What's at stake?
The January 30 poll will elect the 275 members of a National Assembly. The Assembly will elect a new president and two deputies, and the three of them will then appoint a new prime minister who will in turn choose a cabinet. The prime minister and cabinet must be confirmed by the Assembly, giving Iraq its first democratic government since the fall of Saddam. It will, nonetheless, be a caretaker government, primarily responsible for drafting a new constitution by August 15. If that draft constitution is approved in a nationwide referendum scheduled for October 15, it becomes the basis for a third nationwide vote two months later, this time for a permanent government. If the draft fails to win approval, the process will be repeated in 2006. But according to the law governing the transition, if a simple majority of voters in only three of the eighteen provinces reject the constitution, that counts as a veto. This minority veto provision insisted on by the U.S. (with strong Kurdish support) was strenuously opposed by the Shiite leaders, and may yet be a source of tension.
Voters on January 30 will also be asked to choose provincial councils and, in the case of the Kurds, a regional government for their semi-autonomous zone.
A Look at the Candidates
Iraq Reading Room
Do candidates run in districts as individuals?
No. The January 30 National Assembly election treats all of Iraq as a single electoral district, contested not by individuals but by parties or coalitions. Each voter has one vote to be awarded to one of the 111 parties or coalitions on the ballot. Each party or coalition has submitted a list of candidates, in order of preference, to the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission. The party will be awarded a share of seats in the 275-member assembly proportional to its share of the vote. For example, if a party or coalition wins 20 percent of the nationwide vote, it will be allocated 55 seats in the Assembly to be automatically filled by the first 55 names on the list submitted to the Iraqi Electoral Commission. (Every third candidate on every list is a woman.) Assuming a full voter turnout, a list would need to secure around 50,000 votes for each seat it wins.
Who is eligible to vote?
All Iraqi citizens over the age of 18, as well as those who have the right to Iraqi citizenship (for example, exiled families). The total number of voters inside Iraq is estimated at around 14 million, and the election plan calls for around 9,000 polling centers around the country to facilitate voting although security conditions necessitate their location being kept secret until the last minute, and may prevent some being opened at all. A further one million Iraqis outside the country will be allowed to vote. Absentee voting will take place in 14 countries besides Iraq Iran, Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Britain, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, France, Denmark, Australia and the U.S.
Who is Supervising the Election?
The final authority over the January 30 election, including the authority to postpone the vote, rests with the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission. The IIEC was appointed by UN election expert Carina Perelli, and consists of eight low-profile Iraqi technocrats with no party political affiliations. The IIEC has been responsible for hiring some 6,000 election workers and establishing polling stations around Iraq. The UN Electoral Assistance Division is playing a consultant role to the IIEC, but the security situation has ruled out the possibility of having international election monitors observe the vote. The IIEC has warned that the security and logistical arrangements may mean that a wait of up to ten days may be necessary before the results of the election are made known.