legislature that Sunnis don't think represents them, they opt out of it," he said, because Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of the population, will hold the majority of assembly seats.

Problems are not only political tough; the security situation is going from bad to worse and insurgency violence is jeopardising the voting process in many parts of the country.

In Baghdad, Samarra, Mosul and Ramadi, where some 40 per cent of the total population lives, the insurgency is bent on preventing the elections by any means at its disposal.  

To counter the terrorist threat against voting stations and voters, Iraq's interim government and US military command will deploy some 300,000 men on Election Day.

Results should mirror the country's ethnic and religious makeup. Shiite parties should win about 60 per cent of the vote, Kurdish parties about 10-15 per cent and Sunni parties, 20 per cent. However, the announced boycott by several Sunni parties might change the overall picture.

Here are the main candidates:

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

At the top of the most prominent Shiite slate, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), backed by influential cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, al-Hakim should be easily elected. He comes to the ticket as head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). He favours an Islamic government and is said to be close to Iran.

Ayad Allawi

A secular Shiite and the interim prime minister, he is running on his own ticket, the Iraqi National Accord Party. He was a Baathist until 1975 and then believed to have become a CIA operative. His appointment by the United States to the interim government after return from exile did not reduce such suspicions.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari

One of two vice presidents in the interim government, he is one of the more prominent candidates of the Shiite-dominated UIA. He comes to it as spokesman for the Islamic Dawa, which fought Saddam Hussein's regime in the late 1970s. He is al-Sistani's brother-in-law.

Hussain al-Shahristani

A nuclear physicist and prominent in the United Iraqi Alliance, he once was head of Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission till his arrest in 1979 when he opposed Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons programme. He escaped in 1991 after the US bombed the prison where he was held.

Ahmad Chalabi

Leader of the Iraqi National Congress, a party founded in exile to oust Saddam Hussein, he is now running on the UIA slate. He remains controversial for his financial dealings and for the information he provided to the United States—much of which turned out to be false—that bolstered the argument for invasion of Iraq.

Ghazi Yawar

A Sunni and the country's president in the interim government, he heads the Iraqi Party whose slate includes the current ministers of defence and industry and minerals.

Jalal Talabani

Leader of the PUK, one two main Kurdish parties, that has formed the Kurdistan Alliance to compete for seats in the National Assembly. Although Kurds make up only 10-15 per cent of the population, they are expected to vote in large numbers to preserve their interests under the new system—specifically the autonomy they have enjoyed in northern Iraq since 1991.

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See also
Final results released
Al-Jafaari named new premier
Iraqi judge and son gunned down
Christians throng churches, no longer leave Iraq , says Bishop of Baghdad
Sunnis are already involved in the political life of Iraq, says Kurdish leader


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