election update

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    Posted on Thu, Dec. 02, 2004

    Iraq's election office racing to clear hurdles

    By TIM JOHNSON
    Knight Ridder Newspapers


    BAGHDAD, Iraq - At the offices of Iraq's election commission, workers scurry to field phone calls, greet sheiks and politicians, and prepare for the country's nationwide election Jan. 30. The pace borders on frenetic.

    In the middle of war, as car bombs pound the city and gunfire punctuates the air, the workers race so that Iraq's 13.9 million eligible voters can cast ballots under all but the most violent scenarios.

    For most nations, elections are the biggest logistical activity ever undertaken in peacetime. Iraq, which has no modern experience with elections, is preparing for one amid violence and turmoil. The election commission has begun to register voters, design ballots, train election observers and explain to citizens how voting works. Troubleshooting is an everyday activity.

    "We know that there are going to be some mistakes. That's why we have some methods for correcting the mistakes," said Safwan Rashid, one of nine members of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.

    Questions about the viability of the election have given way to near-certainty that it will take place. Politicians who called for a boycott only last week appear to be re-evaluating. While the majority Shiite Muslims voice near-undiluted enthusiasm for the vote, minority Sunni Muslims and ethnically distinct Kurds have balked, worried that a popular vote may erode their power.

    But resistance is wilting. A week after two Kurdish parties backed a call by Sunni politicians to postpone the vote, they were preparing a unified slate of candidates. Even Sunni politicians appear to be backtracking. Ayad al Ezzi said his Iraqi Islamic Party was talking with other factions "about the importance of having a good and proper atmosphere for the elections," while still declining to abandon its call for a postponement.

    "A number of them are coming around to the view that perhaps they ought to seriously consider participating in order to protect their longer-term equity," U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said this week.

    Iraq has allotted $250 million for the elections within the country, and another $92 million to allow an estimated 1 million Iraqis living abroad to vote.

    In deciding to allow Iraqis living in many foreign countries to vote, the Electoral Commission defied the advice of U.N. advisers who said that would be too complicated. The commission says Iraqis in Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Iran, Jordan, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are eligible to vote, as long as they can prove they are Iraqi citizens and were born before Dec. 31, 1986. Registration procedures for exiles are still being ironed out, said Farid Ayar, a commission spokesman.

    In Iraq, registration of voters is under way. The registry is based on records of Iraqis who receive monthly food rations under a program that began in the early 1990s, when the nation was under U.N. sanctions. Today, rich and poor Iraqis alike still receive rations.

    "Nobody could tell lies to Saddam. So it was a correct record. Whoever lied was killed," said Ayar. (cont'd)
 
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