Students reveal opinions on Iraqi election

By Christine Kim

After voting for a 275-member Iraqi National Assembly on January 30 and the approval of a draft constitution, one more step remains to make an Iraqi democracy complete: the election of a democratic government.

On Oct. 15, 6,000 polling centers were open to Iraqi citizens to vote on the single question, “Do you approve of the Draft Constitution of Iraq?” By making a single mark indicating either “YES” or “NO,” citizens approved the draft Constitution of Iraq in the referendum election with 63 percent of eligible voters casting ballots and more than 78 percent of them voted in favor.

The interim constitution that was presented as a base for Iraq’s future constitution was written by an American professor, not an Iraqi.

“As far as the constitution, it’s something people should have on their own,” said Gregory Meves, senior in LAS and president of the College Republicans. “We shouldn’t interfere. We should be there just to give guidance. We shouldn’t have to step in because we’re given criticism too much as it is.”

The ratification of the constitution draft paved the way for a general election to be held in December, which will elect the Council of Representatives. The rejection of the constitution draft would have dissolved the present National Assembly and led to an election in December for a new National Assembly and a draft of another constitution.

“I’m for the elections because I think the main reason we did that in the first place is to provide freedom for the Iraqi people,” Meves said.

However, there are formations of electoral alliances organized that oppose the Dec. 15 election in Iraq and are advocating policies that will eventually lead to a clash between rival Iraqi factions.

“The elections are going to precipitate a lot of conflict between the Sunni and Shia as a result of a political election, and it could potentially lead to a civil war,” said Justin Cajindos, junior in LAS and president of the College Democrats.

Ethnic and factional divisions will play a major role for voters.

“The Iraqi minorities, including Sunni Arabs, are deeply affected by these so-called ‘elections,'” said Joseph Vartan Danavi, senior in LAS and social chair for Middle Eastern Cultural Club.

Danavi, who is of Assyrian descent and has family residing in the Middle Eastern areas of Baghdad, Kurkuk and Mosul.

“You cannot have unity when large parties, like the Kurdish Democratic Party, are placing secession from Iraq as a first priority,” Danavi said. “Even though Iraq has been liberated from the tyrants of Saddam’s rule, secularism and equality have been forced out of Iraq.”

The Shiite fundamentalist party will be running as the United Iraqi Alliance party, which will consist of the Da’awa Party of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq as well as the Sadrist movement headed by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party and the Kurdish Democratic Party will stand united during the elections.

“I feel that the overall voter turnout will be high but this will be limited to Kurdish and Shi’ite areas as they are in charge of election,” Danavi said. “Voter service to these areas will be purposely cut short to neutralize and silence their peaceful, yet universal opposition to the disenfranchising referenda.”

Although not against the elections being held in Iraq, some students believe the execution of the elections could lead to potential problems in the future.

“The elections are a step in the right direction, but I have hesitations on how it’s going to turn out,” said Atif Irfan, a Pakistani graduate student and president of the Muslim Law Students Association. “I have doubts because having a democratic election with U.S. forces in power is going to play a role in how it turns out. You would still have that fear that it wouldn’t be a legitimate election.”

As well as a possibility of an illegitimate election, the role of the U.S. in Iraq is a question some students ask themselves.

“I don’t doubt that these elections are a step closer towards the spread of democracy in the Arab World, but I don’t think the U.S. is going about it in the best way,” said Lina El-Beshbeeshy, sophomore in engineering and president of Arab Student Association. “As much as these elections may be a start to a democratic Iraq, it is not going to happen anytime soon. The elections were biased, and the candidates and their views were not widely publicized; many Iraqis were not able to vote in the elections, but those who did, did not even know the names of the hundreds of candidates.”

Irfan suggests that similar to the United Nation’s election in East Timor, the U.S. should add a section to the ballot indicating whether or not the U.S. army should remain in Iraq. He believes this would solidify whether or not Iraq can be a nation after the election.

Students do have hopes for the future of Iraq because of the election.

“I hope that these elections will be used as a step towards giving Iraq its right to building its own government, which will give all of its citizens a voice to be heard and allow them to publicize their opinion on their country’s dealings with issues,” El-Beshbeeshy said. “I hope that our government will realize the necessity of pulling out of the country and allowing it to take this challenge on, just as our fathers were able to build this enduringly powerful nation.”