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'Everyone's vote counts'.

As the Iraqi cabinet's term comes to an end, and with focus now on the upcoming elections, slated for January next year, SOMA Digest was granted an exclusive interview with Dr Fuad Masoum, head of the Kurdistan Alliance List in the Iraqi Parliament. Masoum addressed the rumors that he is to be appointed deputy prime minister, stressed the need to organize these polls better so as to avoid irregularities, and explained why 'closed lists' are a more suitable system of voting for the country at this point.Aa

There have been rumors that you are to become Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki's deputy. Is there any truth to this? This is simply a rumor. There has not been a political decision made on this and I personally have not thought about this. This issue remains open and unresolved; especially since the period for someone to fill this position is very short.

Does the position of deputy PM hold any real authority or is it simply a title? Regarding the authority of the deputy prime minister, in my opinion, this really depends on the relationship between the two positions, the prime minister and the deputy, and what kind of authority the PM would give his deputy. So in reality, if the PM does not give any authority to his deputy, and the deputy does not put the effort in, I don't think it is an important position.

In the previous Iraqi election, a large number of people were unable to participate in the voting process due to problems with voting registration. Cases whereby individuals had in fact signed and recorded their names to vote but their names were misspelt or non-existent in registration were plenty. What has been done so that this does not happen again?This issue has been discussed with the high electoral commission - the body responsible for the elections. We should focus on two things; the electoral commission should make sure that everything is more organized so that the same mistakes are not made, and people should be made more aware of following up their identifications and registration, and finding out which polling station their names have been registered at before voting begins. People should not ignore this process or leave it until the last minute or on Election Day.There is another problem that I have personally brought to the attention of the electoral commission; the system that the commission is following is still the same system that was used by the Baath regime. During the Baath regime period, people were scared not to vote, voting was compulsory. Three, four or five villages were provided with only one voting ballot box but because of fear, everybody would vote no matter how difficult.Since people are not forced to vote anymore, the number of ballot boxes must be increased along with the number of polling stations to make it easier for people to cast their votes. The last election took place in July, the peak of summer heat. If this next election falls into January, that would be the peak of winter cold and it can be very difficult for people to travel long distances to cast their votes in both situations. So if the number of boxes is increased, it would encourage and help people to vote.

In your view, how can more people be encouraged to vote in the next Iraqi election for a maximum turnout?This concerns two or three factors. The first relates to the political groups and parties that must work hard to encourage people to vote, and make the public feel and understand that their votes are valued and do count, not like in the regime before, where Saddam would win 99 percent of the votes regardless. A fair and democratic election is a relatively new concept here so it is partly the responsibility of the political parties to encourage a greater turnout.In order to encourage more people to participate in voting, candidates which are liked and accepted by the public must be elected or nominated, so that people would want to vote for them, and this is an important factor in all elections.Thirdly, as mentioned before, if the number of polling stations and ballot boxes are increased, this would help more people to participate more easily for a larger turnout.

What are the benefits and limitations of using open or closed party lists in the voting system of a country like Iraq?Democratically speaking, open lists used in voting are more democratic since people have the opportunity to vote for their own representatives, the candidates they want to represent them. But, in a country like Iraq where illiteracy is high, unfortunately this list leaves more room for cheating. Other people often fill out the voting sheets of those who are illiterate or unable to fill out the sheets themselves, and they sometimes take this chance to vote for someone who they themselves wish to represent them, which is not always the same choice of the actual voter.The second point relates to the coalition between parties or lists which in the case of open lists can create problems. For instance, in areas where the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has strength, people vote for the PUK candidates only, and in Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) strongholds, people vote for the KDP candidates only. Voting for parties in their strongholds can create a problem for the coalition and united party since it interferes with the previously agreed candidate names, positions and ranks made by both parties in the coalition.For example, if the coalition decided to have five representatives from one party in some positions, and five candidates from the other party in other positions, it could happen that only five candidates from one party are elected due to the open list voting. This weakens the coalition's relationship and agreements. And Kurds entering the Iraqi parliament with multiple lists can weaken our voice. As another example, if my name were chosen and agreed upon by both sides of the coalition, there would still be a chance I would not be elected or chosen. So in cases of coalition, it is probably better for there to be closed list voting, I don't mean whereby the candidates are not seen or known at all, I mean where the public simply vote for the coalition group and their agreements can remain stable. But of course, on a democratic route, people should have the opportunity to vote for entirely who they wish, but because of the problems I mentioned earlier with regards to cheating, unfortunately this is not always the case and people often end up voting for not who they wished.

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Publication:Soma Digest (Suleimanieh, Iraq)
Date:Oct 28, 2009
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