Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for March 2nd, 2010

Pathophysiological Aspects of a Dysfunctional Democracy

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 2 March 2010 23:49

The last couple of days have seen an outpouring of cheerful comments by optimistic observers of the Iraqi election campaign. The high number of candidate posters, it is argued, is testament to a vibrant democracy!

Perhaps the assessment of the Iraqi political process would become more realistic if observers went beyond counting the posters and started actually analysing what is written on them. And a good place to start is of course the wonderful placard for candidate number 24 on list 316 (Iraqi National Alliance) in Baghdad, Ali Faysal al-Lami. Immediately following Lami’s name, the principal item of his resume is indicated: “Executive director of the accountability and justice commission”, also known as Iraq’s de-Baathification board. At the bottom of the poster is a slogan, “For the sake of preventing the return of the oppressive Baath”.

Lami’s poster highlights the way in which the legacy of the de-Baathification process is deliberately being inserted in the Iraqi election campaign, effectively overshadowing many more important issues in Iraqi politics. And even at this late stage, Lami and his allies have the audacity to shamelessly employ the accountability and justice board – which in theory was supposed to be a politically neutral institution – to keep up the pressure as far as de-Baathification is concerned, all the way to election day it seems. On the last day of February, Candidate al-Lami, this time wearing his hat as de-Baathification director, dramatically announced that his commission would publish the evidence against the excluded candidates “at some point before the 7 March elections”, suggesting a crescendo towards a grand anti-Baathist finale on the eve of the poll.

Also the supposedly more neutral state bureaucracy is succumbing to pressure by Lami and his allies. Judge Abd al-Sattar al-Birqadar, the spokesman of the higher judicial council, recently dismissed as “unrealistic” the attempt by Salih al-Mutlak to mount a legal challenge against the de-Baathification board, claiming that the appeals board constituted by parliament was the highest authority in the matter. What he failed to mention – and what the higher judicial council has so far not responded to in a judicial way– is the problem that neither the de-Baathification board nor the appeals court constituted to deal with its proceedings has any authority to rule on exclusions related to article 7 of the Iraqi constitution. The IHEC and UNAMI seem more focused on how to replace the banned candidates instead of considering the far more fundamental problem concerning the implementation of article 7; the Americans, for their part, now appear to be primarily concerned that it is very important that the losers of the elections behave in a polite manner, i.e. that they go quietly.

The outcome of all this is elections whose legitimacy is in doubt even before the first votes have been cast. The secular and nationalist forces keep asking critical questions about the process (including the much-disputed printing of more than 7 million ballot papers in excess of what is needed) and have signalled that they may boycott the political process in the next parliament if the election is fraudulent.

Isn’t it reductionist to focus so exclusively on the de-Baathification process? Yes and no. Often overlooked in the west is the often Delphic character of the political discourse of Iraqi electoral candidates, even in this new age of democracy. It is for example slightly disconcerting that the number one candidate of State of Law in Nasiriyya in a recent, much profiled interview with an American journalist was unable to proffer any substantial description of his party’s political programme whatsoever. Other agendas that transpire in the election debate are disconnected from national politics altogether. Why don’t we take a look at the activities of the counterpart of Lami in Basra, INA’s number 24 there, Wathib al-Amud. He recently began campaigning for the creation of two new governorates to be parcelled out from Basra itself: Qurna and Mudayna (or Madina; some locals reportedly object to the diminutive form). Candidate al-Amud says the two northernmost portions of the governorate do not receive a fair share of the Basra budget. More than 750,000 people live here, he says, which is more than both Dahuk and Muthanna (which in turn enjoy governorate status). If 100,000 signatures are collected, the Iraqi parliament will have to grant them governorate status! It doesn’t matter one iota, it seems, that no such procedure for sub-governorate secession actually exists anywhere in the constitution (the competing project of a federal region for Basra, which is currently on the backburner after its proponents instead decided to fight for extra revenue in the budget, at least has a legal basis). No, Amud, who is propagating a scheme that first appeared around December 2008 in the sub-governorate council of the oil-rich Qurna area, is making it all up and no one seems to care. Much like the situation at the national level, the Iraqi “democratic” process in Basra is full of fantasy and unencumbered by the tiresome inhibitions of law and due process.

Some observers will no doubt see the Amud phenomen as yet another indicator of the prospering character of Iraq’s new democracy.

Posted in Basra and southern regionalism, Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 11 Comments »