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Secrecy surrounds Iraq vote

Concerned about violence, some political parties won't even reveal candidate lists.

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Secret ballots are the cornerstone of any democratic process. But little more than two weeks before Iraq's first free elections on Jan. 30, the country is finding that secrecy is being taken to new heights.

The identities of many of the candidates haven't been publicly disclosed and are likely to remain secret until after election day, an illustration of the difficulty in mounting an election amid war.

"Not having the candidates' names known is far from ideal for an election, but I think we can all understand the fears over their safety,'' says a foreign election adviser. "Security is a very big issue for all candidates."

Instead of voting for individual candidates in the election to fill the transitional national assembly, Iraqis will select from a list of 111 political parties, each with its own lengthy slate of candidates that can include between 12 and 275 names.

Seats will be allocated to party lists as a proportion of the total national vote, so if all Iraq's estimated 16 million voters part- icipate, a list will get one parliamentary seat for every 58,000 votes it receives. At least 25 percent of the candidates on each list must be women, though there are only a handful of politically prominent women in the country.

Candidates' identities are not the only remaining secret in the election. To help prevent them from being attacked, the location of polling places will not be released until about a week before the election. Party platforms also seem to be kept secret. Campaigning has also been limited, with almost no mass campaign events or rallies. A recent survey indicates that most Iraqi voters are unaware of the party lists' political platforms.

Leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the superlist of Shiite political groups that is expected to take the most seats in the new parliament, say they probably won't announce their full slate of candidates until after the election. Many other party lists are following suit.

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