by Mary Rizzo
We saw something that looked like a vote in occupied Iraq. Hey, I like to be optimistic, even if that’s not my true nature, so let’s just get on with it and agree that we saw something that looked like a vote.
So, people, (we don’t know how many, although some numbers have been flying around, and under what sort of conditions, but they can’t have been optimum) stepped out of their homes and voted. Not everywhere. No, that couldn’t really happen, and we didn’t expect it. Some people did vote.That much we can agree on. We saw the purple fingers, and even a representation of them by American Parliament members for show. (Although imagining these actors voting in conditions such as those of an occupied nation without the minimum of security requirements is indeed a stretch for even the wildest of imaginations).
What we can’t agree on, and I don’t think anyone really is able to, is if this vote will be considered as legitimate. What does it take for the legitimacy of a vote? Does it need to be universal suffrage? Or does selective suffrage count? Were polling places even made available in areas where “security” (for the American troops) is a problem? Can a vote without a campaign, the presentation of candidates and platforms be considered to be a true and autonomous choice of those who have cast their votes? We have learnt that the major party, the Unified Iraqi Alliance had most of its candidates listed as anonymous participants due to “security reasons”, and one just votes the party and hopes for the best. Votes have been contested for a lot less than any one of these conditions, much less the sum of them.
Most of all, can a vote be considered as legitimate under the Geneva Conventions? Under them, no occupying power is authorised to abolish laws in the nation it is occupying and to implement new ones, such as an interim government, trade and military accords or even election laws. As such, these elections are not technically legal.
But, I know, it’s been a long time since we’ve bothered to consider what is legal or illegal. The entire Iraqi fiasco is one long rosary of illegality. We now use the words “Good” and “Evil”, much in the same way that a child might do. Democracy is “Good”, of course. Now, all that is left to do is to define what Democracy is and then we can see if THIS democracy is Good or Evil, because it might end up being something a little different from what the Coalition Forces of occupation had in mind.
Democracy is dependent upon elections. That is because there is no such thing as direct government of the people in any nation State, and therefore the elected officials represent the population and are selected with a process of casting a vote. There is no getting around the fact that elections are the element sine qua non of any democracy. At this point, no one can condemn the need for elections and their urgency. Yet, under the conditions of an occupation, where the manipulation of the process can be a significant reality, and one which is nearly impossible to demonstrate for lack of an autonomous entity which oversees the vote, these elections pose a serious problem of legitimacy. Perhaps today there is no possibility to present them in this way, but a time will come when this problem will rear its head, and the results of this can not even be contemplated at this date.
Seeing as how one can easily conjecture that this election was intended to satisfy the demands of the Shiite majority, it attempted nothing to guarantee the rights of the Sunnis to approach the polling places in complete freedom and safety, if that may have indeed been their wish to participate. Without guarantees of any sort, voting in reality was a severe risk and this fact had not just come to light following the calls for the boycotts, but very long ago, as evidenced by the precarious living conditions of zones in the Sunni Triangle following “Coalition” operations such as the wanton and total destruction of cities and the internal refugee status that many Iraqi Sunnis are forced to live in. This factor alone presents a serious charge of illegitimacy, should such a “wild card” ever need to be extracted up from the deck.
Leaving the Kurdish faction to the side for the moment, and by no means underestimating the instability factor for Iraqi national unity which is the inevitable result and the “payoff” which the Peshmergas will rightfully expect for their support to the Anglo-American troops and their cooperation during the moments when the war was still declared as such, we are faced with the vote of the Shiite majority and the non-vote of the Sunni minority.
It is vital to remember that the Shiites, while the majority in Iraq, are in the vast minority in the Islamic Arab world. Unless a common denominator is found, and nationalism is usually such a factor, the remainder of the Islamic world may not look kindly upon any attempts at limiting the power of the Sunnis in Iraq, which is a prospect that is not beyond the imagination. How this may be addressed if discrimination should arise is an interesting area for speculation and for fear. Unless the Shiites avoid two potentially dangerous tendencies, I don’t see much hope of success at keeping the Arab zones of Iraq united.
The first danger is the implementation of a theocratic or semi-theocratic government. This could be very threatening for the Sunnis, and would undermine the struggle for unification. The second danger is a false “secular” Shiite government, with figures such as Allawi in command. They may not be willing or able to permit the choice of the people, the result of the democratic process, however flawed it is, to see the light of day. If one doesn’t even know what candidate he voted for in a coalition party, there is no guarantee that the mandate of the people can even be maintained. It was born as a question mark, and in some mysterious way will be resolved. I would wager that the vast majority of the Shiite electorate would prefer a religious government. That seems to be the result of the election, from any guesses I can make judging on the current assessments, but it would most certainly be considered “evil” by those who had rendered such a vote possible, and therefore, could easily be obstructed. The Americans would quite possibly stand to lose much if there is a religiously oriented government in Baghdad.
The major problem in having no electoral platform is that whatever government results from this election, it can not claim that it is fulfilling the popular mandate, because no such thing was even presented. Dozens of parties without a program, without specific candidates and in a nationalised system, which does not require accountability to a specific electorate, but to a general one, can not be a guarantee to anyone of anything. The only thing certain is that sooner or later, these elections will be considered illegitimate, by whoever seems to feel they stand the most to lose. It could be the Iraqis themselves, those in power or those excluded from power, or in the case of a religious government, it could be the United States itself. In which case, the occupation may become permanent due to an interminable instability which will be another excuse for the lack of disengagement.
I would like to permit myself one small observation, and that is about a comment the leader of the major “left” party in Italy, Piero Fassino, of the Democratici di Sinistra (Left Democratics). In the congress of the DS he spoke of the war in Iraq and attacked those who speak of “Iraqi resistance”. He said, “In Iraq 8 million people voted. They are the real resistance, not Al Zarqawi”. The leader of Italy’s second party, in a panorama of many, but still gathering the votes and the sympathy of a vast electorate, said, “The first free elections are a fact of extraordinary importance, and not the resistance”, implying that the extraparliamentary left, which is reflected in the Italian antiwar movements and the adherents of the Social Forums, have had the wrong focus all along by their insistence that the Iraqi people wanted to be liberated from foreign occupation. The left movements that Fassino insults by claiming, with more than a little inaccuracy, that those, “who in a silly and irresponsible way have defined Al Zarqawi and his acolytes as resistants we reply that the true resitants are those eight million women and men who by voting have said NO to death and YES to life”. With this kind of logic, with this kind of simplistic GOOD vs EVIL rhetoric, I ask myself why the left that gathers the largest public support in its demonstrations has been allowing the Parliamentary left run the show, notwithstanding massive militant protest, such as Europe’s largest antiwar demonstrations. The Parliamentary left counts on those it insults to be the reservoir for the coming “anti-Berlusconi votes”, yet it doesn’t waste time talking like Berlusconi. It’s no wonder the coalition of the left is constantly bickering. There are actually a few parties within it who don’t talk like Berlusconi and the right, but they aren’t the dominant parties, because they haven’t got the machine behind them that the DS has got. Try to think of the Greens and the Libertarians next to the Democrats in the US and you get the idea.
Some reflections and questions for Fassino: First of all, who gave him the number of eight million? Secondly, he categorises all resistance to foreign military occupation as Al Zarqawi, which has become a trademark bearing little meaning, and not representative of the variety and the complexity of the Iraqi opposition to military occupation of its country, which is sanctioned by international law. A party such as the DS, whose origins come from the Italian Partigiani (Resistance) should know such a thing without having to be told. Classifying all resistance in the most radical and shady faction is unfair to the legitimate resistance which is permitted and contemplated by law. Thirdly, if there is resistance in act, and Fassino admits this at the very least by calling the voters resistants, there must be a force that needs to be opposed. In this case, might that be resistance to the occupation? In that case, does that not imply that the occupation is wrong and that the population is against it?
Is voting the only option which remains to a people who has been reduced to such poverty and who are still living without a stitch of the promised “reconstruction” following the destruction by the Coalition forces to demonstrate its dissent and opposition to the presence of these forces on their territory? If this is the case, and following logic, it must be, why does the leader of the major left party of the third nation behind the United States and Great Britain which is responsible for that destruction not call for this disengagment since it is evident to him that the people want such a thing?
It could be that Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has shouted from the microphones of his own party’s Congress that the demonstrations of millions of people who had shouted out their dissent and rejection of the war as being “wrong”. That’s it! It’s really that simple. The Iraqis voted, so those who had prostested the false pretext of the war, the very idea of preventive war and the human costs, not to mention enormous internal and international instability that accompany it, were just plain wrong. The Italian left simply doesn’t want to be wrong.