Thursday, November 08, 2012

Nouri's latest attempt to destroy the vote

All Iraq News reports Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain Najafi is calling out the announcement that the food ration card system will be stopped.  In a speech delivered on his behalf, the Sheikh noted that security is lost in Iraq, terrorist attacks continue, prisoners repeatedly escape, killers walk free and public funds are repeatedly wasted while unemployment remains high.  Where does the money go?  He says the people have a right to wonder that question.  He notes that the ration card system has been plagued recently with a lack of availability for items on the cards.  I'm noting this next sentence, me speaking, not the Ayatollah: The rations have been repeatedly stripped each year, what the cards could garner, less and less so when it's only a few things as it is now and these are basic staples (flour, sugar, etc) there's no excuse for them not being available.  Back to Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain Najafi who notes that there has been financial and administrative corruption in the card system and these are cause for alarm and reasons to discipline but they are not reasons to cancel the system.  Stating that the food ration system needs to be cut is a false argument and is based on flimsy evidence, he declares.

In a statement at his website, Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain Najafi declares the cancellation of the card system will have negative consequences.  If corruption was a problem, the statement notes, then this is an indication that the anti-corruption campaign failed.  The Grand Ayatollah is calling for an explanation and says it is needed quickly.

The anti-corruption campaign is a failure?  That may refer to when Nouri grew nervous as Iraqis took to the streets in large numbers at the start of 2011.  As February was winding down, Nouri was making many promises to try to hold on as prime minister.  The Iraqi people had many demands and many justifiable complaints.  There was the lack of jobs, there was the lack of public services (dependable electricity, potable water, etc.), there was the many 'disappeared' who had vanished in Iraq's 'justice' system.  There was also the issue that they had voted and nothing had changed.  Despite the outcome of the March 2010 election (Iraqiya came in first, Nouri's slate came in second), their votes were overridden.  Nouri remained prime minister.  Jalal remained president.  Why did they even vote?  (This was stated in word in speeches and to reporters and also in signs carried.)  Nouri was spinning like crazy.  And give him 100 days, he'll address corruption, he'll address jobs, he'll pull the moon from the sky and waltz it across Baghdad.

100 days came and went and nothing.  Nouri plays kick the can with every problem.  That means he refuses to address it.  He kicks on down the road for a later time that never comes.  He hopes to exhaust his rivals and he hopes to exhaust the Iraqi people.  That has been his pattern since 2006.

With State of Law fighting off efforts to limit a prime minister to two terms (which would mean no third term for Nouri in the 2014 elections), it's very curious that suddenly it's time to do away with the ration cards.  It's equally curious how silent Martin Kobler's being on the issue.  Kobler is the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Iraq.  While Kobler's silent, the UN is very concerned about this proposal.

Iraqis have been using the food-card system for voting in every election since the US invasion in 2003.  This is the voting system.  There is nothing in place to replace it and nothing proposed.   Yet Tuesday, November 6th, Nouri's spokesperson announced the ration-card system would be killed.

That system has been both the voter rolls and the voter i.d.  In a matter of months, Iraq holds provincial elections.  In 2014, parliamentary elections are supposed to take place.

There has been no discussion of how voting would be done -- the registery, the i.d. -- without the card system.

They cannot just kill it off and not replace it with something.  To do so would disenfranchise thousands of Iraqis who will come of age by the 2014 election.  You must be at least 18 to vote in Iraq.  Iraq has a very young population (21.1 is the median age, according to CIA estimates).

And I'm wrong.  "Thousands" would not be disenfranchised, millions would be.  A friend with the UN and I are on the phone trying to get an estimate on this.  There are no figures.  But we just realized we could use the CIA figures as a rough estimate.

The CIA doesn't do by year of person.  It has three groups: 65 and over, 15 to 64 and 14 and under.  Looking at the current figures and the past figures for that group, a rough estimate is a million more will be eligble for voting in 2014.  It's several million but allow for deaths, allow for displacement and refugees and it's easily a million people.

It is very foolish for Iraqis to allow Nouri to tear down the voting system -- that is what the food-ration card system has been used for -- without explaining what would replace it.

You don't do that.

American would freak out -- rightly so -- if in 2014, two years before a presidential election -- it was announced that the states were doing away with their voter registration systems and something else -- they're not sure what yet -- will replace it.

Nouri has fought dirty in every election -- provincial and parliamentary -- and he wants a third term.  Don't think he's not calculating how to get it.  In 2010, he used the Justice and Accountability Commission to try to get his way.  Some fear he's already stacked the Electoral Commission -- a commission he tried to take over but the chair wouldn't let him.  The chair Nouri had arrested.

This is a major issue and it's not being treated as such.

It's an issue of food, to be sure.  But it's also an issue of who gets to vote and how they get to vote.

If the system is scrapped today, how do you vote?  Nouri can say, "We'll still use that system in the next elections until we come up with something."  But there are children that will not be children when 2014 rolls around.  How do they register as adults if the system is no more.

Maybe Nouri has stacked the Electoral Commission.  That would certainly explain why they have failed to speak up publicly against this proposal.  It's not even a proposal, according to Nouri's spokesperson, it's a done deal.

All Iraq News notes Ammar al-Hakim (leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) is questioning how Iraqi people -- especially in rural areas -- will be effected food wise if the system is cancelled.  That's a valid concern as well.  If they transition to a cash program, the market sets the prices (what the US government wanted to begin with -- the US government, early in the war, tried to cancel the rations).  If the markets sets the prices, al-Hakim's concern appears to be, there may be less staples available in rural areas.  Alsumaria notes members of Parliament were surprised by Nouri's move.

That's yet another sign that there's a problem. You don't make a decision like that without open discussion.

The following community sites -- plus The World Can't Wait, NPR, Jane Fonda, Pacifica Evening News and the ACLU -- updated last night and this morning:

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