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17 May, 2004

Contact: Mike Hardiman
Baghdad Central Press Officer


The most recent Baghdad Town Hall meeting was a lively and educational exchange which promoted broad acceptance of the electoral process leading up to national elections.

It featured a panel including United Nations officials and a Governing Council member, over 250 Baghdad citizens in attendance, and nearly two dozen Baghdad media outlets plus western journalists.

Another benefit of the meeting was generating applications to become a member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI). IECI is the seven member board of Iraqi citizens which will be responsible for preparing and carrying out the national elections planned for no later than January of 2005.

140 meeting attendees filled out the seventeen page form required to apply for IECI. Then they waited in line for up to thirty minutes to complete the application acceptance process, which included a series of steps to assure confidentiality and security of the applications, which were placed in a steel box and a receipt was given to each applicant. Two other sites were also available in Baghdad this week during regular business hours to receive applications, one at the Baghdad City Hall building, called the Amanat, and the other in the Convention Center.

Governing Council member Sheikh Dhi’a Al Shakarji was on the Town Hall panel, joined by United Nations representatives Carina Perilli and Carlos Valenzuela. They made opening statements, which was followed by a question and answer session of nearly two hours.

All panelists spoke optimistically about the success of elections, but warned that much work had to be done to ensure success.

Shakarji said, “To us, democracy has always been a theory. To actually have a democracy, several things must happen. An electoral law must be prepared that has broad support. The people must be educated on the democratic process, and on moral values such as tolerance and respect for others. The constitutional accords and the rule of law must be put into place, including neutral judges and technocrats.

He continued, “We must persist in this process. People will find fault with any government, democratic or not. We need a culture of ethics in Iraq. We regard the UN as a neutral party that can work with us through this process.”

Perilli said now that the U.N. has been invited into Iraq, it will work together with Iraqis every step of the way. She stated, “The U.N. was invited into Iraq. An agreement was reached and the electoral commission is being created, made up of Iraqis. We will search the country and find the best to serve on this commission.”

Perilli continued, “There are three things you must have in order to succeed.

“First is the determination of the people. If the political will is not there, it will not happen. You must want it, believe in the process and overcome adversity. In Slovakia, the election had to be extended and extra day due to violence, but the people stayed. In East Timor, the streets were empty the day before the election. But on election day, they came out and turnout was 95%.

“You must come and make it happen.

“Second, the authorities running the election must be respected. We need your support and participation.

“Third, the rules of the game must be perceived as fair. The people must have an understanding of what is happening.

“You must participate starting now. No complaints later. Do not cry in January when the elections are held for what you have not done today.

Valenzuela concluded by adding, “My experience with this is to first reach an agreement, a consensus on how to proceed. With your help, we will deliver the elections on time.”

Baghdad residents who applied for the commission were optimistic.

Sheikh Malik Bader Rumaydh is a member of the District Advisory Council in the Karadah section of Baghdad. He applied for the commission because, “I would like to continue service to my beloved Iraq. I look forward to working with the UN and the Coalition to have free elections and build a new, democratic Iraq.”
Another applicant stated, “The forum today did an excellent job of clearing up for the audience the process of how elections will be held in January.”

“For the first time in our lives, there are no Ba’athists looking at how we decide, telling us how it is going to be. We understand the concept of democracy, it is the process that is new to us. We had two choices before – Yes for Saddam, or No – and you could not say no. Now you can choose who you want, you can even nominate yourself for this election commission,” a woman said while dropping her application in the acceptance box.


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