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Iraqi Lawmakers Reverse Changes to Voting Rules

The voting changes proposed by a Shiite-dominated parliament were highly scrutinized by the international community, U.S. officials and the United Nations, which is supervising the referendum.

The rule change would have made it nearly impossible for Sunni opponents to defeat the charter by demanding that two-thirds of all registered voters vote “no” in three provinces while passage required a simple majority of only those who actually cast votes.

The United Nations called the change a violation of international standards and welcomed the reversal, saying it helped restore integrity to the referendum vote that is crucial to Iraq’s nascent democracy.

The constitutional process has been marred by political battles between Shiites and Kurds and Sunni Arabs. Sunnis boycotted elections in January and threatened to boycott next week’s vote but after lawmakers restored original election rules, Sunni leaders said they’d reject the referendum at the polls. The Sunnis will defeat the charter if they get a two-thirds “no” vote in three provinces, even if a nationwide majority approves the charter.

Another Sunni election boycott would have undermined the constitution’s credibility and wrecked efforts to bring Sunnis into the political process, said American and U.N. officials.

The Sunni minority fears the current draft of the constitution will leave them isolated in central and western areas with little power or revenues while granting Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north autonomy and control over Iraq’s oil wealth.

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