Frequently Asked Questions About the Dec. 15 Iraqi Parliamentary Election

Compiled by washingtonpost.com
Monday, December 12, 2005; 11:10 AM

Why are Iraqis voting?

About 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote Dec. 15 for a new national assembly, the first chosen since the ratification of the Iraqi constitution in October. The assembly's 275 members will serve four-year terms. The assembly will select a president who in turn will appoint a prime minister. Any Iraqi citizen born before Jan. 1, 1987, is eligible to cast a ballot.

Who is running?

Five major political blocs have emerged from among the 220 registered political parties.

  • The United Iraqi Alliance, a group of Shiite religious parties, won 48 percent of the vote in the January 2005 election and dominates the current government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari. The UIA platform calls for enforcement of the Iraqi constitution, the establishment of regional governments, the prosecution of Baathist criminals and the provision of free education.
  • The Kurdistan Alliance includes Iraq's two main Kurdish parties and is lead by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The Kurdish bloc joined the Shiite alliance in a coalition government after winning 26 percent of the vote in the January elections. The Kurds seek to protect the autonomy of the northern regions where they predominate.
  • The Iraqi National List is headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who won 14 percent of votes in January's elections. The group calls for a democratic and modern Iraq "that renounces sectarianism in political work" and seeks to improve relations with Arab and neighboring countries.
  • The National Congress Coalition, headed by controversial politician Ahmed Chalabi, bills itself as an alternative to the UIA. Chalabi, a deputy prime minister in the present government, said he left the UIA because he disagrees with its calls for an Islamic state in Iraq.
  • The Iraqi Accordance Front includes three main Sunni Arab parties that boycotted the January elections to protest the U.S. presence in the country. The group's platform is based on ending the "occupation" and revising the constitution to put an end to a "proportional power-sharing system based on sectarianism and ethnicity."
  • Who is favored to win?

    The UIA is regarded as the favorite, although the oft-criticized performance of the Jafari government may limit its appeal. Some smaller Shiite parties have also defected from the coalition.

    The Kurdish parties may see their overall representation decrease as the Sunni vote grows in ethnically mixed provinces.

    The prospects of the more secular parties depend on whether Allawi and Chalabi can expand their appeal to moderate religious voters disaffected with the current government.

    Sunni representation is likely to increase if Sunnis turn out in large numbers. One leading Sunni group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, recently called on Sunni votes to abstain from voting.

    Who is the U.S. supporting?

    While officially neutral, Bush administration officials would not be disappointed by strong showings by Allawi or Chalabi, who favor U.S. military presence for the time being. Many of the Sunni candidates oppose the U.S.-led occupation and many Shiite aspirants are pro-Iran.

    Allawi, a former CIA ally, was appointed interim prime minister by U.S. occupation chief Paul Bremer in 2004. Chalabi met with top Bush administration officials and congressional leaders in a well-publicized trip to Washington last month.

    Will the elections affect the insurgency?

    Many Sunni parties are calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The more seats they win, the greater the pressure on the next government to speed the exit of U.S., British and other coaltion forces. Sunni electoral success might also eventually reduce the appeal of the armed insurgency by giving the once-dominant Sunnis influence over the next government.

    What happens next?

    The new parliament must take office by Dec. 31. It will be the first permanent, fully constitutional government in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Sunni political leaders, who boycotted last January's elections, were promised that the new parliament would have four months to draft amendments to the constitution. Sunnis are pushing for a stronger central government with more control over oil revenues. A national referendum would be held on any proposed amendments in June 2006. The parliament will elect a president who will appoint a prime minister to run the government.

    For more information: Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq

    Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Oxford Analytica, electionworld.org.


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