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Twist in Iraq's democracy: anti-American party pushes electoral reform

Ahead of January elections, supporters of the Sadr movement cast ballots for individual candidates – rather than parties – for the first time in a primary poll.

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In an unexpected twist for Iraq's nascent democracy, an anti-American party is speeding ahead with electoral reform while the Iraqi parliament is gridlocked over how to run national elections slated for January.

On Friday, supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr voted directly for candidates in a primary poll ahead of national elections, calling it a milestone in the democratic process. The vote is believed by Iraqi officials to be the first time that choosing candidates for any party outside Iraqi Kurdistan has been placed in the hands of ordinary Iraqis.

"I can say that the Sadr movement achieved the highest level of democracy," says Sheikh Salman al-Furaiji, in charge of the Sadr offices on the Rusafah side of Baghdad, where 53 polling sites were open on Friday. Some 300,000 registered voters were to vote for almost 700 candidates in south and central Iraq.

But in the national elections slated for January, it's not certain that citizens across Iraq will be able to follow suit. The Iraqi parliament is still wrangling over an election law that would determine whether voters will be able to vote for individual candidates on an "open list" or retain the closed-list system of 2005 elections, in which voters are told only the parties' names and not the candidates.

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