Friday, November 04, 2005

Onward To Vectory?

Readers of this site might be familiar with the ongoing discussion relating to the creation of cross-ethnic/sectarian political movements, or "vectors," in Iraq. I have argued before that such broad-based, non-factional political movements are necessary for Iraq to develop a healthy political environment, and stave off the forces that are pulling Iraq apart.

As long as Iraqis remain committed to voting their ethnic/sectarian identities, politicians will have less incentive to broach the divides between Sunni, Shiite and Kurd that fuel the simmering civil war, and there will be an increased likelihood of corruption and tyranny. Politicians that know they will receive votes merely because of common heritage or identity are not compelled or incentivized to govern efficiently or in an enlightened manner. Under this dynamic, tyranny of the majority "faction" is an all too likely outcome. There is nothing keeping it in check. In Iraq, this could spell the demise of the nascent democracy and/or further escalate the current low-level civil war into full blown chaos.

On the contrary, if voters are more fluid in their electoral expressions, new alliances can be formed or abandoned around certain political issues, and no one group will dominate based on ethnic or sectarian composition. Politicians would have to appeal to the populace based on ideas and a platform. Such a political arrangement would facilitate the emergence of a new national compact, a unifying force that could rise above the fray of ethnic/sectarian clashes. This would also help to curtail some of the more theocratic and despotic tendencies of political parties that currently feel free to pay less attention to their manner of rule as to their religious/ethnic character. Above all, there would be accountability instead of electoral blank checks.

The outcome in Iraq is looking increasingly grim in terms of the creation of "vectors" ahead of the elections slated for December 15th. Despite what has been a less than stellar and surprisingly unpopular tenure in office, the UIA bloc of Shiite parties has largely remained intact and will most likely dominate the December elections in much the same way as they did in January. The ongoing violence, and the fear and insecurity it has sown, has only served to exacerbate the problem and forestall the creation of freely forming political movements. Instead of being punished for its incompetence, the UIA will be rewarded for its strong Shiite ties. This from a Reuters article (via Juan Cole):
Iraq's ruling Shi'ite Islamist Alliance party has no lack of enemies as it prepares for an election in six weeks time but sectarian loyalties should ensure it still dominates the next parliament, analysts say.

Assailed by minority Sunni insurgents, criticised by its own voters for economic stagnation, deserted by former allies and unloved by the U.S. occupiers, the United Iraqi Alliance should again take the bulk of votes among the 60-percent Shi'ite majority as it did in January's ballot for the interim assembly.

Three main Islamist parties making up the Alliance patched up their differences last week in time to register on Friday as a united list; it should capitalise on clerical backing and fears among voters to see off any challenge to its dominance from defectors who set up rival groups and from secular leaders.
The population, according to analysts cited in this article and elsewhere, still largely identifies with one or more camp regardless of other political factors. Fluidity is at a minimum.

"The Alliance will emerge the strongest again from this election; it will remain the most powerful," said Jaber Habib, politics professor at Baghdad University.

"The election itself will divide on sectarian and ethnic lines and Shi'ites don't think they have much of a choice."
While Sistani will probably not openly endorse any one bloc this go around, his support is implied - or at least the UIA intends to portray it as such. As long as the perception is maintained, the particulars are less important.

With voters increasingly entrenched in mutually fearful sectarian and ethnic camps, the Alliance retains an aura of religious authority derived from its support from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and will appeal to the once oppressed Shi'ites to stick together under one banner for protection.

"In the hearts and minds of the Iraqis we represent the Shi'ites," Alliance official Abbas Bayati told Reuters. "That's what we have inherited from the last election and this what we are going to use in December's election...Religion is key."

Though the reclusive Sistani has made it known he is keeping out of politics, last week's renewal of the Alliance has ensured that the political brand-name linked with him is on the ballot.

"For the people, Sistani...was behind forming the Alliance in the first place so of course to them he still supports them even if he doesn't say so in public," said Hazim al-Naimi, politics professor at Baghdad's Mustansiriya University.

"The results are clear -- the Alliance will continue to be the monster of the election and win all the southern and central provinces where Shi'ites are in a majority."
There have been efforts to form secular, cross-ethnic/sectarian coalitions, but so far the results have been less than encouraging. In addition to Allawi's broadly representative coalition (broad in the sense of variety, if not sheer numbers), the article takes note of some others:

Several groups, including the Islamist Fadila party, Ahmad Chalabi's secular Iraqi National Congress and independents led by Ali Dabagh have defected from the Alliance in recent days. [...]

"All these withdrawals and separate lists will not affect it really because it depends on strong symbols like Abdul Aziz al- Hakim and others," Baghdad University's Habib said.

Yet few analysts believe the secular groups can exert mass appeal in the present climate. Said Naimi: "Elections are being portrayed as a religious duty to make your sect victorious."
Under the current paradigm, the most likely outcome will be that the Kurds will vote for the Kurdish ticket, the Shiites for the UIA and the Sunnis for the Sunni ticket - with a smattering of votes going to the other parties. The UIA will dominate and, even if it lacks an outright majority, will remain a crucial coalition partner - most likely embracing a few smaller parties to get it over the 50% hurdle in the assembly. Not much in the way of cross-cutting vectors, and nothing indicative of a polity capable of creating the spirit of a new national compact needed to overcome the violent siren's call of the insurgencies.

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