Ayatollah Sistani urges big turnout in Iraq election

February 18, 2010 - 0:0

NAJAF, Iraq (AFP) – Iraq's leading Shiite cleric called on voters on Wednesday to turn out massively for next month's general election but did not endorse any particular party.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani's support is seen as key to boosting turnout for the March 7 parliamentary election, which is widely viewed as a test of reconciliation in Iraq after the sectarian bloodshed that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
The cleric is revered by his followers and his stature dwarfs that of any Iraqi politician, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite.
“Ayatollah Sistani sees it as critical that all people -- men and women -- who care about the future of the country and rebuilding it... participate in the election,” a statement from his office said.
“Turning away from participation, for whatever reason, will give them a chance to achieve their illegitimate goals,” it said, without specifying who Sistani meant by “them”.
The statement went on to say that Sistani did not support any particular party in the election, and called on electors to “vote for the best groups, those who care about the interests of Iraq.”
“Vote for the list that is able to achieve the ambitions of the people, such as stability and improvement, and vote for the honest and efficient candidate who respects the traditions and values of the Iraqi people.”
Sistani has ventured into the political arena at critical moments since the overthrow of Saddam nearly seven years ago.
In August 2004, his timely return to the central shrine city of Najaf from London, where he had been undergoing medical treatment, settled a deadly confrontation between the U.S. military and the Mahdi Army of Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr.
He was also the guiding force behind the creation of the Shiites' powerful political bloc in parliament, and during Iraq's brutal sectarian conflict in 2006 he repeatedly called for calm.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani