Sunday, February 1, 2009
I’ve had the privilege (or the pain) of enjoying two MAJOR elections in the last couple of months. As we are all aware (I hope), the United States had an election. What’s odd is that the Iraqi election (in which I didn’t vote), will probably have more of an impact on me and the current situation in Iraq than the U.S. election. In Iraq, there is supposed to be another election this summer at some point and then again this time next year (I’m trying to find an Imad Allawi Bumper Sticker).
Most Americans are probably unaware that Iraq held an election and many more are probably unaware that it was bloodless and peaceful. The media pretty much stopped covering Iraq once the surge achieved success, and with the stabilization of Iraq and falling bloodshed, the media no longer had the energy to cover it. A “reporter” who writes for the LA Times derided the Iraqi election because it involved checkpoints and screening areas where voters were searched (practices that are used in much of the Global South – Third World), and thus wasn’t free. Fortunately, President Obama took a different view and recognized the historic nature of the recently completed election and congratulated the Iraqi people on their accomplishment.
I’ve heard reports that the election enjoyed moderate turnout. This election was a provincial election. That means that only members of the Provincial Council (Assembly) were selected. The next election will be for local leaders and the one after that will be for the Council of Representatives (the National Assembly).
Unlike in the United States where we vote for individuals, Iraq employs a multi-party European parliamentary system. Therefore, voters cast their votes for parties as opposed to individuals. After extensive calculations, parties are allocated seats on the Provincial Council. There is something like 100 lists in Diyala and 500 some candidates so as one IP Officer said, “The people are confused with so many parties, and no one party can get momentum”. Once the parties are allocated their seats (with ¼ going to women) the PC members select the governor (who doesn’t have to be a member of the Provincial Council). It’s a slower and more tedious process than ours, but it works for them (in theory once before) and does make for an interesting campaign season.
I spoke to an Iraqi Army major yesterday about the election. He observed that in our election, he knew Obama had won when Obama won Florida. We marveled at how American elections so often come down to Ohio and Florida. He said he is glad Iraq has their system, even if it is confusing. He is a fan of Maliki. Most of the members of the Iraqi Security Forces seem to be fans of the Prime Minister (at least when asked). The general consensus seems to be that Maliki, Allawi and the Islamic Party (Sunni) will do well. The hope is that this might form a moderate center that can bring Sunnis and Shi’a together against the extremes on both the Sunni and Shi’a sides. Of course, only time will tell.
Imad Allawi offers a secular Shi’a alternative and is viewed as a uniter. Prime Minister Maliki is a Shi’a nationalist who is seen as standing for a strong Iraq. The Iraqi Islamic Party is the strongest Sunni party (because they didn’t boycott the last election). It was interesting watching Iraqi television coverage of the election (couldn’t understand a word) and see how much it resembled our own. They had a panel of experts (one even had a soul patch, Iraqi MTV?) and multiple screens showing voting in many areas of Iraq. They of course had cameras to catch Prime Minister Maliki cast his ballot.
In Iraq they check ID to ensure you can vote (I think Wisconsin could learn an important lesson here – Voter ID) and afterwards you dip your finger in ink to show that you voted (again, the US could learn a lesson here). The Iraqis weren’t as ecstatic as last time waving their fingers around, but when asked, they showed the fingers.
Iraqis in general are first and foremost Nationalists. They believe in Iraq, though they would disagree on who should run things. They do not like parties that are perceived as too Iranian, that would be the definition of the BADR and ISCI. ISCI (Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq) formerly known as SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) is seen as very close to Iran. The ISCI members were given asylum by Iran during the dark days of Saddam Hussein and many of their leadership came back to Iraq after the fall of Saddam. They represent part of the ruling coalition with Maliki, though there are signs they are falling out. Election politics, Iraqi style, are much more interesting, and potentially, more explosive than ours (ah, to be a young Democracy again! – side note, I recommend HBO’s John Adams).
All in all, I had a good election and saw portions of the entire AO (area of operations) as we checked on the security of the election process. It made for a long day, but it was great to be a small part of history. From working in a Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in a city in our AO, to a Joint Combat Outpost in another city, to a district police station to a polling center in the barren north, I saw quite a bit.