Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Sham Elections 4-D

Meanwhile, the numbers and announcements coming out from Iraq feed my suspicions that these are the most shambolic elections since... well, Saddam getting 100% with 100% participation.

As I wrote, the participation 'estimate' already dropped from 72% to 57% (or 8 million voters) on the very first day. Until Friday last week, the announcements claimed the result of 3.3 million counted votes from 10 Shi'a-majority provinces. Then, for two days, the announements didn't add any new numbers. Then on early Monday, they didn't release totals, only above-80%-counted results from one Sunni Arab and two Kurdish majority provinces.

In the first, Salahuddin province, 124,000 votes at 80% of precints reporting - original claims were of 50% participation, but this looks more like 15%. In the Kurdish provinces, over 1.1 million votes were reported - and over 90% of these to the united list of the two main warlords (Talabani and Barzani). I saw some reports that many Kurds see the elections as a chance to part with the two establisheds - so either these weren't wide enough feelings or ballots were stuffed. (Maybe the third Kurdish province's result is delayed for the need of even heavier ballot stuffing?...)

To make things more bizzarre, people apparently can't compute. If you add up results from the 13 provinces reported from in the above, that is 4.5 million votes. But late yesterday, new national totals were released - claiming only 4.36 million votes counted!

And it gets even stranger. The 4.5 million figure above assumes that no more votes were counted in the 'easy' Shi'a regions. But then read this:

Though [Sistani's United Iraqi Alliance's] share has fallen to about 51 percent of the vote, it should still get an absolute majority in the assembly as many of the votes still to be counted are from Shi'ite strongholds in the south.

...so now they have to find more votes in the South?...

UPDATE: You can trace similar confusion in an IHT article I just found. Meanwhile, I checked the site of the 'Independent' Election Commission of Iraq ("the IECI is a wholly independent body, set up and run using funds allocated in the Iraqi Budget") - both the Arabic and English versions have the data for the 13 provinces reporting so far. Apparently, for example Basra was only 15% counted, so my suspicions were (at least in part) misplaced here. As for the numbers discrepancy, that would be too big a feat to check - they are tallied [probably] for party lists, but without a summary.

Also, more numbers to track, the only 265,168 expat votes are counted. (That's 25% of voting-age expat Iraqis in the countries affected, and probably 10% of all voting-age expat Iraqis.) Meanwhile, update on minority voter disenfranchisement.

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Finally, partly as a counterweight to my Sistani-bashing in the previous post, a link to Lenin's Tomb's latest: the unintentionally ironic self-exposure of the anti-democratic imperialism of a liberal warhawk. The guy recounts his and Christopher Hitchens' meeting with a bunch of pro-US Iraqis, whom they turned quite outraged (yet they can't understand why) by 'promising' that they won't let a theocrat government take over should it win elections.

Theocrats Riding Shambolic Elections

Juan Cole (who recently got into an amusing spat with a clueless American Likudnik pundit) is an invaluable source for his academic knowledge on Shi-ites and their region, as well as his regular translations of stories ignored by the mass media from Arabic (and Farsi) newspapers.

However, he still has glasses on that are rose-tinted for some issues, and shows signs of brief immersions into the faith-based community - mostly either when the issue is his some political forces among beloved Shi'a vs. some others, or when the issue is recognising the full extent of the trouble with US foreign policies (from Fallujah to Kerry). Especially if the two intersect (believing some US propaganda on Sunnis)

A recent hilarious example was when he prefaced a quote from independent journalist Dahr Jamail with stating he doesn't always agree with him, for example: "I don't think people were coerced to vote via their food ration cards" - whereas Jamail wasn't state his beliefs, but reporting stuff! (BTW, Raed Jarrar recently summed up vote-for-food evidence, including a causal quote in a Washington Post article where an election worker actually confessed such moves.)

Even more hilarious was this:

And this is my problem with the idea of just having the US suddenly withdraw its military from Iraq. What is to stop the neo-Baath from just killing Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ibrahim Jaafari, Iyad Allawi...
Let's leave this neo-Baath stuff aside for a moment; how exactly does the US stop 'them' from attempting such killings right now?...

As for the neo-Baathist stuff, Cole is partly relying on the hunch of Scott Ritter, but just weeks after what Cole read and linked, Ritter had more thoughtful things to say (stealthily revising himself):

While the Americans and their SCIRI allies focused on bringing to heel former Baathists, the resistance morphed into a genuine grassroots national liberation movement where strategic planning may very well be the product of former Baathists, but the day-to-day tactical decisions are more likely to be made by tribal shaikhs and local clerics.

Until a recent post, it seemed to me that for Cole, the script was that this are flawed elections likely to ignite sectarian conflict, but that he still welcomed it for advancing his favored 'moderate' and 'responsible' Shi'a clerical leaders into power, unlike Sunni counterparts on whom he commented as making unwise moves. As I see it, there is nothing unwise about the AMS et al not bowing their head to a system where Sunnis live by the grace of Shi'a clerics (the persistent image of the enlightened despot!...), who themselves rule thanks to and by the grace or after the pullout of foreign troops.

And I don't think Sistani & co are 'responsible', I think every evidence shows they play a cynical game for (especially post-US-withdrawal) power, which is not only obvious from the fact that mullahs threatened with punishment in heaven if believers do not vote. It can be seen from the unrepresentative composition of the United Iraqi Alliance list: the largest fraction are 'independents' who owe it all (and hence will likely be loyal) to no one but Sistani, then Chalabi who wouldn't get ten votes is represented, Daawa and the much less popular (because Iran-linked) SCIRI get the same share on the list, while SCIRI even gets a bonus share under another name: as the 'Badr Organisation', which is a new name for the Badr Corps, SCIRI's US-ignored militia.

But now Cole fessed up, and collected a lot of stuff on the Shi'a clerics asserting power by posing ultimatums to the future (third) puppet government.


"I think it's pathetic," says James Carville. "It's so indicative of the Democratic Party. Now we're just playing into every stereotype: We're weak, disorganized, flopping around. ... Somebody should have fixed this damn thing in November. I wish someone would have taken charge and three or four people would have gotten together in a smoke-filled room. ... They're not running for president! They are running for party chair. This is supposed to be a rigged deal. You think the Republicans would do it this way?"

Amazingly explicit in its contempt for the very essence of democracy, the above quote is from the mouth of US Democratic Party 'consultant' James Carville [<-read the list of slimeballs he was cosultant for!], in a longer article written with a similar ridiculously anti-democratic and pro-party-establishment slant, quoted at length by Steve Gilliard.

This article reflects the Democratic Party establishment's (and their media hacks) wringling and wincing at the now certain prospect that the de-facto party leadership, the chairmanship of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will fall to Howard Dean, the choice of the party members, rather than any of the spineless establishment candidates.

It was not without irony how the Republicans, their media hacks, and the Democratic Party establishment, and their media hacks, last year all teamed up to paint then-Presidential-candidate Dean as a 'radical', and a 'raving' one to boot. In truth, Dean is none of the sort: he supports death penalty on what I concluded to be opportunistic grounds, he is pro-gun, he has not done much for the spread of alternative electricity generation in his tenure as Governor of Vermont, and a balanced budget (which he achieved) counted more for him than maintaining the level of social services. He was only against the Iraq war, not all imperial wars or martial international confrontations, and he suffers from an ailment common among US democrats: economic nationalism, i.e. demanding poor countries to curb development so that a rich country can maintain its middle class living standards. (I thematised this earlier, as did Zeynep @ Under The Same Sun more cecently.) If you look for a true progessive (if plain common sesne is being progressive), your address is Ralph Nader. As for his 'raving', let's recall that that was a dishonest media distortion, see the so-called "Scream".

The worst irony in the previous was that the mantra repeated by the Vichy Democrats & media surrogates, that a 'far-leftist' Democrat leader is the ideal opponent for Republicans, was a soundbite originally peddled by the Republicans. I mean, if the Repubs really do think that someone not doing everything to avoid being smeared a 'liberal' is the easiest opponent, then why announce it loudly before he is chosen? Maybe because, in truth, they fear him for looking convincing(/-ed) and honest, able to move the Centre rather than chase after it as it moves Right, while they know how to get the Democrat party establishment to play to their tunes?

While I would have voted for Nader both in 2000 and 2004 (had I been American), I have argued before that, in the absence of strong local voting traditions, the US majority election system by its nature virtually necessitates the formation of a two-party system, in which the two big parties in power will - and more to the point, by the nature of the system, can - prevent any third usurper from establishing itself. Which also allows the two bigs to ignore the people's will if they team up. I deem this amply proved by the hideous way the Democrats massacred Nader's campaign last year, and the Kerry platform. (And that's why I laughed out aloud when Juan Cole crowned his repeated railing against the proportional election system by calling it "the least democratic system one can imagine".)

So, I argued, while third parties can force the hand of one big party by raising the fear of taking just enough votes to make it lose, a progressive systemic change (from within the system) can only be achieved either by a hostile takeover from within one party, or from outside the party landscape - i.e., a civic movement forcing something on the two bigs.

I think Dean's future DNC chairmanship's significance could be seen in this light. He owes his gaining power and eventual maintenance of power to a grassroots movement of millions of party activists who more carried than followed him. Altough this is the same crowd that to the most part succumbed to the Anything But Bush line and fell in line behind another DLC/McAuliffe-ite DNC campaign, as I gave sings of after the elections, I still think they are something genuine, (unlike Kerry) worth of sympathy and support, and with positive potential (shades of the sympathy for the Orange crowd vs. the problems with Yushchenko-Tymoshenko-et-al here).

But, venturing on the bleaker side one last time, of course, no one should think the old party elite is now dead and dismissable. I fully expect them to keep on stabbing in the back in the mindset shown by Carville and the quoted article's author, bent on ruining Dean, planning the triumphant return for afterwards - telling sucker party members and voters still remaining then, 'see what a disaster you brought - now let the professionals do it again!'