Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has let it be known that he wants provincial elections that are currently scheduled for January 2009, to happen by the end of 2008 instead. The Prime Minister recently made statements that the government will be asking for the balloting to happen as soon as possible. He will be talking to the High Election Commission to push the timetable forward, while making sure the voting will be free and fair. This seems a rash decision as neither the Commission, nor the country seems ready for early voting.
Prime Minister Maliki’s statements come before the election process has even been finalized. Parliament passed the election law on September 24, 2008, and it was ratified by the Presidential Council on October 8. It sets aside 25% of provincial council seats for women, while dropping a similar quota for Christians, Yazidis and Shabeks in six provinces. A committee is suppose to deliberate on how to deal with this issue. The Election Commission said they would try, but could not guarantee voting by January 31, 2009. They have not received a list of all the candidates yet, and still need to hire 300,000 election officials to watch the polls. Those are just the technical issues that need to be addressed.
Then there is the more difficult political and security situation in the country. General Ray Odierno, the new commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, the new head at Central Command, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the new National Intelligence Estimate have all said that the situation within Iraq is tenuous. They are all worried about the possible outcomes and affects of the election, especially if it leads to new violence. That might already be happening.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have noted an increase in targeted assassinations in recent weeks. The two new weapons of choice are magnetic car bombs and pistols with silencers. A Karbala city council member for example, was recently killed by one such car bomb. From July to August 2008, ten people were assassinated with pistols each month in Baghdad. One of the favorite targets have been Sadrists. Since the middle of September, eight Interior Ministry officials were also killed or wounded in these types of attacks as well. On the positive side, 112 suspected pistol men have been arrested.
Real and imagined violence has also sent a chill through women and minorities. The Associated Press reported that many women that were thinking of running for office have been intimidated by the new voting rules. During the 2005 elections, candidates were only identified by numbers or parties. Under the new election law, they have to list their names. This raises the fear of being attacked since their identities will be known. As reported earlier, Christians, who lost their quota under the voting legislation, are coming under attack in the northern city of Mosul right now, which is causing thousands to flee.
It is within this environment that Maliki is calling for early voting. There is still violence in Iraq, some of which is aimed directly at intimidating voters, officials, and the candidates. That is unlikely to end anytime soon. More importantly, the final election process has not be set, and the Election Committee is not even sure it can carry out the vote by the end of January 2009, let along the end of 2008. In recent months the Prime Minister has pushed for a whole slew of policies that are aimed at improving his position in the country. His plans for elections by December 2008 seem part of this. Holding elections this year appears to be an ill advised decision aimed more at show than substance. It would be better if the vote is held when officials and parties are ready, rather than at the whim of the Prime Minister.
For more on Iraq’s provincial elections see:
Election Law Passed, Now To Get People To Vote
Iraq’s Displaced Not Exciting About Election
Iraq’s New Voting System
Who Rules Iraq’s Provinces And How Are They Doing?
Fadel, Leila, “Assassinations replacing car bombs in Iraq,” McClatchy Newspapers, 10/9/08
- “Iraqi provincial elections likely to be held early next year,” McClatchy Newspapers, 10/8/08
Gamel, Kim, “Iraqi women fear going public as candidates,” Associated Press, 10/6/08
Goode, Erica, “Iraq Passes Provincial Elections Law,” New York Times, 9/25/08
Goode, Erica and Farrell, Stephen, “Iraqis Unite to Restore Minority Representation Law,” New York Times, 10/7/08
LaFranchi, Howard, “US more cautious in Iraq appraisals,” Christian Science Monitor, 10/16/08
Reuters, “Iraq strives for provincial vote this year,” 10/14/08