Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

11 Responses to “Pathophysiological Aspects of a Dysfunctional Democracy”

  1. Ali Wasati said

    Hi Visser

    I do not know what you expect from a young democracy racked by horrendious and evil Wahabi/Baathist insurgency.

    We must at all costs keep the baathis out of governmemt legally or illegally, until the insurgency is under control.

    We cannot allow them back in government or else they will destroy Iraq from within.

    I’m confident in 1o yrs time thing swill look better. When the iraqi people are better eductaed and services become better they will demand more. until then, our wounds from 35 yrs of Baathis oppression are not healed and to be honest we just dont care if the parties that were democratically elected use any means to keep those dogs out of power.

    Warmest Regards


  2. Ali Wasati said

    Look at what happened in kurdistan, after seven years of huge economic growth couples with good security allowed the Change party to emerge and fight the corrupt two Kurdish parties. This would not have happened if there was a horrible insurgency.

    Its only after we achieve the same security and economic progress that a similiar party can emerge.

    The problem with the secular parties, they tend to be Sunni orientated and Baathists sympathisers, what we need is a secular, cross secterian and anti baathist secular party. This will happen when the fear of the Baathis return will subdue.

    Warmest Regards


  3. Salah said

    More on last mints pre-election rigging arrangements for Dysfunctional Democracy

    تفجرت امس قضية جديدة تتعلق بالانتخابات هزت المراكز والعاملين فيها بتعيين موظفين مرتبطين بجهات مجهولة ظهروا في الساعات الأخيرة الماضية علي نحو مفاجئ يتولون ادخال الصيغة النهائية والاخيرة لبيانات واعداد الناخبين لمراكز الاقتراع في الخارج وربطها مع كمبيوتر المقر الرئيس في اربيل فقد جري علي نحو سري ومفاجئ تعيين عدد كبير من الموظفين المكلفين إدخال البيانات الخاصة بالناخبين في سجلات علي الكمبيوتر تابعة للمفوضية المسؤولة عن انتخابات الخارج ومقرها اربيل. ويتكفل هؤلاء الموظفون بإدخال المعلومة الخاصة بقسم الناخب وبياناته وتكون عملية الادخال نهائية وغير قابلة للمراجعة وتدخل في الصيغة النهائية بعدد المقترعين.

  4. Reidar,
    Lami is following in the footsteps of his patron, Chalabi, who in 2003 (in 60 minutes TV program I believe) boasted of the oil and construction companies he represented when he expected to be the political leader of Iraq.
    Many Iraqis have higher standards and recognize the conflict of interest and guilt-by-association practices.

  5. bb said

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

    Reidar, take it you are expecting Mr Amud is going to win one of the 24 seats in Basra from his exalted position of No 24 on the INA List? That is, Mr Amud is the last on the list.

    If so, on what grounds are you expecting a 100% landslide to INA in Basra? In the provincial elections the INA parties struggled to get 6% of the votes and only 8 seats out of 34 on offer?

    If not, on what grounds is Mr Amud being used as a poster boy for derision of the new democrac process?

  6. Salah said

    Ali Wasati

    علــي ….you looks really not different from those you talking about in the way of your thinking.

    What you listed its far from the basics of the democracy fundamental.

    Sadly this way of thinking will take you backward and you will never move forward.

  7. Salah said

    Any one talking about democracy in Iraq he should think twice.

    Is Iraq really a democracy?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, no that “take” is one hundred per cent your own. Given the open-list system it would be silly to make detailed predictions about who gets in and who doesn’t. Even if voters do nothing to influence the ranking of the candidates (back in January 2009 they did use this option quite extensively), the lists will be re-ordered because most of them violate the women’s quotas and so women will have to be promoted from positions far down on the lists, whether voters or party leaderships like it or not.

  9. Ali Wasati said

    Brother Salah

    i completely understand what you are saying, however how can we allow the Baath to return when they are not even prepared to apologise for their crimes, and that they do not beleive in democracy?

    Like I said, a proper functioning democracy will only occur once the insurgency is under control, and some time has passed for the wounds to heal. It was a very happy day for me when Mutlak and Ani were disqualified.

    The system we have now is still far better than under Saddam, Iam excited about the future.

  10. Ali Wasati,
    You should fight ideas with ideas, not with banning and terror. The alternative ideas used by the parties in power are no better than Al Baath.
    A disturbing aspect of your argument is your willingness to call guilt by association, don’t you think there are good Baathists? Nothing will last forever, the pendulum will swing back one day, what do you think will come after de-Baathification? How about de-Sadrification? de-Badrification? All of these policies are divisive and wrong, see my blog entry..

  11. haider said

    ali wasiti,

    its sad that a smart young guy like yourself is saying these things, stop apologizing for your INA buddies, they are the new baathis, theifs and murderers, like amud and zamali.

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