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IRAQ MAY VOTE FOR GRIDLOCK (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By AMIR TAHERI 01/28/05)Source: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/38923.htm NEW YORK POST NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
January 28, 2005 -- WHILE some opponents of democracy in Iraq, both in Arab countries and the West, have used the specter of militant Shiism to oppose this weekend´s elections, a more genuine concern is that voters may produce a hung parliament unable to produce the majorities needed to take the nation forward.

Even fighting the insurgency may prove more difficult because of the many checks and balances that will be introduced under the new democratic government. Thus, the new parliament is likely to have heated debates about how to quell the insurgents and their terrorist allies.

The electoral system chosen by the interim government, to be in force until the new parliament writes a new one, reinforce these concerns.

The system — a form of proportional representation that the United States also introduced in post-war Japan and Germany — was designed to prevent a single party from winning total power in a single election, and then abolishing democracy as Hitler´s Nazis did in 1933.

But in both Japan and West Germany, a party had to get 5 percent of the vote to win any seats at all. In Iraq this Sunday, just 30,000 votes — one of every 275 cast — may be enough to secure a seat.

The result could be a parliament holding representatives of as many as 20 political parties, along with dozens of independents who could act as loose cannons.

To complicate matters further, the transitional constitution, written with more than a nod and a wink from Paul Bremer, the effective ruler of Iraq after liberation until last June, stipulates that almost all key decisions be taken by large majorities.

For example, the 275-seat National Assembly, to be elected on Sunday, must choose a three-person Presidential Council by a two-thirds majority. The Presidential Council, in turn, must be unanimous in choosing a new Prime Minister and Cabinet — which, in turn, requires two-thirds approval from the National Assembly. More important, once the new constitution is written, it will also have to be approved by a two-thirds majority.

The problem is that the transitional "basic law," used as an interim constitution, does not specify what is to be done if and when those two-thirds majorities cannot be produced. Yet the system holds endless opportunity for filibusters, reversals of alliances, cross- benching and other parliamentary shenanigans of the kind that the more mature democracies have learned to dread.

Many Iraqis say, often in private, that they are happy with this bizarre system because it will prevent any party or community from winning the kind of majority that could tempt weaker souls towards despotism.

On the positive side, this system is likely to provide the first accurate picture of Iraqi public opinion since liberation. It could be a good guide to the relative strength or weakness of the many political, religious and ethnic forces that will compete for power in a new pluralist Iraq.

For the first time, Iraqis are taking part in an election whose outcome is not fixed in advance. The fact that more than half of those eligible to vote are likely to vote indicates what some observers describe as "healthy curiosity" for the new system.

Iraqi Shiites are unlikely to vote as a single bloc. The fact that Grand Ayatollah Ali Muhammed Sistani has effectively endorsed a single list of candidates (which is expected to win as many as 120 seats) must not be seen as a sectarian move — this "Shiite" list includes at least 30 Sunnis. Other "Shiite" seats will likely include 16 or so won by supporters of the Muqtada al-Sadr, the maverick mullah. More than half of the 12 seats likely won by the Iraqi Communist Party (People´s Unity) will also go to Shiites — militantly anti-clerical ones.

The Kurds are also presenting a united list that includes the entire spectrum, from Islamists to communists. Never have the Kurds been as united as they are today, a fact that has given them enough self- confidence to include in their list candidates from other minorities such as Christians and Turcoman. If current assessments prove right, the Kurdish list may win up to 80 seats.

And — because the biggest Shiite parties are divided into several factions — the two main Kurdish parties, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, may emerge as the two biggest groups in the new parliament.

Polls indicate that the coalition led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi may emerge as the third-largest group in the new parliament with 20 seats. Allawi, a Shiite, is leading a list that includes Arab Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and other minorities.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the main party of Arab Sunnis, is likely to win 17 seats. In total, however, the parliament may include as many as 60 Arab Sunnis, including those elected on Shiite and Kurdish lists. The list presented by the Iraqi Independent Democrats is expected to win 10 seats, almost all going to Arab Sunni candidates.

Arab Sunnis suffer from the fact that insurgents and their terrorist allies may make voting impossible in parts of at least four provinces in the so-called Sunni Triangle. The interim government appears confident that most will able to vote in Fallujah. But voting will be problematic elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle — where almost half of Arab Sunnis live.

The coming election will mark the emergence of a new Iraq. Many won´t like it, and some will fight to kill it in the bud. But the election will achieve at least one thing: giving the Iraqis a peep into a world they have never known, and seem to be keen to know. Part Three: Sunday (Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc. 01/28/05)

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