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[casi-analysis] A Solution to the Elections Impasse

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A Solution to the Elections Impasse
February 15, 2004
By Sama Hadad and Yasser Alaskary

The lingering stalemate between the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority and Ayatullah Sistani on 
the issue of elections may have a simple solution that seems to have eluded many owing to the 
complex nature of the current agreement. The November 15th plan, agreed on by the coalition and the 
Iraqi Governing Council, would establish 18 selected provincial caucuses, which would in turn 
choose a transitional legislative assembly. The assembly would then appoint an executive, which 
subsequently approves a cabinet. Ayatullah Sistani has rejected this plan, insisting on elections 
to determine the transitional government.

The result of this disagreement has been fierce debates about the feasibility and desirability of 
holding elections to choose members of the national assembly. A simple solution to the dispute is 
to separate the currently intertwined processes of selecting the legislature and that of the 
executive. This would introduce the option of holding elections to choose the executive, whether it 
be a president or presidential council, and at the same time maintaining the caucus plan to appoint 
an assembly. Presidential elections do not carry many of the problems and obstacles posed by 
elections for members of an assembly.

A presidential election would be much simpler than holding general elections for the several 
hundred seats of parliament. It does not rely on a mature political party system, which Iraq lacks 
and is often an argument used against elections for the transitional assembly. Extremists or 
Ba'athists would not stand a chance of slipping through, a real possibility that exists under an 
assembly chosen by general elections. Moreover, elections for a president do not require as robust 
a voter registration as elections to choose the many seats of the assembly, as the former allows 
for a greater margin of error. Furthermore, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of 
coalition ground forces in Iraq, addressed concerns of security preventing free and fair elections 
stating "We will be able to provide for security that is necessary across the country."

The complexity of the current plan, a fact that has undoubtedly contributed to the current 
opposition, makes any outcome impossible to predict. The fate of both the legislature and executive 
rests on this uncertainty. Iraqis calling for elections fear that too much relies on a process 
which, in their eyes, is vulnerable to being rigged. Sistani's edicts have never specified that 
elections must be held to determine the national assembly, but rather the transitional government. 
A presidential election would allay fears and resolve Sistani's misgivings.

The exact mechanism for electing the executive can be customized according to whether Iraq decides 
on a presidency council or a single president. For example, the current draft of the transitional 
constitution envisages a tripartite presidency council. Under presidential elections this can be 
formed by the three winning candidates, who between them would likely hold the support of the 
majority of Iraq.

Separating the two processes for selecting the legislative and an executive can break the current 
deadlock. The balance between an elected executive, which will give the transitional government the 
legitimacy Iraqis desire, and a selected legislative, which will aid for a smooth handover of 
sovereignty, can produce a stable transition for a blossoming democracy.

News Analysis brought to by the Iraqi Prospect Organization:
Promoting democracy for Iraq.

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