Global Policy Forum

UN Says Mission Accomplished and That Legitimacy Is


By Warren Hoge

New York Times
January 27, 2005

The United Nations said Wednesday that it had fulfilled its mission of providing expert assistance in setting up Sunday's election in Iraq, adding that it was now up to the Iraqi people to give the vote legitimacy by going to the polls. "We have done everything in supporting this election we could from a technical point of view, but nothing replaces the will of the people," said Carina Perelli, the director of the electoral assistance division for the United Nations.

A veteran counselor in past elections in other countries held under violent conditions, Ms. Perelli said, "Iraqi citizens are faced with a very tough position - one faced before them by the Timorese voters and the Salvadoran voters and the Afghan voters - of basically having to confront their fears and their hopes and decide by themselves whether they consider their election important enough in order to risk their lives and go and vote. In an ideal world, it would be good if this dilemma were not present, but unfortunately it is."

Ms. Perelli said that 21 million ballots had been printed for the national and local council elections and an additional 4.5 million for the separate vote for the Kurdish assembly in the north. She said there would be 5,300 voting centers, all of them staffed by party agents and national poll watchers. "For us, this is extremely important," she said, "because it shows that beyond the interest of the various political entities, Iraqi civil society has responded to this challenge and is participating in rather impressive numbers, considering the risks."

She added, "For me as a professional in elections, it is absolutely amazing how far the electoral commission of Iraq has come, considering that eight months ago it didn't exist." In establishing procedures, she said, the electoral commission had insisted on installing as many cautions as possible. "Where we advised one lock to prevent fraud from occurring, they put in two," she said.

Briefing reporters with her, Kieran Prendergast, the under secretary general for political affairs, stressed that the election was not "the be-all and end-all event" in Iraq's transition to representative government. There are fears the vote might not end up reflecting involvement of all groups in Iraq because of the insurgency's campaign to disrupt balloting and threats of a boycott by the minority Sunni Arabs. But Mr. Prendergast said that the next steps in that process - the drawing up of a constitution by the assembly to be elected Sunday, a referendum on the constitution scheduled in October and another national election in December to choose the new permanent government of Iraq - would provide ample opportunity to broaden participation by groups emerging from the Sunday election feeling disenfranchised.

Ms. Perelli acknowledged that individual Iraqis may not understand the elections fully, but she said that a "supersaturation of information" was planned for the remaining days. Asked for her reaction to criticism of the United Nations for not putting more people in Iraq, Ms. Perelli said that she had reached her desired number of 40 people by including 19 international election experts from Britain, the European Union and electoral assistance organizations. Mr. Prendergast said that the United Nations had no measurements like percentage of voter participation or levels of inclusivity by which to gauge whether the election meets its goals. "Whether it is legitimate and credible, I think, is primarily for the Iraqi people to decide," he said.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on Iraq's Government
More Information on the UN Role in Post-War Iraq


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