Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Details matter

We talk of “democracy” and “elections” as if there was one model, as if the terms were unproblematic, but the details matter.

Charles de Gaulle knew this. When he graciously accepted the offer to become dictator of France in 1958 to save it from a military coup (Pakistan’s Musharraf cited de Gaulle this week as his role model), one of his conditions was that the electoral law be rewritten. Rather than proportional representation in which parties were given seats in accordance with their share of the votes, there would be a run-off system, favoring the right, which could sink its differences in the second round. Result at the next election: the Gaullists, with 18% of the vote, got 40% of the seats, and the Communists, with 19% of the vote, got 2% of the seats. Both the pre- and post-1958 systems were forms of representative democracy, but geared towards generating different results.

The elections in Iraq will be based on a form of proportional representation based on party lists. Something like Putin wants in Russia, actually. PR is good for the representation of minorities, which is good for countries like the Netherlands where politics are based on ideas and ideology, but in a country like Iraq, divided by ethnicity and religion, it is good in that it ensures some representation of, for example, the Kurds, but bad in that it encourages politics to remain divided on the basis of ethnicity and religion. The real point of this form of election is that voters do not select individual candidates (which should cut down on the number of assassinations), and MPs will not represent geographic constituencies. There will be no representative of, say, Fallujah; votes will be counted on a national basis. So if participation is uneven across the country, if no one at all votes in Fallujah, if--oh fuck it--WHEN the election is a failure in real-world democratic terms, this electoral system will gloss that over. There won’t be any vacant seats; rather, the system will just give more political weight to areas not in rebellion, or where more fraudulent votes are created.

It also won’t effect the system if candidates do get assassinated. Unlike Afghanistan, where if any of the presidential candidates get offed, the election would be postponed 3 months. The candidates, you’ll be surprised to hear, aren’t doing a lot of whistle-stop tours.

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