70 candidate lists registered so far in Iraq's upcoming election

Saturday, December 11th 2004, 3:12 pm
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Candidates from 70 political parties and coalitions have filed to run in Iraq's upcoming elections, after a number of deadline extensions to ensure wider participation in a vote seen as key for Iraq's democratic transformation.

The Independent Electoral Commission extended a Dec. 10 deadline for submitting candidate lists until Dec. 15 after political groups demanded more time to form alliances and pick candidates, spokesman Farid Ayar said. The deadline already had been extended twice before, he added.

Sixty-four of the lists came from political parties, while six were submitted by coalitions, he said.

The commission has had 233 political entities register with it so far, said Ayar. Only organizations, groups or individuals approved by the electoral commission will be allowed to participate in the Jan. 30 vote.

``We realize this operation is not an easy one and every minute is important for these groups,'' Abdul-Hussein Hendawi, the commission's chairman, told Al-Arabiya television.

Campaigning begins next Wednesday and must end 48 hours before polling booths open.

Iraq's election laws treat the entire country as a single constituency.

A party or alliance will win seats in the National Assembly based on the percentage of votes its' list receives nationally. The system gives those candidates ranked high on the slate most chances to be voted in.

On Thursday, under the guidance of Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a group of political parties and independents announced the creation of a coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance. The grouping hopes to draw the bulk of the vote from the Shiite majority in Iraq and dominate the future assembly, whose main task will be to draft a new constitution for Iraq.

The top name on the list is Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim _ head of a major Iraqi Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution.

Ayar said the commission still hasn't received lists from interim President Ghazi al-Yawer and Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, both of whom are believed to be compiling separate slates.

According to electoral laws, at least one in every three candidates on a single list must be a woman.

Once all lists of candidates are submitted, the electoral commission will begin printing some 60 million ballots _ in three different colors _ for the 275-member National Assembly, the provincial councils and a national council for Kurdistan, Ayar said.

The symbol of each political party or alliance will appear on the ballot along with the name of each group's leader.

About 9,000 polling stations, with up to five booths in each, are expected to open on election day.

To be eligible to vote, a person must be an Iraqi citizen, entitled to reclaim citizenship or eligible for citizenship.

Voters are required to show an ID to prove they were registered on voter rolls that were based on a food rations database, created in the 1990s. Heads of families collecting the monthly rations have been asked to check the details of their households.

Representatives of political parties, electoral commission staff and observers will monitor proceedings on election day. The commission has also invited the United Nations and several countries to send monitors.

Shiites, believed to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, are eagerly awaiting the vote to translate their numbers into the power they were denied under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

In contrast, for the Sunni Arab minority the vote could affirm the loss of power it enjoyed under Saddam's regime before the March 2003 U.S. invasion.

Some Sunni Arabs have called for boycotting the elections, in part to protest U.S. military operations in the largely Sunni city of Fallujah. Sunni Arabs also form the core of the insurgency in Iraq. Some Sunni politicians have called for postponing the vote, but government officials say they are committed to the January date. A massive Sunni boycott could undermine the vote's credibility.

After the election, the National Assembly will elect a president and two deputies, who will form the Presidency Council, which in turn will nominate the prime minister.

The National Assembly will also draft a constitution, to be voted on in a referendum planned by Oct. 15, 2005.

If adopted, the constitution would form the legal basis for another general election to be held by Dec. 15, 2005, and a new government will take office by Dec. 31, 2005.