Voters want people, not parties in Iraq's Basra

Tue Dec 9, 2008 9:53am EST
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By Mohammed Abbas

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - For the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis could be seeing election candidates kissing babies and canvassing neighbors when a new polling system comes into force in January.

Provincial polls slated for January 31 will allow voters to pick people, not just parties, potentially thrusting individual candidates into the spotlight.

A dramatic fall in violence in Iraq over the past year has made it safer for people to publicly declare their candidacy, marking a degree of maturity in a long-thwarted democracy.

In previous polls in 2005 -- the first since the fall of Hussein in 2003 -- people could only vote for parties, a system known as closed-list. Now Iraqis are ready to move on.

"We have experience now, we know who's who. We're going to vote for people, not parties," said trader Faris Kadhim in the oil-rich city of Basra, which until recently was torn apart by gangs and militias vying for control.

The January elections will be the first to be organized and run by Iraq -- not the United States or United Nations -- since the fall of Saddam, making them a milestone.

How Basra, Iraq's second largest city, fares in January will be a key indicator of Iraq's ability to steer the struggle for power away from bullets to the ballot box.

The nationwide elections are for seats in Iraq's powerful provincial councils, whose responsibilities include local investment, utilities, education, and infrastructure.   Continued...

<p>Women buy fish at a market in Basra, 420 km (260 miles) southeast of Baghdad, November 26, 2008. REUTERS/Atef Hassan</p>