Iraqi Voters select provincial Councils in Saturday’s Vote

Iraqis go to the polls Saturday to vote in the first provincial elections since January, 2005. This time, two big things are different. The Sunni Arabs are not boycotting the election, as they did 4 years ago; and the Shiite parties are competing against one another rather than running as a monolithic coalition. These two changes bestow a dynamism on the process and make the outcome hard to predict. The final results may well tell us about likely changes in the composition of the Federal parliament in the national elections scheduled for December, 2009.

The LAT reports that the elections can only be held in Iraq via security arrangements that shut down traffic and interfere with ordinary life in other ways.

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that despite a law forbidding campaigning within 24 hours of an election, most Iraqi parties went on trying to convince Iraqis to give them their votes right up to the last minute.

The number of candidates assassinated recently has risen to 8.

The Baghdad daily said that opinion polling done in Iraq recently suggested that voters will no longer confine themselves to casting their ballots for the religious (i.e. fundamentalist) parties, and that nationalist and secular parties are making a credible showing.

At the same time, clerics used their Friday prayer sermons to campaign for the political parties to which they belong. Cleric Muzaffar al-Musawi, the Imam-Jum`ah or chief Friday prayer leader in the East Baghdad slums of Sadr City, denounced anyone who did not vote for the Sadr Movement as a traitor to Iraq.

Meanwhile, in the Sunni Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad, Sheikh Abd al-Sattar al-Janabi read out a fatwa or considered legal opinion from the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, Abd al-Karim Zaydan, affirming the duty to vote and disallowing past excuses for staying home on election day (such as that the election is being held under conditions of foreign military occupation or that the results of the polls are illegally fixed and predetermined. These allegations, Zaydan says, do not remove the duty of the individual to vote.

Ayad Allawi, a secular ex-Baathist of Shiite extraction who served as appointed, interim prime minister in 2004, accused incumbent parties of putting the resources of the government to work for them in their campaigns.

McClatchy reports that voters in Basra may be trying to settle political and personal scores by voting. Those Basrawis who hate the rigid, puritanical Mahdi Army may well vote for the Da’wa Party of PM Nuri al-Maliki, since al-Maliki sent the army last spring to crack down on the Sadrists in Basra.

McClatchy reports on a female, Sunni Arab candidate running in Diyala Province, whose husband (a provincial council member) has been kidnapped by insurgents; she is trying to use a seat on the provincial council to bargain for his release.

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