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Last week, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi vowed that despite escalating violence, Iraqi elections will take place as scheduled on Jan. 31, 2005. While the elections will by no means guarantee Iraq’s stability, they are expected to produce an interim National Assembly that will be responsible for drafting a constitution and setting a date for full elections in 2006. The January elections also represent a critical step for lowering the U.S. profile in the country.

To help keep tabs on the wide range of challenges facing Iraq, the Center for American Progress will regularly update the following "To Do List" for the January elections.

IRAQI ELECTION CHECKLIST

Task

Status

Get U.N. officials on
the ground

Elections demand the construction of administrative institutions and the mobilization of resources, both of which require intense planning and U.N. expertise. There are currently only about 35 U.N. international staff on the ground in Iraq. By comparison, there were 500 U.N. officials on the ground in East Timor, which has a population of only around 700,000. Increasing the number of staff requires approval from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. However, he has pledged not to do so as long as the security situation remains volatile.

Ensure that
the Iraqi population is involved in
the electoral process

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has announced the possibility that Iraqi elections scheduled for January could exclude a quarter of the population, mostly in Sunni areas. Partial elections would be seen as deeply flawed, disenfranchise Iraq’s Sunni population, increase the country’s ethnic and religious divisions, and potentially spark a violent civil war.

Support Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission

The Commission possesses exclusive authority over the organization and conduct of elections. Some progress has been made in recruiting and training Iraqi election commissioners.However, this vital organization has yet to get off the ground, as there are still deficiencies in staffing and funding. The procurement of vehicles, voting equipment, and ballots has not begun. Only $7 million of the $232 million set aside for the Commission has been disbursed.

Develop comprehensive voter registration lists

The process of merging, compiling, vetting, and verifying an electoral roll is a substantial task that has still yet to begin. The last Iraqi census is outdated and unreliable. The proposed plan is to develop voter registration based on the ration cards from the Oil-for-Food Program. However, the ration card system is not widely perceived as reliable, due to Saddam’s decade-long manipulation of the system.

Enable international election observers to
do their job

To ensure the credibility of the elections, neutral international observers from organizations like the OSCE will be required. With the dramatic increase in hostage-taking and the inability to guarantee security in even the coalition’s controlled "Green Zone," international monitors would be severely limited.

Register and approve political parties

The law on political parties stipulates that a party must have at least 500 signatures to be placed on a ballot. This low threshold has meant that there are already upwards of 500 groups claiming to be political parties. Election officials will have the arduous job of vetting signatures and verifying parties. They will have to complete this task with enough time to design, create, and distribute ballots throughout Iraq.

Train poll workers and elections officials

Elections require an army of trained volunteers and administrators that have yet to be accounted for in Iraq. Organizing and implementing the election properly is crucial to ensuring its credibility. To have an election in January, the process of finding and training these workers must begin immediately.

Launch voter education campaign

Elections are a completely new phenomenon in Iraq – a country with no history of a democratic process. Voters must be educated in the functioning of the electoral system, the procedures and process of the elections, the location of polling stations, and crucially, the platforms and positions of the hundreds of political parties. Training voters on these issues is crucial to ensuring the credibility of the elections.

Ensure the security of candidates and campaigning

Security is needed to ensure the safety of individual candidates and of political campaigning. However, in the current environment, where assassination attempts and car bombings have become routine, it seems unlikely that political leaders could hold rallies, give speeches, or even debate each other.

Secure polling places on election day

According to the U.N., 30,000 polling places will be required throughout the country. As they will attract large crowds lining up to vote, they present a significant security risk. With so many polling stations, as well as the slow pace of developing, training, and equipping the Iraqi police force, it will be difficult to guarantee the security of voters.

 

 

 

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