Politics & Policy

Democracy Ahead?

The prospects for Iraq.

Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq has entered a huge theoretical question into the picture. What, he asked, in visiting with President Bush, would happen if indeed there was not full participation in the elections scheduled for January? So it’s an imperfect world. One has to get on with what one has.

The generality is easily communicable. Everything of this world is worldly. Still, a democratic exercise presupposes comprehensiveness in at least one dimension. It may be that, as within the United States for about one hundred years, the black vote was undercounted. But there was never an election in which specified geographic areas were disfranchised. If you insist that the validation of democracy requires a vote by the entire community of voters, you run into an immediate problem, inasmuch as less than one half the eligible voters–in the United States–actually vote; so that the political exercise isn’t a clinically established confirmation of the people’s will.

But Dr. Allawi is venturing very far from that kind of cavil. When the Constitution of the United States was up for ratification, the language specified that when nine of the states had signed on, the government of the United States would be promulgated–never mind those states that had not ratified. Thus, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont were left free, in 1789, to make their own arrangements, while the new constitution had sway over its constituent members.

It sounds, in theory, perfectly reasonable. Dr. Allawi enumerated: There are 18 provinces in Iraq, and “14 to 15 are completely safe.” Three are “pockets of terrorists.” And they, of course, seek to subvert Islamic self-rule elsewhere.

The analysis ran head-on into political criticism from Senator Kerry. His point being in two parts, the first that the situation is so fluid, it can’t be predicted what would be the affirmative provincial constituency of the new Iraqi government. The second, that the insurgents are growing in power and authority and that neither Dr. Allawi, nor his sponsor the United States, has devised reliable means of stopping this. President Bush took the occasion to repeat that if in the estimate of commanders on the scene more troops were needed to maintain order, more troops would be dispatched.

Meanwhile, the internal political scene is agitated. The ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the unchallenged leader of the Shiite community, professes a general dissatisfaction with electoral arrangements, but is interpreted as saying in effect that any election that fails to return a Shiite majority can’t faithfully reflect reality, inasmuch as the Shiites now constitute 60 percent of the population. But Shiite ascendancy is done at the cost of the Sunni, who, through the Baath Saddamite wing, exercised power for so many years. The quarrel is over the electoral ballot, with precedence being given to those names that appear higher on the list of candidates. But in order to influence or effect any redesign, political power must be exercised, and the betting is that al-Sistani will not boycott the election, since that would result in eliminating, or reducing, Shiite influence on the outcome.

The whole thing does appear a bit like a mock convention. At Washington and Lee University, every four years, students devote themselves almost full-time to a convention that will nominate the Democratic and Republican “candidates.” There is lobbying, there are votes on political alternatives–and its entrepreneurs reflect with satisfaction that in most years, the students correctly anticipate what in due course happens in the real election.

It pays to remind ourselves that working democracies depend for their existence on one thing, one thing alone. It is the submission of the minority. When that isn’t forthcoming, as in the United States in 1860, confederations break apart.

Dr. Allawi eloquently described the historical narrative. “I stand here today as the prime minister of a country emerging finally from dark ages of violence, aggression, corruption and greed.” His devout hope is that Iraq can move forward from its past, but to succeed, the insurgents need to be discredited and neutered, and the great surviving units must ratify a constitution from which no province can abstain, and which, above all, divides church and state.


The Latest