- Title: IRAQ: Candidates start campaigning for Iraqi provincial elections
- Date: 23rd December 2008
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) IRAQI CITIZEN FROM BAGHDAD'S KARRADA NEIGHBOURHOOD, MAHMOUD SAEED, SAYING: "In my opinion, it makes no difference weather the lists are opened or closed. What's really matter is that the people have to elect, they have to vote to sort out corrupted officials or officials who failed to do their duties, with my respects to all officials. Therefore, I urge people to vote, not because the lists are opened or closed, but in order to fight corruption and get rid of the persons who failed to serve the Iraqi people."
- Embargoed: 7th January 2009 12:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA8XK2Q6NK14AU0S7MAER4WUY2H
- Story Text: Candidates have began campaigning for the first Iraqi polls in more than three years -- a gamble for a democracy struggling to find political unity.
Iraq's political leaders are well delved into their campaigns, with 40 days left before the provincial elections, which are scheduled for January
Even as violence drops sharply, the United Nations warns the vote could stoke bloodshed anew as rival Shi'ite Arab parties in Iraq's south and Kurds and Arabs in the north vie for power.
More than 400 parties and 14,000 candidates will compete for 440 seats in the polls, in which Iraqis will select individual candidates rather than party lists as in the past.
The provincial elections in January will be the first to be organised by Iraq and held under Iraqi laws since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, which overthrew former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Across Baghdad, workers scrubbed walls to make way for new posters, some featuring faces of well-known Iraqi politicians urging supporters to elect their party's candidates to the influential councils in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Small groupings like the Communists are not expected to upset the hegemony of large national parties, such as those linked to major players like Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, or Shi'ite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who heads the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
Many Iraqis are sceptical about politicians of any stripe as they wait for long-promised reconstruction and mourn family members killed in gruesome sectarian and random violence.
Some are more sanguine. Mahmoud Saeed, an Iraqi citizen from Baghdad's Karrada sees the elections as a chance for the people to choose those who can serve the country.
"In my opinion, it makes no difference weather the lists are opened or closed. What's really matter is that the people have to elect, they have to vote to sort out corrupted officials or officials who failed to do their duties, with my respects to all officials. Therefore, I urge people to vote, not because the lists are opened or closed, but in order to fight corruption and get rid of the persons who failed to serve the Iraqi people," Saeed said.
The first two Iraqi elections in 2005 were run under a "closed list (CL)" system. In this system, voters voted not for individual candidates but for lists -- coalitions of parties -- which were then allocated a proportional number of seats. These seats were then distributed according to preestablished rankings of individual candidates in each list.
Other Iraqis still harboured misgivings about the ability of many of the candidates, particularly those who are already part of the political scene, to deliver on their promises
"Four years have passed since last elections and nothing good has been achieved for this country. Nothing positive has been achieved in the sector of water, electricity and other services. The situation is the same and I think that nothing will change whether I vote or not, therefore, it is better for me to stay at home and do not vote for any one," Iraqi citizen Haytham Abd Ali al-Jibouri said.
In the southern city of Basra, campaigning began in earnest as candidates distributed leaflets and held opening rallies to outline campaign platforms.
"Members of the coming councils will have a better chance in running the affairs of the province or the provinces in general because they will have greater authorization and those who are responsible for electing them are the people themselves, therefore all the people have to go to ballot boxes and have to consider carefully programmes and the figures whom they will vote for. Twisted methods have proven their failure and we have seen that people have got nothing over the past period," an Iraqi citizen from the port city of Basra said.
Many of the campaign posters were damaged, some were torn down, by activists of rival factions and political parties.
Head of National Reform Movement in Basra, Talib Abdul Sadda al-Saedi, said that the movement has embarked on a programme to raise people's awareness of the importance of the elections.
"We have been trying as possible as we can to start, and we have already started to educate individuals in Basra city on the necessity of taking part in elections. I think if we succeed in this regard, there will be no more tearing down of posters and people will embrace and welcome elections campaign, whether they give their vote to the National Reform Movement list or other lists," Saedi said.
The United Nations is training tens of thousands of observers to ensure the election process is fair and transparent.
The local polls, followed by national elections due later in 2009, are seen as a key test of Iraq's fledgling democracy, and as crucial to reconciling the country's many sectarian and ethnic groups after years of bloodshed and discrimination.
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