Thursday, December 15, 2005

Heavy Sunni Turnout Is Reported; No Large-Scale Attacks by Rebels

People lined up in Mosul to cast their votes. Mujahed Mohammed/AFP -- Getty Images.

This is from The New York Times:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 15 - In a day remarkable for the absence of large-scale violence, millions of Iraqi voters, many of them dressed in their best and traveling with other family members, streamed to the polls today to cast ballots in a nationwide election as Iraqi leaders predicted that the vote would split almost evenly between secular and Islamist parties.

After the polls closed this evening, electoral commission officials said that turnout could have been as high as 11 million out of 15.5 million eligible voters, more than in October's referendum, when many Sunnis boycotted the election.

"There has been a wider participation by Sunni Arabs, so we expect the turnout to be higher," Mr. Ayar said.

The higher participation came in spite of some explosions in Baghdad and Ramadi, and sporadic reports of election irregularities, which Mr. Ayar said were being investigated.

In Washington, President Bush, along with his top aides, carefully monitored the election, which Mr. Bush has called a significant step on the road to Iraqi stability and democracy.

So the Iraqi elections have now started. While I remain cautiously hopeful that they will turn out for the best, I'm not sure that these elections will bring out a free, sovereign Iraq. Iraq has never had any experience or any development of democratic ideals--this is a country that has existed under a single-party dictatorship, ruled by Saddam Hussein and his Baathist Party. You can bet that any "democratic" elections that took place under Hussein were freely fixed to result in repeated Baathist Party's victories. This is not an Iraqi democracy that has been built up through a grass-roots level of ordinary Iraqis. This is an Iraqi democracy that has been imposed by a foreign nation, occupying Iraq, in whose own democratic ideals have been eroded by a neoconservative ideology to maintain power through any means necessary--including criminality. So while the Bush White House claims this is a significant step towards Iraqi stability, I'm not so sure. What happens when those who voted in the Iraqi elections find out they ended up on the losing side? Are they going to pick up their guns, and start fighting again? What happens when those who gain power in Iraq, decide to impose greater controls and greater government power against all Iraqis--including the opposition? Will this new Iraqi democracy push to control the Kurdish region? Will the Sunnis be persecuted by Shiite "death squads?" It is not just going in and voting for your guy in an election, but it is also knowing how to graciously accept defeat in an election, and it is knowing--when your guy wins the election--how to reach out for a true bipartisanship in governing the nation. So while this election may be historic, it is also balanced on a razor's edge, where Iraq can still now descend into chaos and civil war.

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