To run for a seat in the Iraqi National Assembly in the elections scheduled for January, candidates must meet conditions set by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq that are far more severe than any requirements for election to the U.S. Congress or most other elected bodies in this country.
For example, candidates must have "at least a secondary school diploma or equivalent," a "good reputation" and not been convicted of "a crime involving moral turpitude," according to the regulations of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI). In addition, candidates cannot have been a member of Saddam Hussein's secret police, nor "contributed to or participated in the persecution of citizens," nor have made money "in an illegitimate manner at the expense of the homeland and public finance."
The regulations are based on sections of the Transition Administrative Law (TAL), drafted under the direction of then-Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority administrator, L. Paul Bremer III. They have raised concerns among U.N. and U.S. officials that Iraq's interim government may try to eliminate candidates through pressure on the electoral commission, whose members were selected by the United Nations but approved by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
In an attempt to prevent former officials of Hussein's Baath Party from running, no candidate will be certified who had been in the party "with the rank of Division member or higher," a level that one former senior CIA official said was "not high and would cover many schoolteachers and college professors." In addition, a candidate who was a former party member will have to sign a document renouncing the party, disavowing all past links and swearing that he or she has no current "dealings or connection" with Baathist organizations.
The rules create "a real rat's nest to unravel," the former CIA official said, "and clearly will not bring Sunnis into the process unless it is waived." Officials fear that if the Sunnis, who once ruled Iraq and are now at the heart of the insurgency, are not represented in the new assembly, their militant leaders will find it easier to recruit new fighters.
Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in Middle East affairs, said he expects the rules to be applied "in a more ad hoc way" than spelled out in the TAL. The limitations on former Baath Party members are "Chalabi rules," Cole said, a reference to Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile leader who as a member of the Iraqi Governing Council helped develop rules to keep former Baathists from working in the new Iraqi government.
Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, "has been rehabilitating Baathists," Cole said, noting that many former party members, such as Allawi himself, "broke with Saddam and now are being brought back."
A senior United Nations official helping to manage the electoral process said yesterday in a telephone interview from New York that the Iraqi commission has yet to decide how to enforce the certification standards.
Under current plans, candidates will sign a declaration that they meet the eligibility criteria. But before the electoral commission certifies them, their names will be published around the country.
"The IECI won't be able to investigate the information," the U.N. official said, because there will be hundreds of candidates. "If there are objections to a candidate," the official said, "the commission is still writing the regulations as to how they will be adjudicated and challenges settled."
The candidate certification period is already underway and will continue through mid-December, the U.N. official said. At a news conference yesterday, Carina Perelli, director of the U.N. Electoral Assistance Division, said that seven lists of candidates had been registered "and more than 180 forms [for] registration of lists have been distributed at the request of the parties."
While most public attention has been focused on the complications of registering Iraqi voters at home and abroad, little attention has been paid to how the election for the 275 seats in the National Assembly will be held. That body will not just pass laws, but also primarily write a new Iraqi constitution.
Any individual can collect 500 signatures of Iraqis entitled to vote and take that to the commission to be certified as a candidate. More likely are to be lists of candidates put together by parties or other groups. But each list must by law contain a minimum of the names of 12 candidates.
Each individual candidate or list of candidates will be voted on nationwide. And each voter will have only one vote, whether for an individual or for a list of individuals.
To guarantee that women are represented in the assembly, one of every three candidates on a party list must be a woman. After the voting, seats will be awarded proportionately to the votes a candidate or party list received.
Perelli told reporters in June that a successful candidate would "probably have to get at least 27,000 votes to be elected." Yesterday, reporters were told that it may take as many as 50,000 votes to be elected, based on the number now expected to vote.