2 February 2009Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today congratulated the people of Iraq for “strongly exercising” their right to vote in provincial elections that took place over the weekend, in an atmosphere that he called “admirably free of violence.” “He was deeply impressed by their resolve to participate in a process that should strengthen Iraq’s democracy and further the cause of national reconciliation,” according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson, which added that the Secretary-General also commended Iraqi’s determination to ensure a credible electoral process. Saturday’s provincial, or governate, elections – the first polls held in the strife-torn country in four years – took place in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, with elections for the provinces of the Kurdistan Region and the Kirkuk Governorate to take place at a later stage.Some 14,467 candidates vied for posts in 6,471 polling centres. In addition, there were 84,000 Iraqi observers, 420,000 party agents and around 400 international observers. In his statement, Mr. Ban commended Iraqi’s determination to ensure a transparent and credible process through such massive monitoring and other measures, praising the work of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and the staff involved at each step of the process. He also expressed satisfaction that the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) was “able to make helpful contributions to the process, including through its technical assistance,” and pledged UN support for further stages of the process.The next stage of the election process includes the adjudication of formal complaints before results can be certified.While noting that provisional results have yet to be announced, Staffan de Mistura, Mr. Ban’s Special Representative in Iraq, said that the UN is satisfied that the elections were conducted smoothly both procedurally and in terms of security The polls “mark another important step in Iraq’s recovery,” he added. “The United Nations was present in all 14 governorates and I myself visited polling centres in Anbar, Najaf and Baghdad,” he said. “I was very pleased to see Iraqis from all communities exercising their right to vote, particularly Iraqi women who turned out in large numbers.”UNAMI, which Mr. de Mistura heads, has provided the Commission with advice and assistance on a broad range of electoral issues, including a nationwide revamping of the voter registry in order to increase accuracy and reduce the potential for multiple voting.In a Newsmaker interview with the UN News Centre released today, the Special Representative said that these elections were an important test for Iraq, since they are the first conducted by the Iraqis themselves, with UN assistance, and they are the first in which Sunnis voted in substantial numbers, among other factors.In addition, he said, they are the first elections that will affect the day-to-day lives of Iraqi voters. “These elections are about real power, in the sense that they are going to nominate the people who are on the ground, in the various district councils, and will be deciding on electricity, water, budget and jobs,” he said.