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Iraqis' interest in upcoming elections waning, new poll shows

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraqi voters are losing interest in elections scheduled for January, and not because they're worried about security.

Instead, potential voters said they had no interest in or understanding of the process, according to a poll by the Iraq Center for Research & Strategic Studies.

The poll, conducted Sept. 15 to 22, surveyed 3,500 people nationwide. Of those, 66.8 percent said they very likely would vote in January's elections for a National Assembly; in June, 88.8 percent had said they very likely would vote.

Just over 8 percent said they might not or definitely wouldn't vote.

Only 12.7 percent of those saying they probably wouldn't vote cited security concerns. A lack of information was cited by 37.3 percent; 35.7 said they had no interest. The margin of error was 3.4 percentage points.

"In America, you prepare for a year before the election," said Sadoun al Dulame, the executive director of the organization that conducted the poll. "In Iraq, this is the first time, and until now, there is no real preparation."

The results are disappointing for those who hoped the public would embrace the elections as the first step toward a democratic Iraq. They suggest that the U.S.-appointed government hasn't effectively rallied the people to reclaim their government through elections.

"There are a lot of frustrated people," said Huda al Nuaimi, an assistant political science professor at al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. "The interim government did not serve the individual Iraqi in any way."

Taseer Ameer, 19, a first-year Baghdad University mathematics student, agreed, saying the process "is only words."

Ameer said she didn't plan to vote.

"It's been two years now and the simplest things aren't happening, like improving security," she said. "We are in the process of destruction instead of reconstruction."

The poll also asked what factors could prevent people from voting. Violence at voting booths, which many thought would be a major issue, wasn't as problematic for those polled. Only 7.7 percent said "intimidation by armed groups" absolutely would be a factor, while 28 percent said it was very likely. Nearly 15 percent said such groups wouldn't be a factor.

Iraqis have debated whether the country could legitimately hold partial elections, given the dicey security situation in parts of the country, particularly in the so-called Sunni Triangle. But little has been said about how the process itself would work.

The Independent Electoral Commission, assigned with monitoring the elections, still is recruiting the 70,000 workers it will need to conduct the elections. And it's still being trained. Issues such as whether candidates should use public campaign money and where the elections will be held still are being decided.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has called security the main obstacle to a free election. And he's called for a transparent and open process. He's rarely mentioned political disenfranchisement except to tell people that they can vote for any government they want in January.

On Tuesday, Allawi told the interim national assembly that the elections would be on time, adding: "We should not allow terrorists to determine the agenda."

Al Dulame said people wanted to experience free elections, but were pessimistic that the process would be fair. They're disappointed in the government they've experienced so far.

"There is no credibility for the next election," al Dulame said. "They said, `It doesn't matter because the next government is a transitional one.'"

Al Dulame also said the public felt the political parties were foisting candidates on them whom they knew nothing about. The nation's seven major parties are crafting lists of candidates to put on the ballot.

Al Nuaimi, of al Mustansiriya University, said the public thought the political parties—and their candidates—were self-serving.

"The whole situation seems untransparent," al Nuaimi said.

Amna Ali, 20, a second-year Baghdad University student, said that despite majoring in political science, she didn't plan to vote, since there was no party she wanted to vote for.

When those polled were asked whether a "lack of political parties" would impede the process, 12.9 percent said absolutely and 27.2 percent said it was very likely.

Farid Ayar, a member of the Independent Electoral Commission, said the group had begun airing television and radio to educate people about the process. "We are reaching the people. There are advertising campaigns about the elections and a commission. We also have made posters that will be distributed all over Iraq."

In one of the radio ads, a group of people talk to one another, explaining the process and encouraging everyone to vote. The ads also tell the public that the independent commission is running the elections, not the interim government.

"It all depends on us," the radio ad says.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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