Iraqi Cynicism

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In January 2006 Iraqis went to the polls in order to elect a new government for the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the incumbent prime minister, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, was chosen as a prime minister elect by his own coalition (Shia) group by a margin of 1 vote, yet he clung tenaciously to his designated position for months. One plausible explanation for his tenacity: he is cynical about democracy, his selection is not likely to repeat under different circumstances. Many Iraqis are cynical about democracy and there are historical reasons.

In the late nineteen fifties and early sixties there was another party claiming to be democratic and was pushing to "democratize" Iraq. This party had democratic youth organizations, democratic trade unions and democratic militias. That was the time when the Communist Party was strong and many of its front organizations were called democratic, so much so that it became the buzzword for communism. Strange as it may seems nowadays, many Iraqis still associate the practices of the Communist Party with democracy; the idea of dictatorship of the proletariat is how many people understand the rule of majority, liberal democracy is a luxury which they cannot afford. Before that era the monarchy had a functioning liberal democracy from 1923 to 1958, but the poor, and some minorities scorned the process, this was tolerated by the authorities of the time but the Iraqi people did not realize that tolerance was an essential part of democracy. And the regimes that immediately followed, up to and including Saddam’s, treated the democratic process as no more than a rubber stamp.

The U.S. liberation, turned invasion, had a lot of promise for free and fair elections. There were two elections; the first in January 2005 with the purpose of ratifying a constitution. Many agree that this election was fair but partial; many Sunnis boycotted the polls out of fear, or for other reasons, nevertheless the parliamentary seat assignments for the next election were based on the first election's participation and the allocations were skewed.  The second elections were held on January 15, 2006, the results were skewed as expected, the coalition party saw just enough skewness to rob it out of absolute majority. The rest of the parties saw the coalition vote count swell by almost 50% over the first elections in the middle of fraud allegations, and when an international committee came to investigate, it did not bring in a mandate to open and recount the ballot boxes, apparently nobody told the parties of this before they agreed on accepting the committee's findings. Iraqis are cynical about democracy, no question about it!

© Copyright 2006 Faisal L. Kadri