Iraq the Vote: Elections and True Democracy

By tamer el-ghobashy
|  Friday, Mar 5, 2010  |  Updated 9:30 AM EDT
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Iraq the Vote: Elections and True Democracy

Getty Images

BAGHDAD, IRAQ, MARCH 4: An Iraqi patient shows his inked finger after voting in the country's parliamentary elections at a special polling station on March 4, 2010 in Baghdad, Iraq. Special voting for about 790,000 Iraqi prisoners, hospital patients, doctors and security force members were held in Iraq ahead of the parliamentary elections. At least 17 people were killed in a string of attacks targeting special voting polling station. (Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty Images )

This Sunday will mark the third-ever national elections in Iraq, where images of voters with purple stained fingers have become common, but a truly inclusive democratic process has yet to emerge.

In 2005, Sunnis boycotted the elections, though many others voted despite threats of violence and actual bombings at voting stations. This year, the Sunni minority has participated in the process and violence ahead of the vote has been sporadic. Is this a sign that democracy is finally taking hold in Iraq, a nation scarred by dictatorship, invasion and nearly a decade of war?

  •  The Atlantic's Max Fisher sees the participation of Sunni candidates and voters as a crucial step in Iraq's road to democracy -- albeit one wrought with the potential for setbacks. "If Sunni Arabs vote in large numbers, and if the election proceeds honestly, it will do much to legitimize the fledgling Middle Eastern democracy," he writes. Still, it is a political reality that Shias dominate and if they do not learn to share power, "it's not hard to foresee how sectarian militias could reemerge from the Sunni neighborhoods now being patrolled by get out the vote campaigns."
  • Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that "there's no question that security is better and Iraq has pulled back from the abyss of all-out civil war. And in the Middle East, a shift of power by ballot rather than bullet should be applauded." "But Iraq's new system - warped by corrupt international contractors, abused by greedy politicians - has failed to create a government that works...So hold the huzzahs for Iraqi democracy," she concludes.
  • Blogger Juan Cole sees Sunni participation as positive but predicts they will vote on a sectarian basis -- an inclination that will likely make them irrelevant. "If Sunnis can make themselves an indispensable constituent of secular parties supported by Shiite urban middle classes, they can get some leverage. Otherwise, Iraq's parliament at the moment has only one chamber, and electing explicitly Sunni Arab slates dooms them to insignificance, since they will only have a fifth of seats in parliament," he writes. "Sunni Arabs in Iraq's parliament will always be outvoted on an issue of national significance."
  • The Daily Beast's Tunku Varadarajan leads the cheer-leading, calling "Iraq’s newborn democracy is a juggernaut that will not be stopped, comparing the process to that of established democracies in South Africa, Brazil or Turkey. "Iraqi democracy, let us not forget, is entering only its fifth year. It is patently imperfect to Western eyes, but it is, on its own terms, a miracle...What Iraq has achieved in five years is a political wonder, and those who would deny that are being very, very dishonest."
  • Al Jazeera's Mark Hanna notes that while violence leading up to the elections is still present, a new movement towards Iraqi nationalism has emerged, somewhat dampening the sectarian politics that have marked previous elections. "In the weeks and possibly months of coalition negotiations that are likely to follow Sunday’s election there will also be another development to track: How viable a new nationalism, and what kind of impact it would have on the region as a whole."

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