Iraqi parliament delays vote again on direct elections

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 20, 2009 

BAGHDAD — Iraq's parliament failed again Tuesday to vote on legislation that would allow Iraqis to cast ballots directly for candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled for January, rather than choosing political party lists that don't name the candidates.

Iraq's political parties publicly hail open voting, but behind closed doors many of them oppose it because direct voting would make it hard for the parties that won the elections in 2005 to win again in 2010, said Sabah al Saedi, a member of parliament from the Fadhila party.

"They must believe that their candidates don't have a good chance of being elected as individuals, and so they work to abort the new election law by any means," he said. "But publicly, they applaud it. ... Those who are in power wish to stay in power. The open list will defeat them."

Some lawmakers said legislators were using a dispute between Sunni Muslim Arabs and Sunni Kurds and Turkomen over how elections should be conducted in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk to delay a vote.

"I will tell you frankly that no bloc has the courage to say 'no' to the open list system, even if in truth they are afraid of it," said Izzuddin al Dowla, an independent lawmaker. "So Kirkuk has become the ready excuse."

Former dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime mounted an "Arabization" campaign that forced Kurds and Turkomen out of Kirkuk, but Arab and Turkomen politicians and residents in Kirkuk province say an influx of Kurds since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 has more than compensated for that.

Arabs and Turkomen have rejected Kurds' attempts to annex the province to their semiautonomous northern region of Kurdistan, but switching to a direct vote probably would give the area's Kurdish majority the upper hand and threaten the Arabs and Turkomen.

The parliament has passed legislation that provides for power in Kirkuk to be shared equally by the province's three major ethnic groups and for adequate representation for smaller groups. The Turkomen National Front has threatened to seek international mediation if it's not implemented.

An official in the parliament speaker's office, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter, said the Arabs and Turkomen in Kirkuk stood to lose the most if the direct election law passed. In spite of that, he said, their representatives have been unwilling to make concessions for fear of being accused of selling out their constituents.

"Both parties concerned are inflexible," the official said. "They feel that the issue is of inordinate sensitivity, and that deprives them of room to maneuver."

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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Read what McClatchy's Iraqi staff has to say at Inside Iraq

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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