An activist, clown, trainee lawyer and writer from England. I was in Iraq several times, most recently Nov 03 to May 04, still writing about Iraq and passing on my friends' stories from there.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Brief Guide to the Iraqi Elections

1. Iraqis are voting not for a party or an individual but for a list.
• There are a very few individuals and parties standing as such but the majority are part of lists. There is, for example, a ‘main Shia list’ and several other Shia lists, some Kurdish lists, and so on.
• The lists contain, between them, over 7000 candidates, many of whom are not even named for security reasons.
• That means people are more or less compelled to vote not according to the credibility or policies of a person or party but for an ethic group, a national group or a religious faction.

2. Iraqi people have no opportunity to elect their president or prime minister.
• The elections will create a 275 member National Assembly which will select a 3 member presidency council, which in turn will select a prime minister. It’s assumed, but nowhere stated in the ‘transitional law’ that these selections would come from among the 275 elected members.

3. None of the elected members of the National Assembly will represent a locality.
• Former US viceroy Paul Bremer decided the entire country should be a single constituency so the electoral system creates a national proportional representation.
• Anyone who gets a 275th of the vote will get a seat, regardless of how many others are elected from their city or province.
• The system creates a likelihood of over-representation at the national level for groups which turn out in high numbers. For example, in Kurdistan, where security is much better and people are more in favour of the elections, far more people are likely to vote, giving the Kurds greater representation than their numbers warrant. Of course, they were unrepresented, to all intents and purposes, for decades (thanks to Winston Churchill and all who followed him) but the solution isn’t to simply shift the inequalities.

4. Large areas of the country are not expected to be able to vote.
• Interim leader Ayad Allawi stated that there are 4 provinces where the security situation militates against voting – he didn’t mention that they include Baghdad, and up to half of the population.
• The people of Falluja have not been registered to vote or given voting cards.
• A lot of Iraqis believe that a lot of the attacks and unrest have been orchestrated by the occupying forces using covert operations, stock-in-trade of both the interim prime-minister Allawi and the current US viceroy (‘Ambassador’) John Negroponte. The areas where security ‘militates against voting’ are those where voters can’t be relied on to vote for someone ‘unpalatable’.
• There’s been intimidation in some areas – Felicity Arbuthnot reported a case of a family visited by their local shopkeeper who asked for their ration book ‘for safekeeping’. Ration books are needed as ID for voters and the family refused. Later the shopkeeper came back in tears – he’d been threatened, on his family’s lives, to collect all the ration books.

5. The rules for polling and who can or can’t be a candidate were set, essentially, by the US.
• Rules were set by the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission, or some similar arrangement of those words. The group, bar one or perhaps two members, were appointed by Paul Bremer, before handing over “power” in June.
• The Commission has absolute power to bar any candidate or organisation. It has banned a number of candidates but is so secretive that nobody knows who has been forbidden or for what reason. There’s been no due process, no establishing a case against a candidate before barring.
• Candidates and organisations taking part have to swear allegiance to Bremer's law
• One of the bars is “moral turpitude”. That in itself is not unusual- many countries don’t allow a person with certain convictions, for example, from standing. The bar does not, though, apply to either Ahmed Chalabi, a US appointee to the interim government who has been convicted (in his absence) of massive fraud, or Ayad Allawi, US-appointed interim prime minister, who was a covert CIA operative commanding bombings including a school bus and a cinema in Iraq during Saddam’s rule.

6. Expat voters are expected to decide the result.
• A huge number of people living outside Iraq will be allowed to vote. There are 3 polling stations in the UK, several in the US and others in fourteen countries around the world. Contacting of expats to invite them to register appears to have been selective.
• The UN opposed the expat vote as highly vulnerable to fraud but the election planners chose not to listen.
• Because expat voters don’t face the security risks of Iraqis in-country, a higher proportion of those eligible are expected to turn out.
• It’s a bit unclear exactly what are the criteria for being allowed to vote but it appears to be possible even for people who have never lived in Iraq but whose parents did.

7. Certain parties and individuals have also been funded by the US.
• The International Republican Institute, an organisation linked to the US Republican party has been funding certain groups in their campaigning, giving a massive advantage.
• It is also believed to be organising the exit polls.
• It orchestrated, among other things, the coup in Venezuela.

8. Whoever wins, the occupation will go on.
• The US has built enormous bases in Iraq which it has no intention of withdrawing from.
• The US has already spent more than $100,000,000,000 on the war in Iraq – that’s a hundred thousand million to most of us, a billion to the US. Bush is requesting another 80 thousand million dollars to carry on.
• US officials, mainly remaining anonymous, have made it abundantly clear that the elections are free only within the parameters set by the US government. The US is prepared to ‘tolerate’ a limited form of theocracy, according to one.
• Iraqi candidates are aware that there are ‘red lines’ as an unnamed Shia official put it – the election winners will not be at liberty to set any policy they choose.

9. The new government is already bound.
• The next plebiscite (on a permanent constitution) has to be held under Bremer's law too: any three of the eighteen governorates can veto the constitution, even if the constitution wins 90% of the total vote.
• It was unlawful for Bremer or the occupying powers to enact any laws, because an occupier is not allowed to change the laws of the country seized. Nevertheless, Bremer ruled, and the interim governing council signed into law, that everything in Iraq is to be privatised, open to 100% foreign ownership or at least foreign leasehold for forty years. That includes resources, amenities and public services.
• Because of the lack of security, little has yet been sold off but the law, though illegitimate, is expressed as binding on future governments.
• Iraq is the most indebted country in the world in terms of its debt to export ratio. Saddam’s wars built up massive debts, now at $180 billion. Western countries and the IMF were happy too carry on funding Saddam with loans and to sell him weapons, including the chemical weapons and related hardware to attack the Kurds. Added to that are compensation claims ($30 bn) from the invasion of Kuwait, mainly ‘owed’ to incredibly wealthy oil companies and such like. Now, with the constant addition of compound interest throughout the sanctions, when Iraq was unable to pay off any debts at all, the debt is immense.
• The Paris Club and others have agreed to a package of debt relief which is linked to a programme of ‘structural adjustment’ whereby Iraq has to follow Argentina, Romania and others into disastrous policies of global capitalism. 30% of debt relief is unconditional, 30% depends on adopting a ‘standard IMF policy’ and 20% hangs on a three year review of implementation of the IMF policy. Iraq hasn’t got any bargaining power to resist.
• Two of the IMF’s conditions are the ‘opening up’ (read cheap sell off to Bush’s pals) of the Iraqi oil industry and the rollback of the food ration, currently the only major social welfare programme, presumably because it means people with no money get stuff free instead of paying for it. The leading candidates have agreed to all this – that’s why they got the money to become leading candidates.
• The debts left over after the promised, but conditional, relief are still more than enough to keep Iraq in servitude for many, many decades to come.

10. Iraq has no free press.
• Allawi and co issued a rule that the press have to publish versions of events which put the government’s point of view.
• Press ‘disrespect’ to Allawi is banned.
• Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and an unknown number of smaller outlets have been banned already for refusing to conform.

11. The Iraqi people fought for this election.
• Last year, Iraqi people held massive demonstrations for elections. Other demonstrations had been fired on by coalition troops so it’s no exaggeration to say people risked their lives for elections.
• It was only when they realised they faced unrest from thousands and thousands of ordinary people, including the ethnic and geographical groups which had been quiet till then, that the occupying powers backed down and started working on ways to distort the election and turn it to their advantage.
• Opposition is nation-wide to the distortions imposed on the election. Thousands of anti-occupation activists are being arrested across Iraq (under martial law).
• Though the preferable option, clearly, must be an end to the occupation, there were demands from the Iraqi National Foundation Congress – a far more representative group than the interim government, never mind the electoral commissioners, that would have made the elections substantially more fair:
1. That the elections are supervised by a commission of figures with known credentials of impartiality and integrity, internationally and in the Arab and Islamic world.
2. That this commission supervises all the local committees in all phases of the elections.
3. That essential changes are made to the still anonymous Permanent Election Commission¹ appointed by the American ex-governor contrary to any criteria of transparency and integrity. As a minimum:
a. to include a representative from each competing list
b. to include a number of Iraqi active and veteran judges with known integrity
c. to remove the right to arbitrarily bar any candidate in the election except through
legal process of incrimination.
4. That measures are taken to ensure safe and fair conduct of elections in all cities and country towns as follows:
a. an immediate halt to all military operations against towns and neighbourhood.
b. withdrawal of all occupation forces from all towns and neighbourhoods at least
one month before election date.
c. release of all political prisoners regardless o their political affiliation especially
those not specifically charged.

…with thanks to Dahr Jamail, Ewa Jasiewicz, Gabriel Carlyle from Voices in the Wilderness and countless friends in Iraq for helping me make sense of it all.

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