14 February 2005

A Hard Lesson in Democracy

The news these past several hours confirmed a Shiite victory in the Iraqi elections, but a victory of much smaller proportions than projected during the vote counting (see, e.g., Al-Jazeera, Boston Globe, and The Times (U.K.) for general run-downs [links good at time of posting]). As was the case for so many years for the Palestinians under Arafat, the Sunnis have been led astray by their absolutist, militant leadership; offered a place of equality at the table, they chose to shun the offer in hopes of achieving a place of superiority that was not their due by either works or numbers. For the Palestinians, it took many years of fruitless struggle and, ultimately, Arafat's death for them to begin to recoup their political losses (and the jury's still out). One can hope that the Iraqi Sunnis will be more quick to learn their hard lesson in democracy: you do not win truly democratic elections by standing on the sidelines. Unlike the sham elections under the Sunni-dominated Ba'athists, in Iraqi elections henceforth all votes will count and all groups will have a voice.

With the results giving the Shiites a position much less than the two-thirds majority they would require to fill key government positions without cooperation from other groups, the value of that cooperation now rises exponentially. The impact of even a modest Sunni vote would have been amplified as the Sunnis now begin building coalitions to govern. By first overreaching in and then abstaining from the process, the Sunnis have fallen to the very bottom of the political heap in Iraq. This catastrophic mistake can be remedied now only if the rank-and-file transcend their leadership and accept the role offered them by the other major factions in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution. Fortunately for the Sunnis, baseball is not a major draw in Iraq; if it were, some might be inclined to think that it always takes three bad swings to strike out. Here, their second mistake, if the Sunnis make it, will finish them for years to come.


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