I once read someone saying that although Iraqis went through democratic practices they are yet to establish democratic governance. I don't recall how I reacted first to this statement but I guess I felt a bit offended at that time, but later I began to see a lot of truth in these words…
It is fundamental that for a healthy democracy to function it requires two basic elements, these are a democratically elected government and an active, responsible and constructive opposition and so far, Iraq has more or less fulfilled only the first element but not the second.
Opposition is normally practiced by either the representatives of the parties that were less fortunate in the election or directly by the voters themselves and this includes those who voted for both the ruling party and the parties that ended up in the opposition.
Although there's a growing role for civil society organizations and groups in Iraq in making the voice of the people heard, we cannot count on the people for taking their role in the opposition for a number of reasons the first of which is fear and intimidation and the last is not the fact that the whole idea of democracy is totally new to us and it will take years before our people absorb its basic concepts.
And also with a unity government you cannot count on the non-homogenous coalition of ruling parties for doing the job of the opposition as each party is bound by the big deal through which this kind of government is to be formed.
But it is not an option to let the government act as it likes without checks and balances
Thus in this particular case it becomes the responsibility of the more liberal parties to stay out of the government and function as opposition and be the watchdog we need to make sure the government is functioning as it should be and we must find a mechanism through which malpractice can be corrected without having to wait for 4 years to elect a new government.
I am not expecting any of the parties that get their power from their corresponding sect or ethnic group to become the opposition, actually such parties are preferred to be part of the government at this stage because marginalizing any of them can lead to catastrophic outcomes; it's the sectarian and ethnic identities of such parties that made a unity government a necessity but actually I think a name like 'civil war-preventing government' is more reflective of the case than a 'unity government' because let's face it, Sunni, Shia and Kurds will not be suddenly united if they formed a government together but it's more accurate to say that forming this kind of government can help stop the country from falling into civil war.
I believe the best candidate for this job right now will be the Iraqi list which I personally had voted for as my representative in the parliament and I would rather see my representatives be strong in the opposition rather than se them weak in a government formed to preserve sectarian and ethnic balances, but I do not want them to repeat the experience of inactive opposition they exhibited during the past interim government through 2005; I hope to see the kind of opposition that adds to the right and expose the wrong and protect the rights of all the people and not only the segments that gave them their votes.
Moreover, I tend to view this as a good opportunity for secular, nonsectarian trends like Allawi's to gain trust and expand their public base, they cannot make huge achievements by working in a government like the one Iraq's about to have, yet they can gain more power for the more secular, liberal trends by exposing the disadvantages of the governance system we are going to have for the next 4 years.
This applies also to other liberal and secular parties including those that did not win seats in the parliament. I hope they move to join forces in a constructive opposition and seize the chance produced by the current situation to improve their positions; the majority of voters gave their votes to sectarian blocs out of fear from being overshadowed by rival groups but the same voters are frustrated by the incompetence of their representatives and their inevitable inability to bring the magical solutions many voters were dreaming of and this makes this an excellent opportunity for the liberals to present themselves to the voters as an alternative.
I realize that a lot of what I said above is regarded commonsense for many of you who live under real, well-established democracies but in a country like Iraq, in a nation struggling to find its way to democracy, these arguments-and more-need to be made.