Friday, January 16, 2004

Oh God, it's happening!

BBC News

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's representatives have announced a direct action campaign in the event that Paul Bremer's planned "indirect" elections go ahead. Well, we've finally done it now. Shia rage was one of the biggest worries anyone had at the time of the war, but the restraint shown by their leaders has so far prevented a southern crisis. Unfortunately it seems we're in for the worst, unless some rabbits are rapidly produced from hats.

The worst thing is that he's damn right, too. The so-called indirect elections will certainly be indirect, but they won't be elections in any democratic sense. In fact, the plan proposes the formation of "local caucuses", appointed by the powers that be (whether this will be the Governing Council or the occupation administration is not clear), who will then elect a government from their membership. Well - that isn't democracy, but rule by local busybodies, tribal chiefs and jacks-in-office, plus a scattering of carpetbaggers recently returned from exile and supported by our bayonets. It's a mess. At best the Iraqis will get oligarchy, with a sort of ramshackle consociation deal sharing out jobs between groups. At worst the "caucuses" will be bunches of self-appointed bosses, manipulated by the CPA, the political parties, tribes, clerics, foreign powers and anyone else in the manipulating business, who will select a shaky committee of themselves. And who came up with the idea of importing one of the most obscure and strange features of American politics - the Iowa party caucus - into Iraq? How exactly do you translate "caucus" into Arabic? And, after you have had a primary election, in America you get a real presidential election. Sure, all the Mucho Pomposos and mad politics junkies in the party caucuses might have ensured the candidates are something like the Three Wise Monkeys - but at least you finally get to choose your monkey, a feature notably absent from Mr. Bremer's thinking.

Now, various justifications have been given. It might be difficult to organise. (But everyone in Iraq has an identity card and a ration card.) Even so. (But you could make it easier by localising the elections - elect the bloody caucus if you must have caucuses, and if that's the plural and not a range of mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian.) The real one, I suspect, is that the ideologues who thought people like Slick Ahmed Chalabi were the real thing are still clinging on by their fingertips to the idea of rigging them into power.

I hope those ceramic plates have finally arrived for the lads in Basra, they're going to need them...

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