(Washington, DC--July 20, 2004) Since the handover of sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq still faces many serious challenges as it builds the political infrastructure for a functioning representative democracy. Kathleen Ridolfo, a regional analyst on Iraq for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, recently reviewed the rigorous timetable for creating Iraqi democracy as it is laid out in UN Resolution 1546 during a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office.
Ridolfo said that the first electoral test will come sometime between December 31, 2004 and January 31, 2005 when Iraqis will go to the polls and chose an interim parliament in a "direct democratic election." Under UN Resolution 1546, that 275-seat parliamentary body to be called the Transitional National Assembly must form a Transitional Government and draft a permanent Iraqi Constitution which must be approved by a referendum no later than October 2005. Finally, under UN Resolution 1546, there must be a "constitutionally elected government" in Iraq by December 31, 2005.
The UN has already chosen the seven members of a national electoral commission who are receiving training in Mexico to oversee the election of the Transitional National Assembly--an election that will treat Iraq as one voting district and require that parties run candidates on nation-wide lists. Ridolfo said this approach was taken for a number of reasons, not least of which are security concerns--that candidates would be less likely to be targeted for assassination. However, Ridolfo believes the main obstacle to parliamentary voting districts in Iraq at this time is the ongoing dispute over the city of Kirkuk--a city claimed by Iraqi Kurds, Turkomans and Arabs.
"Anyone who can prove they're Iraqi," will be allowed to vote at the estimated 30,000 polling stations that will be set up under UN supervision, Ridolfo said. In the absence of a census, it appears that the ration card list used for many years under the "Oil-for-Food Program" will be used as identification for the parliamentary election this year. The ration card lists are considered be 95 percent accurate.
Political analysts, Ridolfo said, are already discussing the pitfalls for this election. These include, according to Ridolfo, concerns about the ever present violence, fragmentation of the electorate, the possibility that minorities will fail to be elected to the parliament, and that the nation-wide candidate lists, based on loose coalitions among Iraq's nascent political parties, will be inherently destabilizing (For more on Iraq's political parties, please visit RFE/RL's "New Iraq" webpage
At the same time, Ridolfo cited a recently released Iraq national poll by Oxford Research International that shows Iraqis are more educated and more enthusiastic about the democratic process than some observers have thought. The survey, conducted in June 2004, reveals that 90 percent of Iraqis want democracy for their country, 86 percent believe that the government should represent all groups, and nearly 53 percent believe that you can influence the government both at the local and national level. Over 90 percent said further measures should be taken before the elections take place to ensure public security, particularly stopping attacks.
"Iraq is not Afghanistan," Ridolfo asserted, in response to a question on the comparability of the two countries' democratic processes. She pointed to the surveys that show Iraqis are well informed about democracy, well educated, and "appear to know what they want." There have been numerous programs set up around the country by international organizations to inform the population about the new processes being put into place. The high attendance rate at these forums is hopeful, she said.
RFE/RL's Iraq Service broadcasts seventeen hours of programming a day to Iraq, produced in Prague and the service's Baghdad Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM and FM broadcasts from transmitters set up by the International Broadcasting Bureau in Baghdad, Sulaymaniya and Erbil. Iraq Service programming is also available via the Internet, at www.rferl.org
and at the Radio Free Iraq website www.iraqhurr.org
To hear archived audio for this and other RFE/RL briefings and events, please visit our website at www.regionalanalysis.org