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Public Mulls Constitution

Survey reveals wide-ranging public views towards key constitutional issues.
By Raghad Ali

Iraqis appear to have mixed feelings about key elements of the draft constitution, a new survey conducted by a coalition of non-governmental organisations has found.


The Civil Alliance for Free Elections, made up of 76 NGOs, conducted its study during more than 1,000 workshops - between July and August - attended by 43,000 Iraqis of different religious groups and ethnicities in all of the country’s 18 governorates.


“Iraqi people were eager to get to grips with the issues concerning the constitution,” said Hana Hamud, one of the trainers in the workshop. “Despite the security situation, the attendance and level of debate was high.”


Iraqis will have a chance to express their opinion on the draft constitution - approved by parliament on August 28 - in an October 15 referendum. If two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq’s governorates disapprove, the constitution will fail.


The draft constitution was written mainly by Shia and Kurds, who hold an overwhelming majority of seats in the 275-member National Assembly.


Sunnis, with only 17 members of parliament, objected to the charter, protesting against provisions that supported federalism - which they say will divide Iraq - and denounced Saddam’s Baath Party.


Questions in the unscientific survey touched upon a series of constitutional issues, including federalism, the distribution of revenue from natural resources, the role of religion and quotas for women lawmakers.


Under the draft constitution, Kurds will be granted a federal unit and any number of other governorates will have the right to do the same.


Almost 44 per cent of survey participants said they favoured federalism, while about 35 per cent preferred a more limited role for local and regional governments. About 21 per cent said they wanted a centralised authority.


Still, more than 68 per cent said they wanted the central government to be in charge of the revenues from natural resources, namely oil, and distribute it to the regions. Under the draft constitution, control of these funds will be shared between Baghdad and the regional authorities.


Federalism was the main contentious point during the constitution negotiations, prompting lawmakers to approve a one-week extension of the original August 15 deadline.


Sunnis said they accepted as inevitable the semi-autonomous status enjoyed by Iraqi Kurdistan, but they did not want federalism to be expanded to the south, where many Shias live.


The survey showed that nearly 65 per cent of Iraqis supported Islam being cited as a source of legislation – in other words not the only one - as set out in the draft constitution. Reflecting the position of more religious Shia and Sunnis, just over a quarter said that it should be “the main source”, while around nine per cent said they would rather religion had no influence on lawmaking.


As for the draft constitution’s requirement for 25 per cent of lawmakers to be women, around 35 per cent of respondents agreed with this and just over 37 per cent preferred the figure to be higher. Ten per cent said they did not welcome female participation at all.


During the debate over the draft constitution, some lawmakers wanted a time limit on the quota system, but that was strongly opposed by women’s rights activists and others.


Raghad Ali is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.


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