Who's on the Ballot?
Iraqis arriving at the polls on January 30 will be handed a ballot paper that would be confusing to even the most practiced of electorates. For one thing, the vast majority of the candidates won't be mentioned anywhere on it. Each voter has one vote, which must be given to one of the 111 political parties and coalitions, listed in random order decided by lottery, on a ballot the size of a broad-sheet newspaper. Each party or coalition is identified by name, a graphic symbol, a number, and the name of the candidate at the top of its list. Most of these groupings are recent creations, largely unknown among Iraqis (although in some instances their top candidate may enjoy some name-recognition). Even some of the more established parties who worked against Saddam Hussein in exile or underground, such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Dawa Party and the Communist Party, are running under the umbrella of recently formed coalitions, meaning they won't actually appear on the ballot under their own names. Some Iraqi press reports say as many as 53 parties may have actually withdrawn from the race, although their names may still appear on the list. Fear of assassination has prompted most of the parties and coalition to keep their candidate lists secret (beyond the top name), and security concerns have also severely restricted campaigning. Many voters may quite literally have little idea of whom they are electing when they cast their votes.
A Look at the Candidates
Iraq Reading Room
Who are the Front Runners?
The list-system and the security conditions combine to give tremendous advantage to the parties and coalitions that either carry some prior national or communal standing, or have access to effective national channels of communication, or both. Lists with access to government particularly the Iraqi List of acting Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, which combines largely secular Sunni and Shiite candidates, and to a lesser extent, the separate Iraqis Party list of acting president Ghazi al-Yawer, which has a similar makeup to Allawi's although it includes Sunni elements critical of U.S. military actions have the advantage of incumbency, particularly as regards media access. But that may be a mixed blessing in light of the failure of the government, thus far, to address Iraqis' overriding concern with security. The strong favorite according to most analysts is the United Iraq Alliance, a group led by Shiite religious parties (although including a wide range of mostly Shiite independents) grouped together at the behest of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and campaigning with his tacit support. To counter its chief rival's use of TV, the UIA looks to rely on grassroots organization around the mosques, and on endorsement by the clergy and given the fact of Iraq's Shiite majority, whose relative weight will be amplified by the anticipated widespread Sunni boycott, the UIA is expected to win a plurality of the vote. That may make one of their leading candidates Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; Ibrahim al-Jaffari of the Dawa Party; and independent Hussein al-Sharistani top contender for Allawi's job in the new government. This list also includes the one-time Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi, as well as followers of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has taken a non-committal position on participation in the election.
The UIA's concern to secure strong communal Shiite representation is mirrored among the Kurds, where the two major political parties, the longtime rival Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have joined forces on the Kurdish Alliance list to ensure maximum representation of the Kurdish vote in the new assembly, of which they are expected to win the lion's share. The largest Sunni Party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, which had previously served in the interim government, has withdrawn from the election on the grounds that security conditions make voting impossible in most Sunni strongholds. Groupings such as the Assembly of Independent Democrats of Adnan Pachachi are hoping to secure some support from more secular, urban, middle class Sunnis and Shiites, but the national-list system will probably keep their numbers relatively small.