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Iraq's farcical election:

Andy Newman

iraqi beggars infront of electionpostersThe Iraqi elections due to take place on 30th January are vital to the legitimacy of the American occupation. Not only are they necessary in order to remain in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1546, that provides the legal authority for US troops to remain, but it is even more necessary to give some legitimacy to the Iraqi government in the eyes of the Iraqi people. Currently the institutions of the Interim government have no legitimacy. The elections are for a National Assembly which will serve for a transitional period of nine months, during which period it will write a new constitution.

Yet a question mark still hangs over whether the elections will even take place. Only last week, Defence Minister Hazem Al-Shaalan told reporters in Cairo that the elections could still be delayed if Egypt was willing to mediate with the Iraqi Sunnis in order to secure their participation. "We have asked our Arab brothers, particularly in Egypt and the Gulf countries, to get Iraqi Sunnis to participate in the elections, and if such participation requires a delay to the election date, then it could be delayed" . Indeed a boycott by Sunni parties, and voters, remains a very large threat. there had been hopes that the (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) would take part, but they have just announced they will be joining the boycott.

This is a severe blow to any threads of legitimacy that the government resulting from the elections might have. US officials have floated the idea of an appointed quota, which could conveniently be used to secure a place for Iraqi Sunnis in the national assembly. But  Tariq Al-Hashemi of the IIP told Al-Jazeera: "The National Assembly will be without legitimacy and we will reject the constitution that it draws up." The Shia followers of Muqtada Al-Sadr are also boycotting the election, although there are some claims that there are actually some 20 Sadrist candidates running.

Naturally other forces in Iraq, primarily those who hope to benefit from the elections, are downplaying the impact of the boycott. For example, Al-Maliki, a candidate for the Unified Iraqi Alliance, backed by Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, dismissed the claims that the Sunnis would be largely unrepresented. "The Kurds are Sunnis, the Turcoman are Sunnis, and there are also Sunni candidates still running for election," he said. "Those forces which chose to boycott, like the IIP or the Association of Muslim Scholars, do not represent all of the Sunnis in Iraq."

The security situation is also a real threat to the elections. The governorates of Baghdad, Mosul and Anbar and not secure enough for meaningful elections to be held. According to Adnan Pachachi, of the Independent Democrats coalition (a secular Sunni-dominated movement) large numbers of Iraqis will not vote simply out of fear. As Lt, General Thomas Metz, commander of US ground forces in Iraq recently said: "I just can't guarantee that everyone will be able to go to a poll in total safety. I cannot put a bubble around every person walking from their home to the polling site." Insurgents have begun to target election workers and candidates, forcing many electoral employees to resign from their jobs. The resistance group, Ansar Al- Sunna, has warned that "no one who agrees to take part in this dirty farce will be safe. This vote is a mockery organised by the enemy in order to grant legitimacy to the new government ... To participate in these elections is the biggest gift that we could give America. And America is the enemy of Islam, and the tyrant of the age."

The security situation has also distorted the electoral process as the whole of Iraq is being treated as a single electoral constituency across which the number of seats will be directly proportional to the number of votes each party gets. The result, according to Nadhim Al-Jasour of Baghdad's Al-Mustansiriya University, is an expectation that every political group will be represented, because to win a seat only 26000 votes are required. Consequently there are over 83 electoral lists, put forward by 47 parties and 27 individuals and involving 7200 candidates, and all this will be on the ballot paper, because Iraq is just one electoral constituency!

According to Al Jasour the combined factors of voters' unfamiliarity with the candidates or parties, low turnout, a partial boycott and the ongoing war, means that the lists most likely to win include those of incumbent Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Hussein Al-Sadr (seven groups with 233 candidates); the Kurdistan Alliance (12 groups with 165 candidates); the Unified Iraqi Alliance, also known as the Shia list although it involves Turcoman and Kurdish candidates, (16 groups with 228 candidates); and the Peoples Unity list (276 candidates, including 91 women). The latter is an alliance of socialist and pro-democracy movements from across the religious and ethnic spectrum, led by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP).

(Electoral program of Iraqi peoples' Unity list: )
Of course it is highly questionable whether the ICP should be participating in these elections. According to ICP spokesperson, Salam Ali, interviewed in the Morning Star they believe it is necessary to "move forward to the next stage - not to bring drastic change, but the next stage is crucial to prepare for a permanent constitution and to commit the Americans to a timetable for withdrawal ... UN resolution 1546 says that the government [that results from these elections]- does have the right to terminate the presence of the occupation forces."

The electoral program of the ICP is on paper largely progressive, as Salam Ali explains: "Our major themes are to eliminate the legacy of dictatorship and occupation, to build the foundations of a free and unified federal democratic Iraq, ... On social and economic issues, we are for restoring free and universal education, health services and the social security system and tackling the issue of corruption, because corruption is endemic as a result of the dictatorship and also the occupation. Tackling unemployment is also a major issue for us ... There is mass unemployment, although unemployment has officially gone down to 25-30 per cent. The real figure is nearer 50 per cent, if not more, with the consequent impact on security and social issues, the environment and the rest of things. So our top priority is to invest heavily to ensure that this sector gets back to work. Definitely, we are against privatisation and neoliberal policies ... Clearly, Washington will not be happy with this. It has notoriously handed billions of dollars over to big US corporations instead of to Iraqis themselves."

However, the ICP's position remains ambiguous towards the military insurgency, the Peoples' Unity manifesto contains the following demand: "Rebuilding state institutions on the basis of citizenship, efficiency and integrity, especially the police, army and national defence forces, and ensuring that they are not infiltrated by the hostile forces". As Kemil Mahdi has pointed out the disbanding of independent Iraqi institutions by Paul Bremmer, such as the ministries of the interior, defence and communications as well as the army, were seen by many Iraqis as part of a neo-conservative agenda to ensure that there were no Iraqi bodies that could reverse the privatisation and plundering of Iraqi assets by US corporations. The demands for these institutions to be rebuilt (purged of Ba'athists) is therefore perhaps unobjectionable. Perhaps by calling that the police and army must be "not infiltrated by hostile forces" the ICP are arguing that they should be purged of officers associated with actively enforcing the terror of Saddam's regime, in which case the demand is sensible. However it is ambiguous and it could also be interpreted as meaning that the security forces of the Iraqi state should be purged of all those who support the insurgency, which further taints the ICP with the charge of collaboration with the occupation. This is a dangerous road to take, as the murder last week of IFTU official Hadi Salih revealed. It is vital for the future integrity and independence of the Iraqi labour movement that they distance themselves from the occupation.



January 2005


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