MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Let's turn now to the political future of Iraq. Yesterday, three Sunni Muslim candidates were assassinated right before the country's provincial elections. Security is now tight for Saturday's vote and the ballot is really long - really long. More than 14,000 candidates are running for office. That's a great sign for a democracy - that is, if there isn't complete chaos at the polls. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Baghdad reports.
(Soundbite of Arabic being spoken)
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: A group of three young students, one of whom is wearing a hat with a picture of Che Guevara on it, hand out a mock ballot to an old man in a checkered headdress. They try to explain to him how to vote for their candidate in the upcoming election, pointing at which box to tick. Abdul Sattar Salman (ph) looks confused as he peers at the long list of names.
Mr. ABDUL SATTAR SALMAN (Resident, Iraq): (Arab spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I don't know anyone, he says. If I end up recognizing one, I will vote for him I guess, he says. In Baghdad alone, almost 2500 people are running for the provincial council. Muhannad Al-Kanani, who will be overseeing some 12,000 election monitors in Iraq, laughingly says the Baghdad ballot looks a like a blanket because of it's enormous size. Still, he is worried that the ballots will be confusing.
Mr. MUHANNAD AL-KANANI (Election Monitor, Baghdad, Iraq): (Through translator) I don't think that a lot of the people understand how to fill out the ballot correctly. There was not enough of an education campaign, and everything was done too late.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if the ballot isn't filled out exactly right, the vote won't be counted, he says. Because of a boycott last time, Iraq's Sunnis will be voting in this election for the first time in large numbers. But Kanani says he is expecting a lower voter turnout overall than for the 2005 vote.
More than 2 million refugees who fled the country during the worst of the civil war are not allowed to cast ballots. And only half of the 1.6 million internally displaced people have registered and will be able to vote on Saturday. Add to that a feeling by some on this country that democracy hasn't brought the benefits they'd hoped.
(Soundbite of conversation in Arabic)
A group of men play ping pong at the Hewar Cafe in the Baghdad neighborhood of Waziriya while nearby, others sip sweet lemon tea at low tables. For the past few months, owner Qassim al-Sabti has been listening to his patrons talk about the elections.
Mr. QASSIM AL-SABTI (Owner, Hewar Gallery and Cafe, Baghdad, Iraq): (Through translator) What I hear from people is that the politicians that have been in power for the last few years are the reason for the deep failure of Iraq. Frankly, they are thieves. People are disappointed. What has been achieved here? Corruption in this country is the biggest in all the world.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, the new parties are also suspect.
Mr. AL-SABTI: (Through translator) Ninety to 95 percent of the candidates are not known. They have no experience or knowledge. There are no real technocrats upon whom we can depend. They are very few who work honestly for Iraq.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Next to him is a man who will only give his name as Adnan. He says, he won't go to the polls either.
ADNAN (Resident, Baghdad, Iraq): (Through translator) Politics is all about fraud, mafias and militias. Journalists show pictures of voting to express democracy, but it's a fake democracy.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There have been widespread reports of vote buying ahead of the elections. In some instances, heaters, blankets and other items have been handed out in areas to woo voters. But more seriously, there have been reports of party representatives handing out cash and afterwards, making people swear on the Muslim holy book to vote for their candidate.
Dr. WAMID NATHMI (Political Science, Baghdad University, Iraq): It is political chaos. There is no idealism in it. There is no ideology in it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Political analyst Wamid Nathmi says that many of the candidates have seen that political power in Iraq translates to financial power, which is why so many people are running. He says, the number of candidates shows how immature democracy here really is. On the eve of the vote, Nathmi says, he believes Iraqis are genuinely confused about who to vote for and even whether they should vote at all.
Dr. NATHMI: I think people are divided. Some people think that going to election is a must, other people think it is futile.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he adds, after years of having no choices at all, too much is better than too little. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.
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