Democracy in Iraq

DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ….I’m glad to learn that I’m not the only one who was confused by today’s New York Times article about election problems in Iraq. It seems that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ? a person we should be listening to, if recent history is any guide ? is unhappy at the prospect of January’s elections being postponed due to violence, but also unhappy at the prospect of Shiites not getting the representation they deserve. The first concern is self-explanatory, but not so much the second. So Matt Yglesias explains:

The election is supposed to be held under a party list system, where voters pick not candidates but political parties. Then each party will get a number of seats in the National Assembly proportional to its share of the vote. Rather than compete in an election, however, the leaders (mostly exiles) of the major parties — INA, SCIRI, PUK, KDP, INC, and al-Dawa — seem inclined to negotiate the outcome in advance and then run a consolidated list which is all-but-guaranteed to sweep the board, denying the Iraqi people an effective choice and freezing independent voices out of the government.

Sistani doesn’t like this plan, at least in part because he thinks it will wind up under-representing Shiites relative to what they could secure in open elections. If what he’s after is a simple renegotiation of the current formula under which exiles agree that Shiite Arabs are 55 percent of the population, then he stands a reasonable chance of getting his way. But if he wants to see a genuine election where the parties run against each other instead of colluding to lock out independents, then we’re likely to see a serious conflict.

That’s encouraging, isn’t it? If Sistani is OK with the smoke-filled room approach but just wants a better deal, then hey, we can talk. But if it turns out he wants real elections, the kind in which actual people from actual parties run against other actual people from actual parties, then he’s probably out of luck.

That’s not much more than a mockery of democracy, but unfortunately I can’t really complain too loudly. Roughly speaking, it would be as if Democrats and Republicans agreed to team up and decide in advance who was going to win each district in elections for the House, thus preventing any real choice. Which, of course, is pretty much exactly how it works these days, with both sides collaborating in gerrymandering schemes designed primarily to protect each other’s incumbents.

In other words, Sistani is getting a democracy considered state-of-the-art by his occupiers. What more does he want?