Friday, October 01, 2004

Some notes on Iraqi elections.

In the midst of what looks like a very difficult situation, conflicting statements about the future of the Iraqi elections came out from here and there, and as the picture looks blurred until January 2005 comes, these statements took the shape of unverified hints that can change with the changing circumstances. Obviously, there’s a serious inclination from all parties to hold the elections on time and I believe that the few statements that were released about the possible inability to hold elections in some Iraqi cities are used to tell the foci of violence that the only loser will be the one who refuses to take part in the elections because he’ll waste any opportunity to say his word in the making of the constitution.

I don’t think the people who are causing problems in these violence foci are going to listen because basically they’re working to hinder any further step towards stability and here it seems that the military solution remains a possible option despite the short time left before the elections day.

We have a very difficult choice to make, between having the elections at time which will be a success but will result in a conference not that representative of the Iraqi people and would be a continuation of the present government and before it the GC, or we could delay it which would show the American administration and the Iraqi interim government as liars and would give the terrorists and the anti-democracy power a sense of victory and a morale booster.

The major factor that governs the success of the elections is guaranteeing wide participation for Iraqis in the elections. The difficult security situation will make many people hesitant about going to the voting centers which will no doubt be favorable targets for terror attacks and here the major parties will be more able to gather supporters and bring them to the voting centers than others and they will make benefit of this advantage to win the elections.

I’ve spoken to a lot of independent Iraqis who represent a majority and I asked them about their standards for the candidate they would prefer and my questions were:
1-Would you like the elections to be held on time? Most of the answers were “yes” except for few who weren’t sure of the benefit of elections but no one suggested postponing the elections.

2-Who’s the candidate you’re going to vote for? What are the standards? The answer was: an honest person with clean history regardless of his race or sect.
3-If two candidates were equal in points and one of them is a member of the SCIRI or Da’wa party and the other one is independent, whom would you chose?
The answer was: “the independent one” without any hesitation.

The word “independent” had a magical effect every time I asked someone as if it was the key for success and the truth is that some major parties began to realize this, and some clerics’ calls to accelerate the elections under any circumstances because they understood that point and they fear it. Time works for the smaller parties and the independent majority to organize themselves and when that happens, the major parties will lose their advantage because it’s almost a common knowledge that all of these parties get no more support currently than 15% and this was clear in many previous polls. Here we should note that the majority of Iraqis support the government but not the parties that form most of it which could be strange but it’s very true. Iraqis still hate the word “party” very much and it seems they still can’t separate it emotionally from the Ba’ath party as it was the only party we knew for decades.

There’s another misconception that the Sunni Iraqis are not going to participate in the elections and some people think that the “Association of Muslim Scholars” can release a “Fatwa” about this while the truth is that the Sunni never organized themselves under any Sunni frame, instead many of them worked in other frames that carry different characteristics and we still don’t see any Sunni party and here came the “Association of Muslim Scholars” to fill the vacancy as it wanted to play a role that is political more than religious but it failed to attract the Sunni attention to an organization similar to that of the SCIRI or Da’wa party, so the association went to the criminals to cover the failure and to have stronger influence in the streets and to fill a space that is much greater than its actual size. Moreover, it’s well known that the Sunni in Iraq don’t have a specific advisor and they were not used to taking orders from clerics regarding political issues and state condition unlike the case with She’at. The point is that the Sunnis will participate but if given more time they can organize themselves in moderate parties that are not sectarian which may attract some She’at, Kurd and Turkmen tribally based rather than religiously.

There’s an Iraqi proverb that goes like “The bad you know is better than the good you don’t know” and this works even in politics. If the elections were held without the needed elements prepared, that is security and wider participation from small secular non ethnic parties, the majority of Iraqis will vote for “the bad they know” choosing the lesser evil among the well-known candidates. It’s true that they want to vote for independent people but they need to know at least something about any independent candidate to vote for him/her, and when you have elections that are nation-wide and with little coverage from Iraqi media to the upcoming elections, it would be almost impossible to know anything about a candidate who lives in another governerate or even another neighborhood.

After the liberation I was totally against having earlier elections knowing how difficult and unproductive it would be, but as the American administration had made this promise and as the terrorists are fighting desperately to prevent it, I think that it won’t be very wise to delay the elections now. What should be done, in my opinion, is to clean all the hot areas from terrorists, Ba’athists and fanatics (which seems to be the plan) and to pressure the interim government to put more effort in informing the public about what’s going on and how elections are going to work. In addition, the government has managed to secure a wider representation for Baghdad and for the major parties in the future conference which they argue that it is needed to maintain an equilibrium among different ethnic and religious groups. This should not be an excuse to monopolize the political arena as well as the media, as Iraqi and Arab media covers naturally the activities of the government which allows its parties to get much more coverage than other parties which till now get almost no coverage at all.

We still support the interim government in it’s war against terrorists and fanatics but this war should never be an excuse to allow the government to have a firm grip on power and isolate itself from the people limiting their participation. Wars and difficult situations were always used in the Arab world to justify the continuos presence of certain powers in the government and that led in the end to dictatorships after struggles among the major powers. This is not likely to happen in Iraq now or in the future but it could end in a distorted form of democracy like the one in Lebanon, as who has control for a long time will have a strong effect on writing the constitution and setting a new educational system in Iraq, which together with the major media on their side and most of the IP and ING being members of the major parties will enable them to stay in power for an unlimited period of time, and that’s definitely not what we have in mind and not what would make Iraq a model for democracy in the ME.

-By Mohammed.

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