Lessons in democracy

12th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

While the world's attention has been focused on the devastation that has followed the Asian tsunami, the chaos and violence has continued to build ahead of the January elections in Iraq. Gregor Mayer reports on the role played Germany in training election observers for the poll.

Iraq may be threatening to sink into a quagmire of violence and chaos, but the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is determined the country's first ever free elections will proceed as planned on 30 January. .

Iraq facing violence and chaos ahead of election

And as campaigning officially opened, Allawi's drive to hold the elections on schedule was getting much indirect support from members of Iraq's civil groups, which are now slowly flourishing after decades of dictatorship.

Human rights activists, young people desperate for a better future and women struggling for their rights in an Islamic society see the elections as a great opportunity to realise democracy in Iraq, and many of these supporters are eager to participate in the elections as independent observers.

That, says 27-year-old Sartip Ali Mohammed, is the only way to ensure the purity and integrity of the proceedings.

*quote1*Mohammed, from the Kurdish region of Suleimaniya and leader of the Civic Development Organisation, a campaign group for human rights, gender equality and civic awareness, is just one of 120 Iraqis trained in the practise of monitoring elections.

Since July the group have been training in Amman under the guidance of Germany's Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung - a foundation set up back in 1925 as a political legacy of Germany's first democratically elected president, Friedrich Ebert, with the aim of furthering political und social education.

Across seven colleges in the Jordanian capital groups of 15 to 20 Iraqi students learn the finer points of international election standards and new Iraqi electoral law. Then in role play classes they practise their new skills as election observers.

The training ended with a ceremony attended by two representatives of the Iraqi election commission.

Gisela von Mutius, a Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung representative in Amman, says the students were very eager to learn. They took the opportunity to develop networks and consulted online with their German trainers, a facility which will continue to be offered after graduation.

Some of the foundation's graduates are now voluntarily training more observers back home in Iraq. Mohammed, from the Civic Development Organisation says the end plan is to have 500 election observers throughout the country.

*quote2*But what about the violence and the threatened election boycott called by radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al Sadr?

A voting abstention by Iraq's 20 percent Sunni population would only strengthen existing ethnic tensions.

But not all Sunni Muslims plan to boycott the elections, says Nasrin Nadji, a Shiite from Karbala and a member of the Iraqi Council for Peace and Solidarity.

The registration of the Iraqi Islam Party (IIP), the country's main Sunni party, brings a clear Sunni force to the table.

Nadji has little understanding for the armed insurgents operating in the so-called Sunni triangle between Baghdad, Ramadi and Mosul.

"That is pure terror, carried out by those, who have held power in the country since 1921 and who can now not come to terms with their loss of prominence," he argues.

January 2005

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: German news, Iraq, election

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