BAGHDAD — More than 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets across Iraq on Saturday against plans to enact a controversial closed voting system which does not name candidates standing for office.
The protests in Baghdad, the northern city of Kirkuk and the southern port of Basra came after a call by Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani for MPs to adopt an open process for the parliamentary elections in January.
In central Baghdad, several hundred protesters gathered at Firdos Square, carrying Iraqi flags and placards reading "Closed Lists Strengthen Sectarianism and Racism" and in support of Sistani's stance.
"Seeing the names of candidates is important -- we have to know for whom we are going to vote," Makki Awad, an Iraqi actor at the demonstration, told AFP.
The central issue in dispute is the plan of MPs to adopt a closed voting that would list parties contesting the election without disclosing the individuals vying to take up seats in parliament.
Parliamentarians moved last week to adopt such a voting system ahead of the January 16 election, triggering Sistani's intervention and the protests.
Around 500 people, including political activists and trade unionists, gathered in central Basra to voice their opposition to the plans and give their backing to Sistani's call for an open list system.
"This demonstration was organised to call for an open list, and to give the people a chance to vote for candidates they know and trust," said Sami Hassan Mussa, a writer and political analyst taking part in the demonstration.
The protests, also held in Kirkuk, in Baquba, north of Baghdad, and the southern town of Simawa, were organised by the Iraqi Constitutional Party, which is headed by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani.
Sistani's official spokesman said earlier this month that the cleric supports the open list system, raising the possibility he could urge Iraq's majority Shiites to boycott the ballot if the closed system were adopted.
A closed list was used in national elections in January 2005, the first to take place after now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein's ouster following the US-led invasion of 2003.
However, an open system listing the names of candidates and their parties was used in provincial polls held last January that were won by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's allies.
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