Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric may urge vote boycott, says aide

Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani has warned that he may call for a boycott of January’s general election if members of Parliament adopt a closed voting system, an aide said on Monday.

Iraqi MPs are working on a law that will govern the vote and on Sunday they moved to adopt a system that would list parties contesting the ballot without disclosing the names of individual candidates.

“Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani supports the open list, and we think the open list is one of the ways to push large numbers of Iraqis to vote in the elections,” the official told Agence France-Presse, speaking on condition of anonymity, from his office in the holy shrine city of Najaf.

The supreme leader’s opinion is revered by his followers who account for about 70% of Iraq’s population and Shi’ites are unlikely to register their ballots if the elections, slated for January 16, do not have his support.

Sistani made his views known on Sunday during talks with Ad Melkert, the United Nations Secretary General’s special representative to Iraq.

“Sistani expressed his point of view to the special representative, and if parliament were to continue on the closed list, he might have no big role in pushing Iraqi voters to participate in the elections,” the official said.

A closed list was used in Iraq’s national elections in 2005, the first poll to take place after the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime two years previously.

However, an open system listing the names of candidates and their parties was used in provincial polls held in January this year.

Those elections were won by candidates backed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Shi’ite parties who performed well in the 2005 parliamentary vote experienced big losses under the open list system adopted in the provincial vote.—AFP

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