Iraq needs a stable government and the elections in March should deliver a government that has a broad and popular mandate and is able to function with authority. A weak government will not be able to resolve the major structural issues that still face the country.

This is why it is important that candidates representing all shades of opinion should stand in the elections so that Iraqis have as wide a choice as possible. This is why it is a pity that the leader of the National Dialogue Front, Saleh Al Mutlaq, has announced that it will not stand in the elections. The party argues that the imposition of the ban on many candidates for their previous Baath links is an example of the increasing influence of Iran on Iraq's internal affairs.

It is important for any election to be fair that all the rules of contest are defined well in advance. It is wrong that candidates have been banned a few weeks before the elections. They should have known years in advance that their previous records would not allow them to hold public office and their sympathisers and supporters would be able to find candidates to represent their views without breaking the law.

In addition, any ban should only include those who were active and senior members of the Baath Party, since many people would have been forced to join the party in order to carry out their normal jobs.

The electoral authorities should make clear what the rules are and they should not get trapped into approving some candidates in a hurry. They should be prepared to investigate them should they win. Not doing that would devalue the election and destabilise the result, particularly if the result leads to a period of negotiation between parties as they seek to form new coalitions.