Analysis: A Complex Democracy

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Many Sunni Arabs say they will boycott the Iraq election. The Kurds (search) are trying to maximize their opportunities with a unified front. Meanwhile, the numbers appear to be in the Shiites' favor. If the election is a success, they should end up in the driver's seat.

Sunni leaders equate participating in the vote to suicide. If they don't vote, they lose. But if they do vote, they still lose — and at the same time they give credibility to the process.

All the statements by Sunni leaders advocating the boycott of the election boil down to one theme: They'd rather refrain from voting than participate, lose and be seen as losers. But if the election is a success, by not voting they give up the chance of getting any seats in the National Assembly. They risk having their voices left out of the new constitution.

Some Sunnis (search) are willing to make the gamble. They feel that with their Arab ethnicity and the fact that they make up 20 percent of the population the new government will have to include them, whether they voted or not.

Shiites (search) are in a different situation entirely. They make up 60 percent of the population and stand to become the dominant majority if they show up and vote — a long way from being the oppressed group.

Iraqis who go to the polls will vote for a list of candidates instead of just one. The candidates are ranked from one to as many as 275, the number of seats in the National Assembly that are at stake. This new body will draw up the constitution for Iraq and choose the president and two deputies, who will then select the prime minister.

The total number of votes cast in the election divided by 275 will determine how many votes equal one seat in the assembly. Lists will get a certain number of seats depending on vote score. For example, if a list gets 40 percent of the vote, they get 40 percent of the seats.

The political bodies' top candidates head each list. The closer the candidates' names are to the top of the lists, the greater chance they have of making the cut and getting a seat in the National Assembly.

Shiites, aided by their large population and a willingness to vote, are expected to clean up. The United Iraqi Alliance (search), a religious Shiite list that has the backing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is expected to garner the most votes and beat Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's (search) secular Shiite group, the Iraqi List.

That does not mean the prime minister will be chosen from the candidates on the UIA list.

According to sources, the UIA leaders want to initially name Allawi as prime minister. After Allawi handles all the heavy lifting of security and establishing the constitution, they'll try to unseat him when elections are held for the permanent government in December.

If any group can claim they had it rougher under Saddam than the Shiites, the Kurds can. Saddam killed them en masse, gassing them in the town of Halabja. Now they are a political force and in good position to bargain for oil profits.

There is a 90 percent projected turnout of Kurds. There are two Kurdish parties with lists of candidates: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (search) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (search). They have elected to set aside their differences and vote for Kurdish power.

Kurds make up less than 20 percent of the population but are expected to win 25 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. They will have their say in selecting the prime minister and drafting the constitution.

In October, the new constitution will need to be ratified and the Kurds stand to hold bargaining power over the Shiites.

“We need the Kurds,” Saad Jawad, who is the head of the largest Shiite party in Iraq, recently told the Los Angeles Times.

Any three of the 18 provinces in Iraq can veto the constitution if they can muster a two-thirds popular majority against it. The Kurds dominate three provinces to the north of the country. This gives them power to strike deals, like a deal for control of the oilfields of Kirkuk.

However, Sunnis are one-fifth of the population and they cannot be ignored. And unlike the Kurds, they are Arabs. Iraq is a predominantly Arab country.

There is a good chance that when the Assembly members start cutting deals to choose the prime minister and the president, they may stick a Sunni in a post deserved by a Kurd, just to keep the peace.

Sunnis could also use the two-thirds veto clause to hold up the ratification of the constitution until they get their way.