Saturday, October 30, 2004

We're not the only ones confused about elections

Questions, conflicts, and doubts about the elections scheduled for January are emerging in Iraq, issues far removed from "retaking rebel strongholds" that forms the core of US strategy. The Iraqi Press Monitor for Friday contained two revealing items. The first problem is who are people actually going to vote for? An October 26 editorial in Al-Sabah, an independent daily, wonders.
People still do not know who to vote for because nobody has been presented as a candidate to run in the January elections. The reason for this delay is that the "political entities" have not decided what to do in the next elections. The said entities are still negotiating to reach political alliances. The negotiations are characterised by bargaining, but they have not yet led to the formation of any electoral alliances. Even the government's intentions are still unclear. Because of all of this, the people of Iraq are still perplexed. The political entities need more time than what remains before the elections for their electoral campaigns. Iraqis have the right to know who the competitors are so they can choose correctly.
Such tactical alliances include that between SCIRI and the Dawa Party which I mentioned on Thursday. It's hard to know just what sort of effect such dilatory tactics will have on the elections except to say that it clearly favors those individuals and parties that will run on name recognition, icing out the "independent voices" Iraqis were supposed to have the chance to hear.

The other problem, with a greater potential for conflict, is who will be religiously allowed to vote. An editorial in Al-Mashriq, published daily by Al-Mashriq Institution for Media and Cultural Investments, for October 24 lays it out.
Apparently, some religious groups have made participation in the elections obligatory, while others have described it as a sin. On the one hand, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani reportedly said participation in the elections is religiously obligatory and who do not participate are sinners. On the other hand, a well-known Sunni clergyman allegedly described participation as a sin. Between sins and virtues, elections could be disturbing even before we know anything about them at all.
Sistani was actually quoted at one point as saying those who don't vote are condemned to hell, but he denied saying it and in fact has largely tried to avoid linking religion to politics in more than a general way. Nevertheless, there are other clerics in Iraq - largely Shiite - who are saying people have a religious duty to vote and others - largely Sunni - who are calling for a boycott. In that single statement can be seen two of the major political and religious divisions in Iraq.

I fear this will be an election much more in form than in substance.

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