If Iraq’s tumultuous 2005 elections were a trial run at democracy, the current provincial race has main-event flavor, the Washington Post reports. Greater stability has allowed town-hall gatherings, where voters grill some 14,000 candidates running for 440 seats on everything from housing to militarization. And campaign posters, T-shirts and jingles are ubiquitous ahead of the Jan. 31 vote.
Unprecedented candidate diversity challenges the establishment. About 30% are women; many are Sunni Arabs who boycotted the last election; and many races pit Shiites against one another. The results will determine the power balance among parties and between central and provincial authorities. Many also see the election as a referendum on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s party—and thereby his rule.