The ballot for the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30 may list about 200 parties or individuals, each identified on a line with a name and a logo, but each voter will have a single vote to cast.
Fitting all those names and logos on a one-page ballot is only one of myriad practical problems facing Iraqi and U.S. officials as they plan the election of 275 members to a new National Assembly, who will draft the country's constitution and elect an interim president.
Although most public attention has focused on whether Sunni parties will participate and whether the country will be secured enough for registration and voting to take place, the nine-member Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has been working with U.N. experts to determine how the election will be carried out.
As of last week, 156 parties and individuals had registered to take part in the election, and in all, there will probably be about 220, according to Hussain Hindawi, chairman of the electoral commission, which was selected by U.N. specialists. Each registrant has to provide a logo or symbol by which illiterate voters can identify them.
Dozens of registrants have not been certified, and some logos have been prohibited, including a Koran with a halo around it, a mass grave and a Kalashnikov rifle.
Asked whether the ballot would be confusing to voters, Hindawi said: "It is possible, of course, but we have no choice. It is the law."
The elections are "historic," Hindawi said in an interview last week in his office in the heavily fortified area formerly known as the Green Zone. "It is for the constitution," he said. "We have a very short time. . . . It is the only way to finish with five decades of dictatorship and destruction. It is the only way to end the occupation."
Under Iraqi election law -- drafted earlier this year while the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority and its appointees on the Iraqi Governing Council controlled the country -- a party, political entity or individual must run nationwide to gain a seat in the assembly. However, a candidate or political group can win if it gains enough votes locally. Winners will be determined based on the percentage of the total votes they receive.
A single constituency
The country is being treated as a single constituency to choose the 275 National Assembly members because religious and ethnic concerns made it difficult to divide the nation into 275 districts. At the same time, it allows local campaigning and means that violence targeted at one area will not prevent all 275 members from being elected. Although parties or other political entities are still negotiating lists of candidates, they have primarily broken down into religious and ethic groupings. To be certified, individuals must pay 2.5 million Iraqi dinars, about $1,650. Groups must pay 7 million Iraqi dinars, about $4,650.
A party or group of individuals making up a political entity, such as the popular Shiite Dawa party, can put forward a slate for as many as 275 of the seats, but every group must put forward at least 12 candidates, according to the electoral law. In addition, one out of every three candidates on each list must be a woman.
As of last week, Hindawi said, the ballot will not list the candidates on the slates that parties are putting forward.
Hindawi said he expects that with expatriate Iraqis now able to cast ballots, the number of eligible voters will be close to 15 million. He estimated that 10 million will probably vote. With that turnout, it would take about 37,000 votes or more for a candidate to be elected.
Under the proportional representation system adopted, a party or political entity would win seats in the assembly based on the proportion of the nationwide vote it gathered. For example, if one party had a list of 50 candidates and gathered 10 percent of the overall vote, the top 27 candidates on its list would be in the 275-person assembly. Nine of them would have to be women.
Campaigning begins Dec. 15
Campaigning is to begin Dec. 15 and will continue until two days before the scheduled Jan. 30 vote. The Iraqi election commission expects 25 U.N. staff members to help with the election.
Hindawi insisted there were no "hard rules" on disqualifying candidates, although senior Baath Party members who served in Saddam Hussein's government until its fall or candidates guilty of flagrant corruption might be barred.
In addition, the June order setting up the rules for political parties says they cannot be financed "directly or indirectly . . . by any armed force, militia or residual element." That provision would be damaging to any list put forward by the party established by Moqtada Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose militia fought U.S. and Iraqi government troops in Baghdad and Najaf.
The electoral commission has been drafting regulations to govern the campaigning by parties. Under those rules, political candidates and parties would be prohibited from "incitement to violence, hate speech, intimidation and support for, the practice of and the use of terrorism." It is unclear how those rules would be interpreted or enforced, according to a U.N. spokesman.
"All the Iraqi people -- everywhere in the country -- want to see legitimate power, and legitimate power can only come through popular elections," Hindawi said.
Shadid reported from Baghdad.