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Basra\'s Electoral Commission Gear Up for January Election

Saleem al-Wazzan
Niqash interviewed Hazem al-Rubaie, head of the Electoral Commission in Basra, and asked him about the work of the Commission and the challenges facing successful parliamentary elections early next year.
6.10.2009  |  Basra

Niqash: How prepared are you for the forthcoming elections?

Al-Rubaie: We are now almost halfway there. We started by updating the voters’ register. In this regard, we increased the number of voting centres by two. We now have 76 balloting centres across Basra. We have also registered the political entities and validated them and accepted entities’ agents and observers. We are now preparing and training officials for the registration and polling centres.

Niqash: There was an intention to conduct a census but the idea was abandoned. Didn’t this affect the updating of the voters’ registry?

Al-Rubaie: We primarily depend on the database – the ration cards – from the Ministry of Trade as it is currently the most accurate information. We have checked the available data and sorted it over a time period of six months. The deceased were removed from the lists and the register has been updated. We also opened new registration centres for people to validate their data. In addition, the Commission has designed the "voter information card”; a card containing preliminary information on the voter: his/her name and address, number, the voting centre and some guiding information for voters. It is an interim card through which we can later develop ‘smart voters’ after we are finished with the next parliamentary elections. The aim of all this is to ensure the rights of citizens to vote and to ensure that all eligible voters’ names are listed. But, we need the support of political bodies in the country to urge people to go to polling centres in order to verify their records.

Niqash: Have you adopted the same rules for accepting candidates as in previous elections?

Al-Rubaie: The rules are almost the same and there are no big differences in the instructions of the commission. Each entity should have a name, logo, political programme, the name of the secretary-general, the name of the authorized representative in the province, 500 names of supporters, and a special guarantee for elections infringements and violations. [Each individual entity has to pay five million Iraqi dinars and each political entity should 25 million as a guarantee.]

Niqash: In the last elections there were many violations and you received some complaints but there were no changes in the elections results…

Al-Rubaie: There is a mechanism for the commission’s work regarding complaints and appeals. There should be specific evidences submitted together with the complaints and appeals. The commission’s council held a meeting during which it answered most of the complaints. Most of them were lacking in evidence of fraud and could not be verified.

Niqash: During the previous elections the Commission discovered forged educational documents. Did you take any action?

Al-Rubaie: Committees were formed by the integrity commission to examine the certificates and lawsuits were filed against violators. The information of candidate was also checked according to the accountability and reconciliation law [the de-Baathification law] over a period of 10 days.

Niqash: Were there any Baathist winners?

Al-Rubaie: Absolutely no, none of them won. There were some candidates… you know that the number of candidates was very high reaching almost 1,286. Examining their documents required some time.

Niqash: In previous elections the percent of popular participation was low. In your opinion, what are the reasons for this low participation?

Al-Rubaie: The recent provincial election witnessed the lowest participation. Only 51 percent participated in elections because many people did not find their names in the voters’ register. Around 21 percent of voters did not find their names while others did not find their way to the voting centres. There was another reason related to the lack of voters’ registers which did not exceed 10 percent.

Niqash: Will parliament endorse the closed or the open list?

Al-Rubaie: The Commission has submitted the draft law to the parliament to approve it. Many options were left open in the law for parliament to settle.

Niqash: How many entities have registered so far in Basra?

Al-Rubaie: At the moment there are eight entities: four are individual entities and four are political. Registration closed on September 6 after an extension of one week.

Niqash: Some employees of the Commission were appointed by political parties. Is there any intention of replacing them?

Al-Rubaie: No. This idea is completely excluded. From the beginning, the appointment of employees was based on proficiency. Employees were well trained and for a long period of time. They became efficient and skilled. Changing them is not in the interest of the Commission.

Niqash: How you assess the level of international monitoring in previous elections?

Al-Rubaie: The UN was very active. It trained some 20,000 people to monitor elections. Local and regional teams were trained and European parliamentarians took part in the monitoring process, in addition to representatives of foreign embassies and consulates. They all praised the quality of our work.