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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Iraqi Bloggers on the Election

The NY Times ran an op-ed on the Iraqi elections from the point of view of three Iraqi bloggers.

A few of their comments:

Although you can still see the spark in the eyes of Iraqis as they dip their fingers in the indelible ink, there is an air of “been there, done that,” indicating that the novelty of voting has disappeared. We understand the process — we’ve done it four times. ...
It was clearly far from perfect. In many places people were denied the right to vote when their names couldn’t be found in the registers. The huge number of candidates — nearly 15,000 for 440 seats on the councils of the 14 provinces holding elections — isn’t really a sign of political maturity, but rather shows a combination of greed and ignorance about the duties of council members.
But, by Allah, we’re looking at our own politicians for answers instead of looking abroad. If we manage to repeat this success in the national elections at the end of this year, I think we can confidently say that we’ve got the hang of this democracy thing.

-Salam Pax, The Baghdad Blogger

Most of the people I know were not voting based on sects, but on sense. We are sick to death of corruption and sectarianism, and desperate for a change. ...
On my way home I developed an obsession of looking at the fingertips of every man and woman I passed. Too many had no ink. I hope the electoral committee does its part better than we did. I hope the election will not be fraudulent and the winners will not let us down. And I hope the people who didn’t vote this time will do so next time, and a real democracy will be achieved in the land where the first laws of the human race were set.
-Dr. Mohammed, Last of Iraqis

Early Saturday morning, I got a bunch of text messages on my cellphone asking me to vote for Mohammed Shakir, the Iraqi Islamic Party’s candidate for governor of Nineveh Province. Not me: we gave the Islamic Party a chance in previous elections, but they disappointed. ...
Mosul has been one of the most violent spots in Iraq, almost unbearable to live in. We have electricity for only two to four hours a day. The provincial council is responsible for public services and local security; it is now dominated by Kurds, even though Arabs are the vast majority in Mosul.
The Kurds undoubtedly voted for their own candidates, while the Arab vote was most likely splintered. In the end, I guess, no one group will dominate; we must hope
the new council will make a change for the better.
-Bookish, Mosul is in My Heart

Their comments bring several thoughts to mind. First, the security situation and the political process have improved in many ways in Iraq. Only eight candidates were killed prior to this election in contrast to hundreds of deaths in the run up to previous elections. The improved security situation also allowed for much more robust campaigning in Iraq, from tours and stumping, to animated banners on Iraqi blogs, forums, and other websites, to the text messages mentioned by Bookish, to outright bribes.

This brings up a second point. A major theme in the elections has been Iraqis discontent with corruption, poor performance, violence, and sectarianism. For this reason, many hoped that these elections would mark a significant defeat for sectarian and religious forces in Iraq, and in a way, they did.

Yet, for several reasons, the religious parties are still strong in Iraq. Da'wa, at the head of the State of Law List, ISCI (Martyr of the Mihrab List), the Sadrists, and the Iraqi Islamic Party all fared relatively well in the polling. These parties are well established, have significant material and organizational resources, and have the momentum of prior electoral campaigning and name recognition behind them. Perhaps more importantly, although many Iraqis were fed up with these parties, the opposition, whether secular, moderate, or tribal, did not coalesce into a single (or even a few) force capable of competing directly against these religious lists. Therefore the votes of those looking for a significantly different way in Iraq were split among a myriad of lists. Finally, views of Nouri al-Maliki's performance, once the subject of ridicule, have turned around significantly with late improvements in security and services, buoying support for his State of Law List. This List came out on top in many provinces, relegating ISCI to a secondary position across southern Iraq. It is hard to say, however, what Maliki's coalition has in mind for the future of Iraq. The once-weak prime minister is now accused by opponents of angling to become a new Iraqi strongman.

In any case, the elections were a significant step forward and are a potential stepping stone toward more meaningful national elections upcoming later this year, but there are still a great number of obstacles on the path to stability in Iraq. The country's thorniest issues are yet to be solved and the institutions that underpin a true, peaceful democracy will take years or decades to build. It would not take much to push Iraq back into chaos at this point, but the country has undeniably begun to take its first tentative steps in the right direction. Do not believe those who say that, with one more election, Iraq will have a true democracy. At the same time, it cannot be said that the events of January 31st, and all that led up to it, are meaningless.

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