View Full Version : Iraq's Sistani Distances Himself From Elections

10-08-2005, 09:44 PM
Iraq's Sistani distances himself from elections


08 Oct 2005 19:47:40 GMT

NAJAF, Iraq, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has told his closest followers not to run in December elections or support any candidates, aides said, suggesting no party stands to win his backing.

That could spell difficulties for the parties in the already much criticised government coalition, who profited in January's poll from a wide perception that they had Sistani's blessing.

Sistani rarely speaks in public but sources in his office said that while he wants the millions who look to him for spiritual guidance to take part in the election, he wants to maintain the distance from party politics that he has long sought -- in contrast to fellow Shi'ite clerics in Iran.

A statement from Sistani's office said any official of his clerical organisation who runs on a party list or openly supports candidates will "lose his status as a representative".

"Sayyid Sistani bans his representatives from nominating themselves in the next election after they proposed to run," said the statement.

The full impact may not be clear for some time but Sistani's apparent rejection of endorsing any party may raise concerns among some politicians after he discreetly let it be known he backed them in the election in January to an interim parliament that is dominated by the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance.

The Dawa party of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, both Islamist in outlook, dominate the coalition.

Though his precise views are rarely clear, Sistani appears to have let it be known through various followers that he is unhappy with their performance -- a dismay that is echoed among many of the long-oppressed Shi'ite poor, who complain that they have yet to see economic benefits from majority rule.

The beneficiaries at the election, expected on Dec. 15 under a constitution expected to be ratified at a referendum on Saturday, could be other Shi'ite movements and leaders, now in opposition, such as nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and secular former prime minister Iyad Allawi.

Jaafari's government has also proved unpopular with his Kurdish allies and, especially, with once dominant Sunni Arabs, who accuse it of condoning Shi'ite militia death squads.

Sistani is seen as a stabilising force and many will continue to look to him for guidance as election day approaches.