Saturday, February 05, 2005

Results and concerns

Preliminary election results from Iraq show Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani United Alliance list ahead with two-thirds of the vote - though this is from partial results from mostly Shi'ite areas; the picture will change as results from other areas come in (though with far lower turnout in the Sunni areas, maybe not by that much).

Two-thirds is a significant number, being the amount required under the Transitional Administrative Law to elect the President. In other words, the Shi'ia are in a good position to appoint the transitional government, and certainly in a position to veto it. No President (and by extension, Prime Minister, Council of Ministers, Supreme Court or military or intelligence officials) will be appointed without their consent. Whether you think this is a good or bad thing depends on how much you like quasi-theocrats.

As for what I think: democracy is a messy business, and it has to evolve at its own pace. If Iraqis voted collectively for people who think that all laws should be in accordance with Islam, then we have to respect that decision. Provided the door is left open for change (meaning regular free and fair elections) then Iraqis will reach their own consensus on how their country should be run. I am concerned about the rights of minorities and women in Iraq, but I'm also aware that it took several hundred years for our model of democracy to acknowledge those rights. I would expect progress to be much faster in Iraq, given universal suffrage and a relatively good position for women under the Ba'ath. People generally don't vote for their own oppresion, and trying to deprive 50% of the electorate of fundamental rights is (or should be) electoral suicide.

And OTOH, that's not a blank cheque. Elected governments can violate human rights just as unelected ones can, and in some ways its even worse. If the Iraqi National Assembly or the government it appoints fails to live up to international standards in this area - and in particular, fails to immediately put an end to the Iraqi security services' use of torture - they deserve to be treated as pariahs.