Twist in Iraq's democracy: anti-American party pushes electoral reform
Ahead of January elections, supporters of the Sadr movement cast ballots for individual candidates – rather than parties – for the first time in a primary poll.
(Page 2 of 2)
Inside the main Sadr office in Sadr City, hundreds of men and a few women lined up to cast their ballots. Lists posted behind the ballot boxes displayed numbers and names of the 301 men and 25 women who were running.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Voters dipped their index fingers in a jar of purple ink before putting their balance in a transparent box. Officials from Iraq's Higher Electoral Commission helped organize the vote. Reflecting Sadr's appeal to disaffected young people, the voting age was set at 15 – three years younger than the required age for participation in national elections.
"This is a historic day," says Thualfiqar Salah Jumaa, a bakery worker who was also providing security for the voters. He said he had voted for a Health Ministry official who had once been detained by American forces because he was a Sadrist.
Candidates were not required to be members of the Sadr Party but had to be at least 35 years old, college educated, and never have worked with the Americans.
"The important thing is a candidate should have integrity," says Rasool Rahman, a high school history teacher. He says he voted for a Baghdad municipality official who has worked to provide public services.
Why parliament is gridlocked over election law
Sadr, whose armed followers fought the US military in the streets five years ago, has become a crucial player in Iraqi politics after agreeing to a cease-fire with American and then Iraqi forces.
Sadr himself will choose which of the existing members of parliament should run for reelection, with the remainder of the candidates selected in the voting on Friday, says a Sadr official.
The January elections are seen as crucial to building the stability needed for US troops to be able to leave Iraq by 2011. The UN and Iraq's electoral commission have warned that the poll might have to be delayed if parliament does not pass the law within the next few days, while US Gen. Ray Odierno and Ambassador Chris Hill urged that it be passed quickly.
The law has become mired in the issue of how voting would take place in Kirkuk, where Arabs and Turkmen want special provisions to counter an large influx of Kurdish residents after Mr. Hussein was toppled. All three groups lay claim to the oil-rich city.
"We still haven't been able to agree on the wording," says Saleem al-Jabouri, spokesman for the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament, al-Tawafiq, who had come to see the voting. He says some parliamentarians were threatening to leave the session without enough members for a vote so that the old law would stand. "If they use a closed list, it will betray the people."