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RE: [casi-analysis] A Solution to the Elections Impasse

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Hi Yasser - thanks for this; it's very well written, and obviously timely: I
think that the fight to ensure that the 'transition' in Iraq is in Iraqis'
interests is the central one at present.

On the advantages of presidental over assembly elections, I wonder if some
of the conclusions might not actually be reversible.  I outline some of my
thinking below.

Which requires a more mature party system?  In a presidental election, most
people will gain their knowledge of a candidate through second hand sources:
the media, party press, etc.  In assembly elections, if some system of local
constituencies (like the UK system) is used, then there is a much greater
chance that voters will actually know the candidates.  Thus, the parties are
required to play a lesser role.  (I was speaking to a Baghdad councillor
last week who seemed quite pleased that one member, who received a lot of
votes in the first election, was discovered to be a fraud, and received very
few in the next one.  It was a pleasure to see the delight that he took in
winning votes - and trust.)

> elections for a president do not require as robust a voter
> registration as elections to choose the many seats of the
> assembly, as the former allows for a greater margin of error.

The corollary of this, though, is that only one group of people get their
president.  This may be much more 'polarising' than an assembly election.
If there's a single president - or even three - it's unlikely that that
president will have truly national support.  Thus, everyone else risks
feeling more alienated: not only are they likely to regard 'their' president
with suspicion, but they'll be 'represented' by people they've not elected.
This seems to be the opposite to how democracy came to the UK, for what
that's worth: elected MPs gradually holding the unelected sovereign to

Quite apart for the desirability, what about the technical feasibility of a
presidental election?  For example, I find it easy to imagine that no
candidate would win a majority of the votes.  The options then seem to

1. declare someone with, for example, 20% of the national vote president.
This would, I think, be a disaster.

2. have a second (third? fourth?) round of elections, sucessively knocking
out candidates.  All of this costs more time, and requires more security.

3. have voters submit single transferrable votes, indicating how they would
vote as their preferred candidates lose.  This, I think, would be far too
complicated: because the mapping between individuals' votes and the final
outcome is complicated, I think that a lot of people would be left with the
sense that somehow something was slipped by them.

On security, only one bomb can ruin a whole presidental election: a lot more
than that are required to knock out the election of an assembly.

I agree that there is more likelihood of extremists or Baathists slipping
through in an assembly election: there are simply more seats to win, and
candidates only need have local appeal.  At the same time, I think it
extremely unlikely that they would have much influence.  Further, they'll be
forced to argue their positions in public debate.

> The complexity of the current plan, a fact that has
> undoubtedly contributed to the current opposition, makes any
> outcome impossible to predict.

Predictability is a bit of a difficult criterion: clearly, it's not usually
regarded as a primary requirement.  Free and fair seem to share that first
rank.  At the same time, predictability is generally important in societies:
it helps them to plan, and planning can help societies.  With this as
preamble, presidental elections may be more uncertain than are assembly
elections.  For example, to predict a presidental election, one needs to
form predictions about how each of the major candidates would do with each
of the constituencies: what is the relative popularity of Pachachi in Erbil
to Barzani in Falluja?  In an elected assembly, on the other hand, one only
has to make 'local predictions' about outcomes.  In Erbil, who is the most
popular candidate?  Admittedly, one has to make a lot of these.

> For example, the current draft
> of the transitional constitution envisages a tripartite
> presidency council. Under presidential elections this can be
> formed by the three winning candidates, who between them
> would likely hold the support of the majority of Iraq.

I do not know of any other country that uses such a system.  (Military junta
often seem to be triumvirates.)  This both gives me no idea how it would
work in practice, and a suspicion that it probably doesn't work very well.
In Iraq, a system like this seems to ensure that no single individual has
responsibility to Iraqis as a whole.  If, for example, a Kurd, a Sunni Arab
and a Shia Arab all happen to become the presidency council, then it seems
likely to me that they'll understand that their primary constituents are
those sharing their labels.  This risks embedding 'identity politics' in
Iraq, a very dangerous development, I think.

> Separating the two processes for selecting the legislative
> and an executive can break the current deadlock.

A separation that I have been thinking about more recently is that between
regional (municipal and governorate) elections, on the one hand, and
national ones, on the other.  Local elections have the advantages of the
assembly elections mentioned above, but also reduce the risk that identity
politics is introduced into the elections: as all candidates running in
Kerbala will be Shia, the ability to play the 'religion card' seems reduced.

The Washington Post has just run an article on local elections that I find
very encouraging (see

"In the province of Dhi Qar, about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad and a
backwater even by Iraq's standards, residents voting as families will have
elected city councils in 16 of the 20 biggest cities by next month. Bradley
will have organized 11, more than half of them this month.

"At every turn, the elections have set precedents, some of them
unanticipated. Voters have typically elected professionals rather than
tribal or religious leaders, although the process has energized Islamic
parties. Activists have gone door to door to organize women, who turned out
in their largest numbers this past week in some of Iraq's most conservative
towns. Most important is the way residents qualify to cast ballots -- cards
issued by Hussein's government to distribute monthly rations. ...

"Bradley, too, stopped short of endorsing the system for the rest of the
country. But in Dhi Qar province, which is overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim, it
has proved the surest way to ensure the councils that run the towns are
viewed as legitimate -- unlike many U.S.-appointed councils elsewhere in
Iraq. ...

"With about a month of planning -- at a cost of about $600 each -- Bradley
organized back-to-back elections this past week in Chebayish and Fuhud, ...

"While some have contended the former government abused the system, Bradley
said he believes 95 percent of families in the province have ration cards.

"'If the Americans reject the elections, we'll reject them,' Faraj Alaywi, a
26-year-old nurse, said as a gusty wind blew through the town. 'The Iraqi
people want elections, 200 percent. The world says elections aren't
possible, but we want them.'


Colin Rowat

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