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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 14:17 GMT
Viewpoints: Iraq elections
Election posters
Voters will choose an interim assembly that will write the constitution
Elections will take place in Iraq on Sunday despite dangerous insecurity in large parts of the country.

It has been estimated 40% of the population may be unable to vote, raising fears that the new assembly will not adequately reflect Iraq's ethnic composition.

But some Iraqis believe the elections will still prove a milestone.

We asked six commentators what effect they thought the elections would have.

What do you think about the elections? Please use the form at the bottom of the page to tell us your views.

Yehia Said, Iraq specialist, London School of Economics

Farid Sabri, spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party

Michael Rubin, Iraq analyst, American Enterprise Institute

Larry Diamond, democracy specialist, Hoover Institution

Editor of electoral news in the Iraqi Media Network

Zainab al-Suwaij, American Islamic Congress

Yahia Said is an Iraqi who specialises in transition economics at the London School of Economics.

It's right that the elections go ahead now. In an ideal world, there would have been more preparation to ensure the situation was calm enough to allow all candidates to participate. But for that, the coalition's current policy would need to have changed dramatically. The insurgency would need to be pacified, but that would entail a move away from a military approach and a ceasefire would have to have been negotiated.

Holding the elections now is the lesser of two evils. They will not will not allow the insurgents to claim a victory, if they are followed up by a rigorous political process.

Some people are predicting some extreme scenarios - that the elections will be scuppered by violence or that the Shia clergy will sweep the board. I don't think there will be a Shia clerical government like Iran's. Rather, I think the assembly will be very fragmented, with more small groups but more Shia representation. I think Iyad Allawi will lead the government.

The elections will bring a little bit of legitimacy. This time next year there will probably be a more robust political process, although tensions between certain social, cultural and economic groupings will continue.

The idea is that the elections should bring stability to the country but it is hard to predict whether that will happen as there are so many factors to take into account.

Farid Sabri is a spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party, the main Sunni Muslim political movement which is boycotting the elections.

We called for the election to be postponed because we don't believe it will be representative. We wanted certain criteria to be met first. We wanted a timetable for the occupying forces to leave and a conference for reconciliation to be held.

Leaders will have to take refuge behind the occupying forces
We don't believe the election will bring about stability. Not all candidates are able to stand. There are four provinces - home to as much as 40% of Iraq's population - which will be unable to take part because they are battlefields.

Iraqis who are disenfranchised will only oppose the new government and some may even take up arms against it.

The elections, which are being held on ethnic and religious lines, will only end up increasing tensions with society. I don't think most of the candidates have real political agendas. People have few choices other than the Shia parties.

The assembly will be formed of religious leaders but they will be weakened by popular opposition. The leaders will have to take refuge behind the occupying forces and their continuing presence will only lead to more violence.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute researches Arab democracy

The problem is that the root of democracy should be accountability to constituents. On a nationwide slate, though, politicians are more accountable to their party leaders than to any Iraqi voters. The party boss decides where you are on the list; the citizens are secondary.

National slates in the Middle East bolster religious and sectarian parties, because that is the macro identity. Medium size districts, at the provincial level for example, tend to favour tribal identities. Voters in single-member districts tend to focus on local issues, such as schools, electricity, and security. When the Jordanians increased the number of voting districts, the Muslim Brotherhood vote fell by half.

There is no doubt that a national slate will benefit religious fundamentalists
The Sunnis are talking about boycotting not because they fear that election results won't fairly represent them, but because they know it will. That said, by not tying elections to districts, there will be towns and villages which have no delegates, and others which will have disproportionate representation. But, if more than 80% of the country is actively campaigning and enthusiastic, that's nothing to sneeze at.

There is no doubt that a national slate will benefit religious fundamentalists. The heads of lists may cast a moderate face, but the number twos and threes on the list could be uncharismatic thugs who would never stand a chance in a direct election. The worst option, though, would be postponing the election. Not only would this reward violence, but it would disenfranchise Iraqis who want change because of Prime Minister Allawi's failure to fulfil his promise of security.

All of Iraq's neighbours wanted the Coalition to succeed militarily and fail politically. None wants democracy to take hold, but they don't want to live next to Mogadishu either. American troops will be in Iraq for the long haul, but will reposition themselves away from population centres as the Iraqi army takes hold.

Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an editor of The Journal of Democracy. He was also an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

The elections should have been postponed. Now one section of the country is going to be disenfranchised.

The problem will need to be corrected after the election - possibly with a constitutional amendment that would provide for direct or indirect elections in areas where the turnout was dramatically lower than in other parts of the country. This could be perceived as fraught with problems but there will be problems whatever we do at this point. There is no solution that won't be costly and controversial.

The key is that there must be dialogue among the major groups. A number of those groups which have called for a boycott are ones that are willing to participate in the electoral process under conditions they think are fair. They are democratic in their values and intent but feel that the system is now stacked against their part of the country.

The only thing that is going to save the country from continuing violence is for all major political and social actors - those within the process and those on the outside - to sit down and work out a compromise agreement that they all embrace.

If they don't do anything, at a minimum the violence will persist at its current levels - and if there is real blundering and exclusion of a section of the country from the constitution-writing process, the violence could deepen in a way that begins to look more and more like civil war.

I would hope that the election can still be an experiment that would ultimately bring peace, stability and human rights.

Editor of electoral news in the Iraqi Media Network (name withheld)

About 65% of Iraqis are very enthusiastic about voting. But there is a problem in the west of the country. This might lead to something - the worst scenario would be a civil war - but this is something that most Iraqis do not want.

There is no certainty that the elections themselves will bring about stability. They are only the beginning of a shift in the political system of the country, the first step.

The transitional assembly will last less than a year and, as such, will be unable to stabilise the situation completely. More time will be needed but I think there are figures within the electoral process that might be able to co-ordinate the security situation and co-ordinate the situation for the peace of the Iraqi people.

Zainab al-Suwaij fled Iraq in 1991 after the Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein. She lives in the US but is involved in women's politics in Iraq

I have just returned from Iraq and the majority of people there are excited about the prospect of voting. They have been registering in big numbers.

Women, in particular, are looking forward to the elections. I have been working on a project in Iraq to empower women and further the principles of democracy. The elections will be crucial in furthering this and women are anxious to get their voices heard. It is also the first time that they have been able to run as candidates.

A quarter of the seats in the 275-seat assembly have been reserved for women. We had to lobby very hard for that quota. All kinds of women are running as candidates, women from different parties, religious backgrounds, some from rural areas.

Many are battling against the odds, campaigning and giving lectures amid all the violence. Some are afraid they will be targeted and have not revealed their names on the lists. But, in some cases, women's names are appearing on the lists above those of the men, which is very encouraging.

There are some female candidates who are not so interested in working towards the empowerment of women, they are only interested in serving their parties. But those standing on an independent ticket will be able to make a difference and work towards changing some of the rules and regulations. They will be able to help women recover some of the rights that they lost in the latter part of Saddam Hussein's rule.

I think the elections will be able to bring about stability in the country and what is really important is that this is going to be a very Iraqi process.

Your comments:

Eight million Iraqis live in and around Baghdad, a further six million in the four sunni governates. These areas are not secured for people to be able to vote. My elderly parents are just about brave enough to go out to buy food, voting will be extremely risky for them. The priorities should be restoring security and order through Iraqi forces and then restoring electricity, water, fuel and other vital supplies before we can even start thinking about elections.
k., Newport , Wales, UK

The imposition of democracy under the conditions of occupation is an absurdity
Tony Crowley, McLean, VA. USA
The election is being held for American political interests. The imposition of democracy under the conditions of occupation is an absurdity. The press would do well to re-examine the original reasons for the invasion and come to an understanding based on that reasoning. The Bush administration was and is only interested in the protection of its interests, any benefit to others is incidental.
Tony Crowley, McLean, VA. USA

Sorry but this is a one sided view from the BBC. Where the opinion from the majority of Iraq (Shia and Kurds). If you really consider yourself free and democratic publish this please.
Ali Al-Hathaf, UK/Iraq

This boils down to a purely sectarian issue - Sunni Arabs are opposed to the vote because they have led the country since independence without ever constituting more than a third of the population - and now not more than about 20%. There will continue to be provocative action to undermine the elections - both through bombs and boycotts, but the march of time is against minority rule. For those of us in other parts of the Middle East, the short term concern is not what happens on election day but the return of foreign insurgents to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It will be ironic that instead of spreading the idea of democracy, the main legacy of the Iraqi vote is to spread more widely the intransigence of terrorists.
Nigel Perry, Knaresborough, Yorkshire

The elections will bring the dissolution of Iraq. The Kurds will be independent in three years and the Shiites and Sunnis will fight over Baghdad. The Iranians have been the big winners in this conflict.
John Gustafson, Washington DC, USA

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