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IRAQ: Concerns grow about election law delay

October 20, 2009 |  2:24 pm

The man charged with organizing next January's crucial nationwide elections is fretting that it will soon be too late to hold the poll unless parliament comes up with an election law this week.

Faraj Haideri, the head of Iraq's election commission, had given parliament an Oct. 16 deadline to pass the law, saying he needs three months to plan and prepare for the election, scheduled for Jan. 16, 2010. Then he said he could push the deadline to Oct. 20.

As yet another day passed with no sign of the necessary legislation in sight, Haideri warned today that the commission could wait only until Thursday if the election is to be held on time.

"We feel that now it is getting very dangerous," he said in a telephone interview. "If they don't write the law as soon as possible, by the end of this week, we can't do the election on the 16th of January."

The latest snag is over how to organize voting in the disputed province of Kirkuk.  But legislators are also divided on the question of whether voters should be able to cast ballots for individual candidates, a so-called open list system, or simply for party names, a closed-list system.

Haideri said he would need less time to organize an election based on closed lists, because then it would not be necessary to print ballots with the names of individual candidates. But public opinion, most parliamentarians and the powerful Shiite clergy have expressed a preference for open lists as the more democratic of the two options.

Haideri said he suspected, in common with many Iraqis, that some legislators are deliberately dragging out the negotiations so that it becomes impossible to hold the election with open lists – which would subject individual legislators to the whims of voters.

"Maybe they are saying they want open lists to show a good face to the Iraqi people, but really they want closed lists," he said.

There was certainly no sense of urgency in the halls of parliament, where several lawmakers from the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council bloc said they believed the election commission needed only two months to prepare for the election, not three.

"That's not correct," said Haideri.

-- Liz Sly in Baghdad

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