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Security Issue Threatens to Skew Iraq Vote

Only Candidates Who Can Afford Guards Have Their Names Publicized

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page A27

Twenty Iraqi women who are candidates in that country's Jan. 30 elections told a congressional delegation last weekend that because of threats to their lives they are not campaigning and will not let their pictures be displayed or their names listed publicly on candidate lists.

"One was kidnapped, one had her son killed trying to protect her and one resigned from a candidate list after her husband and children were threatened," said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), one of four lawmakers who met with the women over a two-day period in Amman, Jordan. "We heard it was a war zone, but didn't realize how dangerous it is."

An Iraqi woman passes campaign posters in Baghdad. Many female candidates are refusing publicity because of threats to their safety. (Samir Mizban -- AP)

Looking back on the meeting with the women, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) described the election process in Iraq as "surreal."

"It is stunning in this situation that we are representing any idea this is legitimate. But," she added, "it is the lesser of all evils because . . . [we] can't not have the election."

With the elections to pick a 275-member National Assembly just two weeks away, details are emerging about the Iraq campaign and balloting that illustrate Tauscher's concerns. Many of the worries are shared by specialists from international, nongovernment organizations who are in Iraq assisting in preparation for the voting.

Election organizers are still wrestling with questions of how to publicly list names of all candidates, and with difficult details of how the votes will be counted and reported, according to telephone interviews with specialists last week. They said they face the uncomfortable prospect that it is likely to be two weeks before results are known, and the complicating possibility that the declared winners will be challenged afterward under the election rules.

Voters on Jan. 30 will get at least two ballots, one for the national assembly and one for a governate legislature, equivalent to a state legislature, they said. The national ballot will have a line with the name, number and symbol, if there is one, for each of 111 slates of candidates. But the names of the individual candidates that make up each slate will not be on the ballot, the specialists said.

Because of the danger, the slates, even those put forward by the major parties, are not releasing the names of all their candidates. "Only those that have security protection" have their names publicized, Tauscher said. The Iraqi election commission in Baghdad plans to release before the elections the lists for each slate, a total of 7,000 candidates, but how that will be done has not been decided, said one election worker who, like others, were interviewed on the condition that neither they nor their organizations be identified because of fears about security.

On Election Day, voters will mark with pen or pencil a single box next to the slate they pick. A similar system will apply to the ballot for the governate legislature.

The paper ballots will be counted by hand at the close of Election Day at each of the 6,000 to 9,000 polling stations, in Iraq and abroad. That process, "which will begin with comparing ballots voted to ballots originally received, could take days and perhaps a week," another election worker said. Those results will then be forwarded to the governate headquarters and checked, and then to the Iraqi election commission in Baghdad.

"It could be up to two weeks before a final count is in that includes the overseas ballots," a specialist said. A determination of who has been elected must await a full count because the winners on any slate will be based on the percentage of the overall vote that slate received.

For example, the United Iraqi Alliance slate of 228 candidates, put up by representatives of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, may win from 25 to 40 percent of the vote, according to early polls. Should they get 30 percent of the total vote, the first 82 candidates on their slate would be considered elected. One out of every three, starting from the top of their list, must be a woman, under the election rules.

Being named a winner does not automatically mean the candidate would get a seat in the assembly. Once the 275 winners are named, the election commission would accept and investigate complaints that the individuals did not meet the requirements for candidacy. Each candidate signed a declaration filed with the commission that certified they met the requirements, including never having been a high-ranking member of the Baath Party, having a secondary education and never having been convicted of a crime "of moral turpitude."

"There never had been a plan to investigate candidates before the elections because of the numbers" of candidates who are running, one election worker said. "If one is a winning candidate and he had lied on his declaration, he could be removed," he added.

One indication there will be complaints based on the rules came last week. Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party, which has its own slate, filed a formal complaint against the Sistani-associated party saying it should be prevented from using a picture of the grand ayatollah on its posters and literature. The complaint was based on the electoral law, adopted while the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority ruled Iraq, which outlawed religious symbols used by parties.

The Iraqi election commission prohibited one party from using a visual representation of the Koran as a symbol, and the complaint by Allawi's party followed in that vein.

Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, predicted last week that the election process, which was formulated by the American-run CPA and the Iraqi Provisional Council that was dominated by returning Iraqi exiles, would favor many of those former exiles, who have advantages such as money to pay guards.

"There is no campaign," he said. "Publicly identified candidates are limited to people with good security."

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