Should Hussein keep power? Iraqis vote `yes,' 11,425,658-0

Totals remind Iraqis, as well as U.S. and world, that there is no opposition

October 17, 2002|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BAGHDAD, Iraq - With the head of the election committee expressing no surprise at the results, Iraq announced yesterday that Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the votes cast Tuesday on whether he should remain president.

It sets a record that even Hussein will find impossible to beat.

Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council and head of the election committee, said that each and every voter marked his ballot "yes" to Hussein staying in power.

The final tally was 11,425,658 to zero.

"This is a real result whether you like it or not," Ibrahim said at a news conference that combined politics as practiced in a one-party state with the theater of the absurd. "This is a real, genuine result. Inside Iraq, there is no opposition."

If the results seemed an example of the regime's self-hypnosis about its standing, they may also be a genuinely accurate count. Given the possible danger to anyone voting "no," or to any precinct official reporting negative votes, the figures could well be correct.

The figures served to remind Iraqis as well as the United States and other countries that the regime has not lost its touch in the ways of power.

"I think the message of this referendum was not, `Look, we are a very nice democracy,'" said a diplomat here. "The message was, `Look, we still control the population, and if you want to control Baghdad, it will not be easy.'"

Ibrahim aimed high in his praise of Hussein, comparing his greatness to the Prophet Mohammed's. The vote, he said, was a victory of light over darkness, stability over savagery.

"People of Iraq, you have chosen your bright future," said Ibrahim, a longtime Hussein associate. "You have chosen the star and beacon of the nation. You have chosen the spirit of history."

He acknowledged that in 1995, officials had considered lowering the margin of victory they reported for the president, in a first referendum. In that referendum, Hussein was credited with 99.96 percent of the vote, a figure that even Ibrahim's colleagues found implausibly high.

They proposed lowering it to something on the order of 80 percent.

Ibrahim said he rejected the idea, on the grounds that it was wrong to deprive even one Iraqi of his voice.

"The U.S. administration has a dream of changing the political system of Iraq," he said to caution anyone who might challenge the president. "There is no system in Iraq. There are the people of Iraq, and they are one and the same as the government."

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