Story behind the story of the Iraqi elections...
So what went wrong with the Iraqi elections? Ken Sanders over at Politics of Dissent enlightens us with the help of Electronic Iraq.
Iraqi Elections: Bush's "Resounding Success"
On Sunday, President Bush declared Iraq’s first “free” elections a “resounding success.”Perhaps that is true on a political level for the Bush administration. Perhaps it is true symbolically for the people of Iraq and even for the greater Middle East. However, beyond the political rhetoric and symbolism regarding the elections in Iraq, were they really a success, much less a resounding one?
First of all, there is serious question about how democratic the elections actually were. There were over 7,000 candidates on the ballot. Many of those candidates, for security reasons, were not even named on the ballot. Instead, candidates were grouped into lists, such as a “main Shia list,” several other Shia lists, Kurdish lists, and so on. In other words, Iraqi voters were more or less compelled to vote for an ethnic group, national group, or religious faction. The make-up of the ballot essentially prevented Iraqis from voting for a particular person or political party.
Second, Iraqis do not and will not select their prime minister or president. Instead, Iraq’s elections created a 275 member National Assembly. The National Assembly will select a 3 member presidency council. The presidency council will then ultimately decide who will be Iraq’s prime minister. Although it is not set forth anywhere in Iraq’s “transitional law,” the presidency council and prime minister will be selected from the 275 member National Assembly.
Third, the elections in Iraq will not result in local representation for Iraqis. Under Paul Bremmer, the U.S. decided that rather than divide Iraq into localities, the entire country would be a single constituency. Thus, any candidate who receives a 275th of the nation-wide vote will get a seat on the National Assembly, regardless of how many other candidates are elected from the same locality. This system creates a distinct likelihood of over-representation at the national level for groups with high voter turn-out. Theoretically, therefore, Kurds may end up being over-represented nationally since security in northern Iraq is much better than in other areas of the country. While this would be good for the Kurds, who have been oppressed for decades, it would not sit well with either the Shia or Sunni populations.
Fourth, while exit polls of questionable accuracy indicate a 60% turn-out by registered voters, there are entire regions of Iraq that never had the opportunity to register. As of January 29, the eve of the elections, neither the residents of Falluja nor Mosul were registered to vote or even provided with the forms to do so. Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul is home to nearly three million Iraqis. With at least three million disenfranchised Iraqis, and with millions of Sunni Iraqis boycotting the elections, the legitimacy of the elections comes into serious question.
(Remember the animosity and divisiveness that resulted from the United States’ 2000 Presidential Election? Imagine the millions of democrats who disavowed Bush as their president. Imagine the millions of republicans who condemned these democrats as sore losers and against the democratic process. Now imagine both sides armed to the teeth and, partly as a result of deep ideological differences, willing to kill and die for their respective causes. Now amplify that by a factor of ten and you have just imagined the tip of the iceberg in Iraq.)
Fifth, the Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission, whose members were appointed by Bremmer before the U.S. handed over “power” in June, set the rules for the elections. The Commission has absolute power to bar any candidate or organization and has done so. Those who have been barred by the Commission received neither due process nor an explanation why. Thus, the U.S., through its proxy, established the rules for the election and determined who could and could not be a candidate therein. Additionally, the International Republican Institute (IRI), an offshoot of the U.S. Republican Party and advocate of “democracy building,” has funded certain Iraqi campaigns, giving a distinct advantage. (The IRI’s board of directors includes Senators John McCain and Chuck Hagel, Congressman Jim Kolbe, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and former Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger. The IRI has been linked to financial support provided to coups in Venezuela and Haiti.)
Sixth, and most significantly, a new Iraqi government does not mean a free Iraq. There is no free press in Iraq - stories must favor the government’s point of view. Press “disrespect” for U.S.-appointed prime minister Allawi is prohibited. Both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya have been banned for their nonconformity. Furthermore, any new government is already bound by the laws enacted by the U.S. before handing “power” over to Allawi. For example, as with Sunday’s elections, the next plebiscite, to establish a permanent constitution, must proceed under Bremmer’s laws. Moreover, all of Iraq is to be privatized, open to 100% foreign ownership or leasehold for forty years. “All” of Iraq includes resources (think oil), amenities and public services. Additionally, the U.S. has made it perfectly clear that it will not permit Iraq to become a theocracy like Iran, regardless of what Iraqis might want. Having already invested over $100 billion and over 1,400 lives in the invasion and rebuilding of Iraq, the U.S. will not permit an Iraqi government that is contrary to U.S. interests.
Were the elections in Iraq a “resounding success?” Sure, if you are President Bush or someone who stands to make a buck (or a million) on a new stable, “democratic,” and completely privatized Iraq. If you happen to be an average Iraqi citizen, however, prepare to be disappointed.
(Special thanks to Jo Wilding at electronicIraq.net.)