Note on “caucus systems”, Iowa and Iraq

The complex system of party caucuses used by the Democratic party in Iowa is very similar to the system that US overlord L. Paul Bremer proposed introducing in Iraq, back in 2004-2005. Ayatollah Ali Sistani strongly opposed that, and succeeded through street demonstrations etc in persuading Bremer to have the nationwide “party list” system that the US authorities eventually used for the successive elections there, 2005 and 2006, instead.
At the time, I strongly supported Sistani’s argument that the caucus system seemed complex, non-transparent, and very vulnerable to manipulation by the occupying power. The election system advocated by Sistani did not, in the end, generate a national government that did very much– if anything at all– of value to the country’s citizens. But the reasons for that lay not in the system of elections, but in many other political factors…
But perhaps I was wrong to judge at that time that, in the absence of credible promise from the US occupiers that they would refrain from intervening in Iraq’s political system, any system of elections could have been expected to generate a national governing body capable of both providing decent basic services to the Iraqi people and defending their interests against all intrusions including those of the occupying power?
At the time, though, I judged that the strength of the popular movement that Sistani seemed capable of mobilizing would continue to be able to defend the integrity of any national leadership generated through the election system. I was wrong in that judgment. For reasons that i don’t fully understand (though I should have paid more attention to this possibility), Sistani withdrew from playing any direct active role in Iraqi politics once he had made his big “point” about the election system… And in the absence of his playing any role, it was the smaller, much more partisan-minded parties that took the initiative in the Shiite community, with the generally catastrophic results that we have seen over the two years since the January 2006 election.
So in the end, did the choice of which electoral system to use make much difference? Perhaps not…

2 thoughts on “Note on “caucus systems”, Iowa and Iraq”

  1. Helena, I don’t think it made much of a difference in terms of the big picture largely because the American occupying power was inevitably going to manipulate the process and its results in their own interest.
    It appears clear that the occupying power just about has full control of Maliki and his cabinet, at least in the areas that matter to them. The Parliament is a different matter, but when it comes to critical items they don’t seem to be much of a factor, since Bush and Maliki simply bypass them.
    In fact, based on recent events, I have upgraded Maliki from make-believe prime minister to puppet, and the same for his cabinet. The Parliament, as I said, is a bit more difficult for the occupying power to deal with because they do have somewhat of a nationalist (versus separatist/collaborationist) majority. It would probably be a good thing for Iraq if they found a way to enforce their authority more.

  2. Sistani comes from the quietist tradition which separates clerics from politics. This is probably why Sistani withdrew after achieving democratic elections.
    “So in the end, did the choice of which electoral system to use make much difference? Perhaps not ..”
    Proportional representation is the fairest and most transparent electoral system there is. If Iraq’s system were based on the “winner take all” systems as practised in UK and USA then the Shia would have a huge majority over the others. As it is, proportional representation virtually ensures compromise, consensus and power sharing.
    The Sunni Arab leadership who had been the ruling class of Iraq for most of history, despite their 20 per cent minority status (similar to Afrikaaners/non whites in South Africa), were hardly likely to accept its loss of absolute power without putting up a huge fight and it is this which has destabilised the elected government.

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