BAGHDAD - After strong polling for the provincial elections Saturday, Iraqis
are looking out for new signposts of political recovery from the U.S.-led invasion
Polling picked up after a slow start Saturday in the 14 provinces of Iraq
that are voting after the 2005 poll.
The four provinces that did not vote are in the Kurdish-controlled north.
Polls were not ordered here mostly due to the controversy over control of the
oil-rich Kirkuk region. Kirkuk, Dahuk, Arbil, and Sulaymaniyah will hold elections
The provincial elections were earlier scheduled for Oct. 1 last year, but
were delayed due to disagreements over electoral procedures for Kirkuk, which
is hotly contested between Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens.
Both provincial and legislative elections were last held Jan. 30, 2005. The
focus in that election was on election to the 275-member Iraqi National Assembly.
The next national assembly elections are scheduled late 2009 or early 2010.
Most Sunni Muslims boycotted the 2005 election in the face of persecution
and violence at the hands of the U.S. forces and Shia militias. Sunnis currently
have a disproportionately small representation on provincial councils also
because of the 2005 boycott.
The provincial councils have powers to make laws and allocate funds for finance
and reconstruction projects within the province. Provincial governors can also
appoint and dismiss provincial police chiefs and senior security officials
in the governorate.
The last provincial elections in 2005 led to increasing power struggles, sectarianism,
and greater fragmentation of the country. This time there is some hope they
will bring stability.
A total of 502 political parties registered for the election this time, fielding
14,431 candidates, including 3,912 women, contesting for 440 seats. Most parties
have come up after the 2005 elections.
Partly as a result of the Sunni boycott, the political leadership in the National
Assembly and in the provincial councils has so far been mostly Shia. But Sunni
participation in the 2005 election, around 2 percent, is being estimated by
some to be as high as 60 percent this time.
Two parties supported by the majority Shia Muslim community won a majority
of seats between them in 2005. Parties representing the Kurdish community were
also strongly represented.
While there are no accurate figures, an estimated 60 percent of Iraq's population
are Shia Muslims, 20 percent Sunnis, and 20 percent Sunni Kurds. Iraq has a
population of about 26 million.
Within Sunni groups, differences have arisen between the Iraqi Islamic Party
(IIP), an Islamist party that holds council seats already because they participated
in the 2005 vote, and the pro-U.S. Awakening Councils, some of which have threatened
to use "any means necessary" to fight the IIP if they take the elections
In the Shia areas, particularly in southern Iraq where they are the clear
majority, there is expected to be even more volatility, with rival Shia political
groups contesting for power.
Fierce competition surfaced also between the government Islamist parties and
the opposition Sadrist movement, which considers itself non-sectarian. Many
analysts believe the Sadrists will win a majority of seats across southern
Iraq and parts of Baghdad.
Many are expecting a backlash against the incumbent religious parties in favor
of more secular parties.
About 2 million internally displaced Iraqis were given a choice between voting
in their original areas or where they now live. Another 2 million who have
fled Iraq could not vote.
Women were originally guaranteed at least 25 percent of the seats in elected
councils under earlier drafts of the election law. But the Electoral Commission
interpreted the law to declare that this is not guaranteed.
The 2005 provincial and national elections were held under a "closed
list" system, where voters selected a party or coalition and the party
or coalition then selected the individual parliamentarian. Voters did not know
whom they were voting for. This time, the election was held under an "open
list" system, where voters could select either a party or an individual
Security was tight, and violence successfully kept to a minimum. A curfew
was in place from 10 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. to block all vehicular traffic
in the main cities. Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran were closed.
(Inter Press Service)