As if we needed another reason to hate Whitney Houston

Iraq: Referendum On Saddam Aims For 100 Percent

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Iraq: Referendum On Saddam Aims For 100 Percent

By Charles Recknagel

Iraqis are going to the polls today to vote in a
referendum to approve President Saddam Hussein for
another seven years. Officials say they want a 100
percent endorsement of the leader and to get it are
organizing massive participation in the closely
controlled vote. As RFE/RL reports, the referendum is the
latest effort to foster the personality cult of Saddam
Hussein, who as “father of the nation” is the sole
candidate on the “yes-or-no” ballot.

Prague, 15 October 2002 (RFE/RL) – Iraq has some 12
million eligible voters, and President Saddam Hussein’s
Ba’th Party has spared no effort to get them all to the
polls for today’s referendum.

For the organizers, the goal in the vote to endorse
Saddam for another seven years in office is high. They
can be sure the president will be overwhelmingly elected
because there is no other name on the ballot. But they
still want to do better than the last referendum in 1995,
when Saddam won 99.96 percent of the vote.

So, the run-up to today’s referendum has seen the ruling
party mount a get-out-the-vote drive that has combined
all the trappings of a Western democratic campaign with
all the usual no-nonsense incentives of Iraq’s
totalitarian system.

One centerpiece has been the official campaign song. For
that, party leaders chose Whitney Houston’s version of “I
Will Always Love You.”

Then there have been the election spots on the three
state-controlled television stations. Not just 90-second
campaign messages but dawn-to-dusk footage – often
accompanied by the theme song – of the sole candidate
presiding over military parades, firing off one-handed
rifle salutes to the soldiers, kissing children, and
praying with the faithful.

At the same time, there have been demonstrations by
supporters who have surged into the streets waving
Kalashnikovs to show the ferocity of their devotion. Some
of the demonstrators later assembled at hospitals to
donate their blood for campaign slogans written on white
banners. The slogans proclaim that “Saddam’s heart beats
as one with his people.”

The mass demonstrations continued during polling today,
with one gathering of schoolchildren in Baghdad chanting
slogans informing U.S. President George W. Bush how much
they, too, love Saddam Hussein: “Bush listen well: All of
us love Saddam Hussein.”

But there are reasons beyond devotion that might persuade
Iraqi voters to vote – and only “yes.” Over the past
weeks, Baghdad has been rife with rumors that the regime
has found a way of knowing how each voter casts his or
her ballot in the simple “yes-or-no” referendum. The
rumors say the polling stations are using an invisible
ink that records the name of each voter on the back of
his or her ballot, making anyone marking “no” easy to
find later.

At the closely supervised polling stations around Iraq
today – where no international election observers are
permitted – voters told Western journalists they have
only a “yes” vote in mind, such as this Baghdad woman
quoted by Reuters: “I come to elect Saddam Hussein, as a
president for me and all Iraqi people. He is brother and
son to each Iraqi family.”

Poll organizers have told Western journalists in Baghdad
privately that they are confident this year they will get
a full 100 percent turnout when official results are
announced tomorrow. And they say that show of unanimity
will refute U.S. talk of ousting Saddam not only to
disarm Iraq but to liberate the Iraqi people.

One of Iraq’s official dailies, “Babel,” which is owned
by Saddam’s son Uday, stressed the importance of the vote
this way. It wrote yesterday: “One of our civilized
responses to the hollow arrogance [of the United States]
is that the proud Iraqis will say…in one voice and
write with one hand…the biggest yes’ in history to the
leader, thinker, inspirer and symbol, President Saddam

But even as the ruling party bills the expected 100
percent referendum as a timely slap in the face for
Washington, many observers see the vote as only the
latest effort to foster the personality cult that has
taken shape around Saddam Hussein over the past two
decades. That cult identifies Saddam as the sole
individual in Iraq capable of leading the country and
defying an array of enemies portrayed as seeking to
destroy the Iraqi people.

Kathleen Ridolfo, a regional specialist at RFE/RL, says
that Saddam has steadily built his image as sole ruler
since taking power as Iraqi president in 1979, “If you
look at the way his regime has operated, Saddam has
successfully put his hands in every aspect of Iraqi
society and dominated every aspect of Iraqi society.”

She says Saddam has fostered a personality cult as one
way to make his own position as the country’s leader
appear unassailable to would-be rivals: “Regime survival
and self-preservation is the main reason. If you look at
the history of modern Iraq, each regime has had to deal
with the idea of insurrection and coups, as Saddam knows
very well, having overthrown a regime himself [as part of
the successful Ba’thist coup of 1968].”

Evidence of Saddam’s personality cult is everywhere in
Iraq. The country is awash in posters and banners bearing
his image, some as big as the side of a building. There
are also hundreds of statues. One of Iraq’s most
prominent sculptors, Khalil Khamis Farhan, is reported to
have produced a statue of Saddam every six months since
the Gulf War of 1991.

The most prominent monument in Baghdad today is a massive
sculpture of Saddam’s two fists holding aloft crossed
swords. The swords form a triumphal arch over the
capital’s main boulevard. The fists are modeled on
Saddam’s own hands to the minutest detail.

At the same time, Saddam has become one of Iraq’s most
prominent literary figures. That status has come with the
publication of an anonymous novel popularly attributed to
him two years ago.

The novel, “Zabibah and the King,” is said to be an
allegorical talk between Saddam and his people that lays
down his belief that only an all-powerful leader can keep
the nation stable and safe. The book has since been made
into a musical that is said to be the most expensive
Iraqi television production ever.

All the portraits and statues of Saddam, as well as the
book and musical, fit into what has become a decades-long
process in Iraq of assuring that all art and culture
serves the regime. That function is enforced by state
censorship of all publications and the exclusion of all
non-Ba’thist teachers from the educational system.

The voting in today’s referendum to endorse Saddam for
another seven years in office is due to conclude at 7

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Sad thing is, that election process is still better than Florida’s.

(sorry, that was a least common denominator joke)

Too bad, there were so many better choices.

Whenever I think of “I Will Always Love You”, I flash back to that scene in Hedwig where the lady in the trailer park is singing it.