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Big dad of democracy to Iraq’s aid

New Delhi, Aug. 28: India will outsource democracy.

The Election Commission of India will assist the electoral project in Iraq — where polls are slated for January 2005 — and other “post-conflict” countries.

Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy today described a pact with Carina Perelli, who is overseeing the elections in Iraq, as a historic step.

Perelli, an Uruguayan who is the head of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, has described her current task — holding polls in war-ravaged Iraq — as “the queen of all headaches”.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed with the UN today, the Election Commission has offered to help fledgling and wannabe democracies with logistical help to conduct elections.

More than 100 member-states of the UN have sought assistance to practise democracy. The UN Electoral Assistance Division’s main responsibilities, apart from Iraq, are putting Afghanistan, Haiti, East Timor, Nigeria, Kosovo, Palestine and other countries torn by violent conflict on the democratic track.

The UN Electoral Assistance Division helps 92 states in conducting elections.

In line with the agreement, the Indian Election Commission will help the UN with personnel and expertise to build and administer institutions that can conduct regular elections.

Assistance would include procurement of election material, voter registration, training of officials and dispute resolution.

India’s regular elections are as much a matter of curiosity as of admiration in the West — where polls are not as complex nor as big an exercise — and in West Asia, which has countries with little history of democracy.

The April-May general elections in India, which coincided with several others across the globe, was widely lauded internationally. They also stood out in sharp contrast with the post-election chaos that put George W. Bush in the White House four years ago.

The number of registered voters in India is about 675 million whereas the population of Iraq is estimated at 24 million.

In the wake of America’s war on Iraq and shortly after Baghdad had fallen, dissident Iraqi leader Ahmed Chalabi had said he envisaged Indian-style democracy in Iraq. That is still a far cry in a country wracked by post-invasion insurgency.

In the short term, both Iraq and Afghanistan are to hold elections with UN assistance. Perelli last month announced a seven-member election commission for Iraq.

Terming the signing of the pact a “historic and unique moment”, Krishnamurthy said: “I see it as a beginning of a very important relationship. In the years to come, it will be necessary to conduct elections in a number of countries as many of them are young democracies.”

The memorandum of understanding was signed by deputy election commissioner Noor Mohammad for the Indian agency.

Perelli said the UN would have to surmount many challenges in several countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

The agreement says that the Election Commission will cooperate with the UN to conduct elections in countries where the international agency is involved with the process.

The Election Commission will nominate personnel from its staff who would be included in the UN’s panels of experts and function as observers and monitors.

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