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Doctor recommended for optimal cerebral hygiene 

shut up and vote

Saturday, January 22, 2005

with a week to go before the iraqi election, the excitement is palpable all around that country. candidates are engaged in a rapid-fire exchange of values and ideals, and voters are scrambling to keep pace.

this nascent democracy is bursting with competing visions of the best way to govern, a scenario breathlessly described in the l.a. times:

There have been no public debates or voter fact booklets to help citizens wade through the 111 slates offering candidates for a transitional national assembly, which will write the country's constitution. Iraqis still don't know where they will vote, what the ballots will look like or, because of assassination fears, the names of 7,400 candidates.

what a thrill it must be for this bright-eyed electorate, lining up to vote for the first time in a meaningful election. yes, the campaign has required them to take a brief respite from showering u.s. troops with flowers and confetti--but all involved are certain it'll be worth it.

"How can we vote for people when we don't even know their names yet?" asked Heider Khalid, 21, a mathematics student at Baghdad University. "This is such a critical vote. We don't know nearly enough."

emulating the example set by their american counterparts, iraqis will go to the polls armed to the teeth with information. they'll cast their ballots on the basis of well-considered opinions and well-developed positions on a myriad of issues. the candidates and their teams have made sure voters know where they stand.

It's a jumble of unfamiliar coalition names, symbols and three-digit numbers urging voters to remember a particular slate when they open their ballots on election day. Iraqis will select a single slate of ranked candidates, who will be allotted assembly seats based on how many votes the slate gets.

"We don't know who these people are," (a voter) said. "The posters offer nothing. We don't know what numbers represent which parties. There's a long list of promises, but who knows if they will keep them or not?"

the many parallels with the american electorate are startling. there can be no doubt that our founding fathers would be bursting with pride at this turn of events.

"Whenever there's a lack of information about the people and the parties, voters turn to the next-best thing, which is: 'This is somebody like me,' " said an election official with a nongovernmental organization in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Baghdad resident Ashur Sliwa, a 22-year-old Christian, has tried to keep abreast of the various lists but acknowledged that he had learned little about their goals or platforms. So he was leaning toward voting for one of the Assyrian Christian slates.

"This is an opportunity for me to do something so my people can be represented in the government," Sliwa said.

u.s. officials are equally enthusiastic about the upcoming exercise in democracy. their words are an electrifying endorsement of the process unfolding before them.

"I suspect a lot of Iraqis will know enough to feel they can make a choice," said a senior U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad, who also requested anonymity. "I don't think it's a totally blind thing. It's less adequate than one might desire. But it's certainly more than they had before."

yes, as promised by the bush administration, freedom is on the march in iraq. and the whole world is giddily wondering: where will it march next?