This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Jan. 28, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We anticipate a lot of Iraqis will vote. Clearly there are some who are intimidated. The survey shows that the vast majority of people do want to participate in democracy. And some are feeling intimidated. I urge all people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists.
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BRIT HUME, HOST: You might even say that the Iraqi election has already passed one test of its legitimacy, in the sense that the U.S. media are already getting involved in the expectations game that are always played during the political season here. Here, of course, the expectations about the size of the turnout.
For some reflections on all this, we turn to Dan Senor, who was a top adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, now a FOX News contributor. Dan, welcome.
DAN SENOR, FMR. CPA SPOKESMAN: Good to be with you, Brit.
HUME: Tell me a little bit about — first of all, there is not only an overall participation question, which who could know? But there’s a more critical question about Sunni participation.
Sunni’s of course, are a minority, but it is being suggested if their participation isn’t very large indeed, that this election will have failed, that a key minority will have been shut out of the process. And B — that it will be a reflection on the attitudes of the Shiia majority toward them. What about all that?
SENOR: Well, I think Sunni turn out will be low, particularly in those areas north of Baghdad, northwest of Baghdad: Baquba, Ramadi, Fallujah, will be fought tough for a lot of the Sunnis to vote.
SENOR: Because of violence.
HUME: Not because they’re boycotting?
SENOR: No. There are some boycotts. But at the end of the day, if you look at the polls most Sunnis want to vote. They say despite the boycott by some of their leaders, they’re concerned about their safety, though. Which is understandable. But the question is will they have a seat at the table after the election.
HUME: But one question before that. What kind of security is being offered in those areas from what you can tell us?
SENOR: They are preventing cars, private vehicles from coming anywhere near the polling places on Election Day. They’re not allowing cell phones in use in the Sunni areas or anywhere around the country. They’re shutting down the cell phone systems for the day of the election, the day of and the day after.
HUME: So they can’t be used as triggering devices?
SENOR: Exactly. And the Sunnis are in those key provinces, that are a security concern, can vote anywhere. So in other words, if you live in Fallujah, and you want to vote but you’re nervous about the safety of voting in Fallujah, you can go to another part, another province, another city and vote. So they are taking steps.
HUME: Better leave now, though.
SENOR: Yes. They’re taking steps. But look, at the end of the day, the question is will the Shiites and the Kurds reach out to the Sunnis after the election? All indications are they will.
I spoke to a very senior Shiia leader who is a current minister in the cabinet and will assume a very senior role going forward after the election. And he said, look, we’re concerned. We share a concern about winning too emphatically because we want to demonstrate to the Sunnis that we’re going to have a conciliatory approach to governing. And so they’re sending those signals now. There is a lot of back channel stuff going on, reaching out to the Sunnis, making it clear they’ll have a seat at the table.
And they’re actually — if you look at the interim constitution. There are mechanisms already in place to allow the new government to address any kind of imbalances.
HUME: When you say the new government, by the way, this does not mean that officials elected in this voting on Sunday are going to take charge of the machinery of government, correct? They will not, will they?
SENOR: They will. They will in March. The National Assembly that’s elected has to go through a process of choosing a new government.
SENOR: And the way that is done...
HUME: So, in two months, this National Assembly will name a new government.
HUME: With its own rank.
SENOR: Right. Vote counting will take about two weeks. And then they have got to form a government by the beginning of March. That is the timeline. And they will select a three-person presidency from within the National Assembly, from their own ranks. A three-person president, which is a ceremonial post.
Two vice presidents and a president. The ceremonial presidency then has to unanimously agree on a prime minister.
HUME: And the prime minister, he is the big — he is the top guy.
SENOR: Runs the country. The prime minister chooses the cabinet. You can see the process here.
HUME: I got you.
SENOR: The National Assembly, the two thirds, is indirectly choosing the prime minister. The Shiites, even if they win big, are not going to be able to meet that two-thirds threshold on their own. So they’re going need to reach out to smaller parties in order to get their choice for prime minister. Which means the smaller parties will have a very influential role in the negotiating for deciding who the prime minister is.
Which means just like in other parliamentary systems, these small parties can become king makers. That’s where is the Sunnis can be enormously influential. That’s certainly where the Kurds can be enormously influential. And in fact, that’s their strategy.
HUME: All right. So what about this question then, of the next round, in other words, the Sunnis might not be totally satisfied with what they get this round, they may not even participate to a very great extend. And we can assume relatively low representation in this assembly among the Sunnis. When do they next get another bite at the apple, so to speak?
SENOR: Well, the next real bite is the ratification of the constitution. So later in the year, they’re going to — a National Assembly has to draft a constitution and then that constitution, a permanent constitution. That constitution is to go before the voters.
There is a provision in the interim constitution, the interim constitution passed last February, said that if any three provinces in the country, there’s 18 provinces, if any three of them vote against the permanent constitution in the ratification process, it goes down. It’s a veto.
HUME: Does that mean the interim one stays in effect?
SENOR: Until they agree on a permanent one. So, there are at least three provinces that have a Sunni majority. So the Sunnis will have at their disposal the capacity to veto the permanent constitution. So even if the Shiites and Kurds are disproportionately represented in this National Assembly, they recognize they can spend all their time drafting up a constitution, but...
HUME: They can’t stuff it down the throats of the Shiites.
SENOR: That’s right. They’re going to recognize that they don’t want to alienate these veto-wielding Sunnis. So they don’t want to set themselves up for failure. They’re going to want to draft this with the Sunnis in mind.
HUME: Now some critics have said, including former National Security Adviser Scowcroft, that there’s reason to fear that this election will, in fact, accelerate the process toward a civil war. Your response to that?
SENOR: I think that you are going to have millions of Iraqis going to the polls holding their leader Allawi accountable, possibly choosing a new one. It’s an enormous step forward for that part of the world. Unheard of.
You’re going to have many Sunnis who, Mr. Scowcroft and others, I understand, are worried about being alienated. Most of them want to participate in this election. The only reason they won’t is because of concerns of safety. And their representatives and their leaders will still have a seat at the table after the election because the Shiite are so aware of the importance of bringing Sunnis in.
So, this idea — look, I’ve been hearing the civil war argument for two years now. Even before I left for Iraq in February of ‘03, I remember people talking about a civil war. It hasn’t happened. There have been many provocations towards a civil war. It still hasn’t happened. A majority of Iraqis want this to work. The center has held, and I think it will after Sunday.
HUME: Dan Senor, glad to have you. Thanks very much.
SENOR: Good to be with you.
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