Turnout in Iraqi elections exceeds some predictions

Lacey Crisp

Although the results are not in yet, many consider the Iraqi elections a success.

Ragui Assaad, a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs professor, said the election’s results will be known in the next 10 days.

He said the elections were held to elect delegates to a 275-member transitional National Assembly that will draft the constitution. There were also 18 provincial, or regional, elections.

“They have been fairly successful elections,” Assaad said. “There has been some but not as much violence as what the security forces expected.”

He said there was a higher voter turnout than what he had predicted, though some groups stayed away from the polls.

“The main problem with the elections is the main ethnic group,” he said. “The Sunnis have boycotted the elections.”

Taner Akcam, a visiting history professor, said having elections is a positive step for Iraq.

“The problem is whether or not it is possible to create a certain collective identity for the people of Iraq,” Akcam said. “Being Iraqi should mean something to the people.”

He said the elections could solve some problems, but the country is divided ethnically and religiously.

Assaad said the new Iraqi government will be set up much like the German system.

The more than 14 million Iraqis registered to vote in this election voted for parties, not for candidates. Each party has a list of candidates and will choose the representatives depending on how many votes the party receives.

Northern Iraq’s Kurdish region had a high voter turnout, Assaad said. He said Kurds also held an unofficial referendum on whether to create their own country.

Assaad said the Sunnis have been ruling Iraq for the last 50 years and need to be part of the new government.

“They need to be included in the constitutional discussions, even if they are not represented in the assembly,” he said. “Otherwise, they will continue to fuel civil disorder.”

Assaad said the Iraqi people will vote to ratify the constitution.

“If two-thirds of people in three provinces vote against the constitution, it will not pass,” Assaad said. “The Sunnis are concentrated in three or four provinces and can stop the whole process.”

Even though the elections happened as planned, Assaad said, U.S. troops will be in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

“There probably won’t be a civil war,” Assaad said. “But there will be continued insurgency.”

Aditya Malhotra, a University senior and Minnesota International Student Association vice president, said it was the right time to have the elections.

“That is part of a good thing that is happening,” he said. “The Iraqis get to choose who is in their government after Saddam (Hussein) is gone.”

Malhotra said having elections is a good thing and the majority of Iraqis should accept it.

Travis Boisvert, a junior at the Carlson School of Management, said he was not surprised the elections happened as planned.

“I know the elections will help get the troops out of the country sooner,” Boisvert said. “That is the way President (George W.) Bush had planned it.”

He said his friend’s father was born in Iraq and voted in Chicago last week.

Boisvert said he also wasn’t surprised at the low levels of violence.

“I’m sure the polling stations were monitored pretty heavily,” he said.

Akcam said, “The price that they are going to pay for democracy is very high. In the long-term sense, everything is still open.

“These different segments of society are not so eager to live together.”

Akcam said there is tension among the Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish populations in the region.

“I have heard that they are on the verge of civil war,” he said. “But, time will tell.”

Akcam said the outcome of the election is not limited to Iraq, but will affect the neighboring countries.

“A lot of things will depend on the integration of the Sunni population,” Akcam said.

The transitional National Assembly is expected to convene in mid-February. Assaad said elections will be held in approximately one year to elect a permanent government.