Global Policy Forum

Ration Cards to be Basis for Electoral Register


Integrated Regional Information Network
June 7, 2004

It is likely that food ration cards issued under the now closed UN-administered Oil-for-Food programme will be used to create a voters' roll in the elections scheduled for January 2005, a UN election official has said.

United Nations officials have been checking the ration card system to make sure that those issued with such cards are actually alive and living in Iraq, Carina Perelli, head of the UN Electoral Assistance Mission to Iraq, said in a recent press briefing in Baghdad. Officials checking Oil-for-Food databases have suggested they are at least 95 percent accurate. Ration cards, along with national identification documents, are an accurate source of information on families in Iraq, since virtually every family has one, said Darren Nance of the International Foundation for Election Systems, IFES, a US-based NGO. IFES workers have been to Iraq several times in recent months to work on election-related issues.

Following more than a month of meetings with Iraqis from all walks of life, the UN announced on Friday that it had named an electoral commission and created rules for an election, which could cost more than $260 million to administer. Between 20,000 and 30,000 polling stations are expected to be monitored by international and national observers, Perelli said.

Voters will elect a 275-member national assembly suggested by the UN, Perelli said. Under a system of proportional representation, voters will be able to select from lists of candidates. Most lists will be made up of candidates from political parties, Perelli said, such as the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a conservative religious party with broad-based support, or the Iraq National Accord led by former military officers who include the new prime minister, Iyad Allawi.

"A voter that goes to the voting booth basically will have at his disposal lists, slates or lists of different types," Perelli said, explaining that such lists could be of traditional political parties, of people who have decided to come together because they were a political grouping in defence of human rights, or of special interests such as peasants' rights or a women's list.

As former President Saddam Hussein was famous for rigging districts, a process allowing voters to choose candidates nationwide rather than in individual districts will make the process run more smoothly, Perelli said. UN officials have said that, technically, it takes eight months to prepare for an election. Numerous political parties have sprung up in recent months, from the Iraq National Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a former exile who was supported by the US until recently to the tune of almost US $350,000 per month, to the Dawa Party, one of the oldest Islamic parties in Iraq.

Groups such as the International Republican Institute (IRI), a US-based NGO, work with such parties in Iraq and other countries around the world. "We're working on political party preparation for the elections," one IRI worker told IRIN in Baghdad. "Obviously the [UN] framework is critical to those parties, so there's a connection between what we do and that."

But poor security in many parts of Iraq has disrupted the work of IRI and the National Democratic Institute, a similar NGO. Expatriate workers travel back and forth between Baghdad and neighbouring countries. Perelli said voters would be able to cast their votes from anywhere in the country. Political parties and independent candidates would be able to submit lists of candidates.

Following intensive lobbying from women's groups earlier this year, women are expected to make up 25 percent of the assembly, Perelli said. To ensure voters have enough female candidates to choose from, a third of names on the lists must be female, she said. An Iraq Women's Association worker emphasised the importance of having female candidates on the ballot but also called for a new interim government, or the future government, to abolish Shari'at law, the traditional religious law of Islam. "To truly have women's rights, we have to abolish Shari'at law," she said.

Those who want to run for office must collect 500 voter signatures and get their petitions approved by the electoral commission, Perelli said. It will take an estimated 27,000 votes in the general election to win a seat on the national assembly. The announcement comes just days after a new interim government was named in Iraq. A new president, two deputy presidents, a prime minister and 26 cabinet ministers suggested by the UN took over from a US-appointed, 25-member Governing Council.

UN officials received more than 1,800 applications for the electoral commissioner posts, Perelli said. Supported by United Nations officials, the new electoral commission will prepare for the election. Negotiations continue on how United Nations election workers and others will do their work after 30 June, Perelli said, when the US is expected to return the country's sovereignty to Iraqis.

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