Interview with comrade Salam Ali, member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Communist Party, on the recent Iraqi Elections
Published by “Nameh Mardom, the official organ of the Tudeh Party – Iran (15th March 2010)
Q1. What do you think about the new election laws and increased number of MP's? Apart from preventing the Baathist electoral candidacy, has the “Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission” imposed any other restrictions on political parties or individuals participating in this election?
The amendments to election law that were passed by dominant forces in parliament on 9 November 2009 were totally undemocratic and constituted a gross violation of the rights of the Iraqi electorate. Articles 1 and 3 of this law, in particular, were designed to maintain the hegemony and control of political power by the ruling political forces and perpetuate the infamous sectarian power sharing system.
This will mean a repetition of the experience in the provincial elections that took place in January 2009, when the “big blocs” stole the votes of more than two and a quarter million people who had given their votes to other “smaller” lists. The same electoral ploy will be used by these same blocs to grab additional seats in the parliament.
The number of MPs has been increased to 325 (compared with 275) in the new parliament, based on an estimated increase of the population to about 32 million during the past 4 years. This highlights one fundamental loophole in the election process, caused by the lack of a proper electoral register based on a population census. Such a census should have taken place by the end of 2009, but was eventually postponed. The electoral register inside Iraq is therefore based on data of the food ration distribution system, which is fraught with errors and open to manipulation. For voters outside Iraq, there is no electoral register (with the eligible electorate estimated at about 1.25 million), thus requiring people to register (according to new arbitrary conditions announced by the Electoral Commission) and vote at the same time.
The measures taken by the “Accountability and Justice Commission”, to exclude candidates who had held senior positions in Saddam’s Baath party and the security organs of the ousted regime, caused a lot of controversy. This is due to the fact that the so-called process of “de-Baathification” (that preceded the promulgation of the Accountability and Justice Law in parliament in early 2008) had been politicized by the ruling Islamic groups. The net outcome of the measures taken on the eve of election was to deepen sectarian polarization, thus playing into the hands of both competing “big” blocs. It was exploited fully by their political leaders to stir up fears among their constituencies and thereby mobilize them once again along sectarian lines. This has exposed, in practice, the true sectarian colours of these forces and their hollow claims of abandoning sectarian positions and adopting a non-sectarian national democratic programme.
Q2. Nearly 300 political parties and groups have formed into 12 blocks competing for 325 parliamentary seats. Is this a sign of weakness and political division? Or does it point to a growing political maturity in Iraq’s politics that recognises the importance of united action?
The most important development since the previous elections is the realignment of forces and the break-up of big political Islamic blocs (both Shiite and Sunni). Some groups within the camp of political Islam had to abandon their openly sectarian position and adopt a national discourse, with some borrowing slogans of democratic forces (e.g. Maleki’s State of Law slate that calls for building “a democratic modern civil state based on institutions and law …etc”.). The defeat of the Supreme Islamic Assembly in the provincial elections in 2009 also forced its coalition (the Iraqi National Alliance) to attempt to change its image, by enticing a few liberal elements to join its candidates in return for promises of seats in the new parliament.
Many small groups decided, following their bitter experience in previous national and provincial elections, to join bigger blocs with the hope of getting into the parliament. The new election law, which was designed to marginalize and effectively eliminate small political entities, also contributed to this process. While the reduction of the number of entities contesting the elections may be seen as a sign of growing maturity in Iraq’s politics, the manipulation of the electoral system to perpetuate the continued hegemony of “big blocs” and control of political power is, however, a very dangerous development that could have grave consequences for the democratic future of Iraq. The current exceptional and transitional stage which Iraq is going through requires political diversity rather than policies of exclusion and political hegemony.
Q3. What is the reaction in Iraq and in particular among the religious groupings regarding the allocation of 25% quota for women which has resulted in 1813 out of approximately 6200 candidates being women?
The 25% quota for women in parliament was endorsed once again in parliament without any real opposition, and despite the poor performance of the many women MPs, especially those belonging to religious parties, during the past 4 years. Women’s organisations and activists campaigned to ensure that this quota system is adhered to in the new “open list” system adopted for the recent elections.
It is important to note that women’s participation in the elections was quite evident and characterised by enthusiasm. This is an indication of growing social and political consciousness in society, in addition to a growing awareness among women of the importance of their role in society, for achieving their rights and enjoying equal opportunities with men.
Q4. ICP is part of the People’s Unity list; what are the key socio-economic components of the People’s Unity’s programme?
The People’s Unity list adopted a detailed programme that included socio-economic and developmental goals. A brief version of this programme was widely distributed during the election campaign. Here are some key points:
- Enactment of a new Personal Status Law to ensure the abolition of all forms of discrimination against women, respect for their rights and empowering them politically, economically and socially, and providing conditions to ensure their participation in public life.
- Attention to the internally displaced and migrants who were forced to leave their homes due to terrorism and sectarian violence. And to eliminate the legacy of criminal campaigns against the Faili Kurds.
- To embrace culture and arts, ensuring their flourishing and promotion, and to reject any attempt to restrict thought and creativity and marginalize intellectuals and creative people.
- To ensure a better life for students and youth, and to provide all the prerequisites for the development of their talents and utilizing their potential.
- To respect the independence of the unions, trade unions, cultural associations and all the civil organizations, and to provide all forms of support to them, so as to enhance their role and contribution in public life, and to accelerate the enactment of a democratic law for civil society organizations.
Economic and developmental goals:
- Work to achieve sustainable economic-social development, infrastructure development, and restructuring the economy to develop and modernize the productive commodity and services sectors and provide the prerequisites for scientific and technological progress.
- To protect national wealth, especially oil, and to rely primarily on direct national investment in its exploitation and management. To employ these resources in the development of the national economy and achieving social justice. And to regulate the management of the hydrocarbon sector and accelerate the promulgation of the Oil and Gas Law.
- To provide government support to the public, private, cooperative and joint economic sectors, and to give priority to these national sectors in tenders, contracts and investment.
- To rehabilitate the factories and industrial installations of the various productive sectors.
- To activate the process of reconstruction and give priority to the disadvantaged and damaged regions.
- To pursue a prudent investment policy by encouraging investment and attracting national and foreign funds to contribute to development and reconstruction.
- To accelerate the rehabilitation of the electricity sector.
- Paying attention to the agricultural sector and bringing it up to self-sufficiency, ensuring food security, paying special attention to combating desertification and drought, and ensuring that Iraq gets a fair share of water.
- Organizing the commercial sector and development of mechanisms and controls regulating the market in order to protect consumers, particularly the poor, and to ensure a good quality of goods and services.
Q5. Was the election held fairly? How was the participation of people, and how do you compare these elections to the last election or the one under the Saddam regime?
The enthusiastic participation of the people in the elections on 7th March 2010, despite criminal terrorist attacks and bombings in Baghdad and other parts of the country, and the killing of 38 innocent people, was clear evidence of the determination of the people to consolidate democratic practice through the ballot box, and to continue the fight for a fully independent and sovereign, unified, democratic and federal Iraq. The voters’ turnout, at 62.4%, was higher than that during the provincial elections in January 2009.
While stressing these positive aspects in the elections, many violations were noted by observers that included the electoral register, election campaigns, the “special voting” (for the security forces), the “media silence day” (a halt to campaigning the day before and during elections), as well as the problematic elections outside Iraq, denying tens of thousands of Iraqis their right to vote.
In addition, due to the non-existence of a law regulating political parties and their funding, there was no control over funding for election campaigns. Billions of dollars, pouring in from outside the country to influence the outcome of the elections, were spent lavishly by dominant forces, on media advertising as well as buying the support of voters.
As to comparison with elections under Saddam, the latter could not even be called elections, but rather a sham process with people being forced out to cast their votes for a single candidate, the dictator, who got over 99% of the votes.
Q6. How would the outcome of this election impact the formation of the new government, withdrawal of foreign troops and US troops in particular, and relations with neighbours in the Middle East region? Can this election affect the political dynamics of our region?
Due to the fact that none of the big electoral blocs will achieve an absolute majority, the formation of the new government will be a protracted process, with political manoeuvring to set up a ruling coalition. Any such government will have to adhere to the terms of withdrawal of American forces as stipulated in the Iraq-US security agreement (with total withdrawal by the end of 2011). The overwhelming support among the Iraqi people for ending the occupation and foreign military presence, and eliminating its legacy, is a powerful factor that would prevent any attempt to circumvent this agreement.
A lot will depend on a smooth transfer to a new government, strengthening national unity and overcoming sectarian tensions that were deliberately accentuated by some forces for their narrow political ends. This will lay the basis for embarking on reconstruction and building the institutions of a modern democratic civil state, based on the principle of citizenship, human rights and social justice. A stable, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Iraq, that enjoys good relations with all its neighbours, is essential for achieving peace and social progress for the peoples of the Middle East and the whole world.