Iraq forms election commission
Published June 4th 2004 in Reuters
Iraq has moved a step closer to holding its first democratic elections with the naming of an independent commission to organise the poll, due to take place by January 31 next year if security permits.

Carina Perelli, a United Nations elections expert sent to Iraq to oversee the process, named a seven-member Independent Electoral Commission and a chief elections officer who will lay the groundwork for the ballot over the coming seven months.

Perelli called the non-political appointments, made after a weeks-long process of consultation and interviews, "one step further in the right direction along the road towards a democratic, sovereign, free and peaceful Iraq".

The commission was named three days after the appointment of an interim Iraqi government, drawn up in collaboration with the United Nations and Washington, which will take back sovereignty from U.S.-led authorities on June 30.

Perelli said the time available, though short, is enough to organise the polls and said bigger concerns were security and ensuring that Iraqis ultimately regard the elections as valid.

"From a technical point of view, the time is sufficient to have credible and genuine elections," said Perelli, the director of the U.N. electoral assistance division, who also helped prepare polls in East Timor.

U.S. authorities have assigned $260 million (142 million pounds) to organise the elections, a sum Perelli hoped would match costs, though she said several nations, some members of the U.S.-led coalition and others not, had said they would be pleased to offer support.


Following a popular European model, Iraq's elections will be held on the basis of proportional representation, a method that favours small parties and should make the ballot more inclusive.

Parties will be able to present a list of candidates, as few as 12 or as many as 275 -- the number of national assembly seats to be filled via the poll -- and seats will be assigned on the basis of the number of votes received, going down the list.

Perelli said that looking at Iraq's population of around 26 million and normal voter participation, a party or person would have to win some 26-27,000 votes to earn a seat in the assembly.

As well as political parties, special interest groups will be allowed to present lists, or candidates can run on an individual ticket. To stand for election, a candidate must file a 500-signature petition with the electoral commission.

On any list, every third name must be a woman to ensure that at least 25 percent of seats in the assembly go to women, a stipulation made in Iraq's interim constitution, agreed earlier this year.

Voter rolls have yet to be drawn up, but Perelli said the commission would build them by auditing Iraq's ration-card system, a comprehensive database used to distribute food while Iraq was under sanctions.

Troops from the 150,000-strong U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi security forces will provide security for the poll, a huge task as up to 30,000 voting stations will have to be set up to enable everyone to vote.

Perelli said the United Nations would encourage the electoral commission to ask for international observers for the election, though the U.N., having helped organise the poll, would not be involved in observing it.