Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Iraq Election News Update!

We may have "left" Iraq, but it's still there -- a great story about how al-Sadr, the Shi'ite cleric who led to a lot of violence in Baghdad but came into the fold and entered the political system, now controls a huge chunk of the Shi'ite votes (40 seats). He refuses, however, to back the current Prime Minister, Maliki. This has lead to a months-long deadlock. The deadlock appears to be shifting, now that Sadr has started making overtures to Allawi, another prominent bloc-leader.

Why is this important?

Other than simply resolving the deadlock in Parliament, the crucial aspect of this is the idea that an incumbent may lose.

It's something we take for granted in America, since incumbents (Bush Sr., Carter, Ford, etc.) aren't guaranteed re-election. As a point of comparison, though, in sham elections (Mugabe, Putin, etc.) the incumbent will always win.

So for a young democracy, if the perception grows that democracy is merely a constant confirmation of the same poll-leader, then disenfranchisement grows.

Look no further than England, which was dreary and dispirited with its choices, until suddenly Nick Clegg demonstrated that voting could actually mean something. It changed the whole dynamic, and the government that resulted -- even though it was still a Cameron Prime Ministership -- is very, very different as a result. Real change is happening because of the dissatisfaction that was felt, whether for good or ill.

Afghanistan is a young democracy. Hamid Karzai has been in charge ever since we appointed him, through some somewhat tainted elections. This hurts the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

So I don't know what Maliki, Sadr, or Allawi mean for the Iraqis. But it will be interesting to see what the dynamic is for radicals (such as Sadr's radical base) who realize that they can be enfranchised in a parliament even if they lost the vote.

But if Sadr eventually is forced to back Maliki, then the radicals will remain frustrated, and feel outside the system.