October 26, 2004

Just don't call it a puppet government

The Los Angeles Times reports something that's been in the cards for awhile -- the United States is trying to ensure that its preferred parties -- the parties in the Iraqi interim government --win a majority in the January elections. As Spencer Ackerman writes, this is a problem insofar as the interim parties don't necessarily represent the Shia majority in Iraq, and have been denounced by prominent Sunni groups.

This brings up a question about the set-up of the January elections. I don't know anyone who thinks the unicameral legislative model is a good idea. As things are structured right now, parties will run on a unified list system. That means that each political party or group of parties will run a list of candidates, and if that list gets, say, 35 percent of the vote, then the top candidates on the list are selected to fill 35 percent of National Assembly seats. As designed, this system is quite clearly set up to do one of two things: a) ensure that the Shia majority get a majority of seats in the Senate, or b) allow the United States to back a consolidated slate of candidates and manipulate the election. The president has indicated that he would allow an elected government dominated by Shiite fundamentalists, but the vice-president and other Pentagon officials seem to prefer option b). So it's either hostile Islamic majority or unpopular puppet government. Take your pick.

A third option would have been to create a bicameral legislature, with a lower house based on proportional representation, and an upper house with strong minority protection -- something similar to our very own House and Senate. This would have ensured a Shia majority while allowing Sunnis and Kurds to maintain a strong voice and veto power. (Law professor Alec Walen sketched out this possibility back in 2003.) Unfortunately this was never considered, which means that either the Bush administration figured they could install their own preferred leaders in Iraq, or else they just never gave the actual workings of Iraqi democracy much thought.
-- Brad Plumer 2:56 PM || ||