This morning I had the pleasure of being on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, which today was hosted by Susan Page at USA Today. Given that Iraq’s parliamentary elections are on Sunday, this was the topic of discussion. Here’s an excerpt from the interview, but feel free to check out the audio.
Page: How is this different from the last election, the election five years ago?
Me: There are some technical differences in the fact that previously voters voted for just a slate of candidates; whereas this time around voters will actually vote for slate but also the individual candidates on those slates. Hopefully we’ll have a far more accountable parliament, because people will actually be specifically voting for those candidates. And I think just generally, the 2005, the Shiite political parties formed one big coalition. The Kurdish parties came in to the election under one big umbrella, and we all saw the general boycott of the Sunni Arab community. This time around, there is different situation. We’re expecting a very broad turn across the country. There is competition within the Shiite parties for the votes. There is competition between the Kurdish parties for the Kurdish vote. So the stakes are very high and the candidates have embraced the art of electioneering, and conducted some negative campaigns, which is obviously resulted in tensions boiling over in a few occasions.
Page: What do you mean by negative campaigns?
Me: As we see here in the United States and around the world, people are targeting others credibility, others reputation. So there’s negative ad campaigns going on, which is a sign of the maturity of the Iraqi political process, where it is becoming an issues based election, rather than just relaying on votes based on party patronage.
Page: And one of the issues from the start has been the relationship among Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds. What do, how do Kurds view that now? What kind of role do they hope to have in the government, and in the nation? Is that changing?
Me: I think the Kurds, we’re certainly positioning ourselves to continue playing a leading role in Iraq. I think the challenge that his next government faces in Iraq, this post-election government, parliament faces, is actually addressing the key outstanding political and security issues in the country—such as how to manage the country’s vast natural resources; how to deal with the contentious issues of the disputed territories, and resolutions of the administrative status of places like Kirkuk; how to implement a federal system that is outlined in the constitution of the country. These are serious challenges that the next government faces. And we know as Kurds—as Iraqi Kurds—that we have to be in a seat of power in Baghdad. We have to be involved, leading a political process in this country to be able to ensure that we get the best thing for Iraq but also for our own constituents [in Kurdistan].
Out-of-country voting will begin to take place tomorrow in 16 countries, including the United States, from March 5 to 7. Official voting within Iraq will take place on Sunday. As I’ve mentioned, if you would like more information, be sure to go to www.kurdsvote.com.