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[casi-analysis] IPO Iraq News Analysis Special: Feb 15, 2004

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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 Analys is brought to by the Iraqi Prospect Organization:
Promoting democracy for Iraq.

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