Monday, November 08, 2004
Democracy moving forward...
Arthur Chrenkoff passes on the following news about the Iraqi election prep:
Iraq's free press has certainly been making it difficult for everyone to overlook the coming of democracy:
Newspapers in Iraq have been offering up a barrage of daily reports and opinion pieces over the past month on a variety of election-related subjects. Politicians and religious leaders "in the know" have commented on election developments, as the official Electoral Commission has detailed information on the mechanisms established to become a candidate and on voting. Articles have appeared on voter-education seminars that are being offered by political parties and organizations; the likelihood of whether or not expatriates will be allowed to vote from abroad, whether Sunnis will participate in the elections, as well as the political maneuverings as the parties work to forge alliances and place their candidates on election lists that will meet the stringent requirements established by the commission.
But perhaps the most salient barometer of the "mood" in Iraq can be found on the editorial pages of Iraq's dailies. Commentaries overwhelmingly support the elections and offer intelligent and well-constructed viewpoints on a variety of election-related topics. Writers regularly demand that the Electoral Commission provide more information on the election process, and call on the Iraqi people to cast their ballots on election day.
Writers publishing in a variety of newspapers supporting divergent political positions appear to agree on one fact: elections should not be derailed by terrorism and instability. Most contributors have stressed the necessity of holding nationwide polling. But some writers support the idea that partial elections in stable areas would be better than no elections. "Attaining half or three-quarters of legitimacy, so to speak, is better than no legitimacy at all in order to respond to the doubters and silence the loud voices that keep accusing the government of treason and illegitimacy. They act as if the whole Arab world enjoys legitimacy and as if Iraq is the only exception in the region that has no legitimacy in the middle of [an] ocean of Arab legitimacy," Latif al-Subayhawi wrote in the 18 October edition of "Al-Dustur."
The report notes that "news of Iraq's upcoming January elections has dominated the pages of Iraq's major dailies in recent weeks, to some extent crowding out the more detailed coverage of the growing insurgency, the presence of multinational forces, and even the workings of the interim administration." Which arguably demonstrates that the Iraqis are fully aware of how crucial the elections are to the future of their country.
The newspapers may be doing their best, but clearly there is no such thing as too much civic education in a country that had suffered under a brutal dictatorship for some three decades. The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger reports on the latest cooperative initiative between the Spirit of America and enthusiastic Iraqis. The project, Friends of Democracy, aims "to educate the Iraqi people about the meaning and purpose of democracy before that January election date." Read the whole story and see if you can assist this very valuable project.
With the democratic steamroller gaining speed, even United Nations officials in Baghdad are increasingly optimistic:
Preparations for the crucial January election are "on track" and the absence of international observers due to the country's tenuous security should not detract from the vote's credibility, the top U.N. electoral expert here said. . . .
"International observation is important only in that it's symbolic," Carlos Valenzuela told The Associated Press. . . . "I don't think that the process will be less credible without observers, absolutely not. They are not the essence. They are not essential. They are not important. If they can come, fine, of course."
According to Valenzuela, preparations on the local level are progressing according to plan: "Already . . . about 15 U.N. electoral officers were based in Amman, in neighboring Jordan, and that four experts from the International Foundation for Election Systems, a Washington-based organization, were working in Baghdad. Valenzuela said the electoral commission already has hired 400 electoral officers, of whom more than 300 were stationed outside Baghdad. Close to 6,000 Iraqis were undergoing training to be clerks at 548 voter registration centers across Iraq."
According to Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the following timetable is in place in the run up to the election: "Registration will begin [in November] for voters, parties and candidates. . . . Iraqis will be informed of their status on the electoral rolls when they receive their food ration coupons beginning next week. . . . Voters will have until December 15th to straighten out any irregularities. . . . During the same time period, parties and candidates will register for the election." According to Iraqi Electoral Commission, while no exact date has been set yet, the election is scheduled to take place in the last week of January.
The process is already under way: "Adverts splashed across the front or back page of many Iraqi newspapers called on 'political entities--parties, groups or individuals--who want to enter the upcoming elections to contact us and obtain the necessary documents to validate their candidacy.' . . . Some 550 registration centers will be set up throughout the country in the same location or near where Iraqis are accustomed to receiving their food rations--a leftover from a United Nations oil-for-food program."
Voter registration did commence, as planned, on Monday, Nov. 1. "Today voter registration is starting all over the country. . . . It is going well up until now," said Farid Ayar, the spokesman for Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission. The goal is to achieve the registration level of some 12 million voters: "As many as 120,000 Iraqis are needed to run 30,000 polling stations in January." You can see the registration information posters here.
While the Iraqi authorities, with assistance from the U.N. and the European Union, are preparing the logistics side of the elections, the U.S. is committed to providing additional security for the foreign election workers. Australia will be training and equipping the contingent of 163 Fijian troops, which will provide security for U.N. election officials. The Royal Australian Air Force will fly the Fijian troops to Iraq.