Friday, August 7, 2009

We Need Liberal Democracy, Not Just Democracy

By: Ali Rawaf
In the last century, Democracy has been adopted by many countries throughout the world. In his book, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late 20th Century, Samuel Hunnington, a political scientist identifies a government to be democratic "to the extend that [their] most powerful collective decision-makers are selected through fair, honest and periodic elections in which candidates compete for votes and in which all the adult population is eligible to vote." Hunnington says that democracies like such have come in "waves."
According to a research at the Hoover Institution, by 1990, 117 countries met Hunnington's definition of democracy." Political scientists today, have been using the term "Liberal Democracy" which under its definition, many of the 177 countries that are considered democratic under Hunnington's definition are not.
In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq claiming that one its main taks is to bring democracy to the country. Iraq is a democratic country now. By democratic, I mean that we have "elected" our last two governments, I certainly don't mean that we have a liberal democracy.

The Iraqi elections are different than those held in other liberally democratic countries. After the 2003 invasion, many of Saddam's opposition parties returned to Iraq . They Iraqi opposition formed about 180 parties. In the last election, in order to make the ballot shorter and with less names of political parties and candidates, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq used "electoral lists." Many parties who have some common goals and backgrounds would join in one list and under the later, they would run for election. To be clear, when Iraqis voted, they didn't vote for different candidates, they voted for the lists. The winning lists battled for a couple of days to figure out how they would distribute the parliamentary seats and who gets assigned to them. A few days later, the would announce the name of the person they chose to be the prime minister of the country. It wasn't the Iraqis choice to elect their prime minister, they just voted for the list of parties and those parties picked him out.

Liberal democracy is also free from religious influence on the elections and decision making process. Al-Dawa party, the party that won the last election and chose Nourli Al-Mailiki as their leader and Iraq's Prime Minister, ran the election using their religiuos ties. The party made it clear that its political program was approved by the religiuos leaders in the country and by Ali Al-Sistani, the grand ayatolla in Iraq. Many of the Iraqis voted for the Dawa party not because they read their political program nor because the candidates were highly competent. They simply voted because that is what Ali Al-Sistany "approved of" as many of them said. Before making their decisions, many politicians seek the approval of religius leaders which in a country as today's Iraq, it means the approval of the population. Maliki regularily visits Ayatolla Sistani, he is hovered by cameras on his way in to the Ayatolla's house since the Ayatolla doesn't like to be filmed or photographed. Then, Maliki would leave the house with a big smile claiming the Ayatolla's approval. That is how Maliki usually passes a contoversial legislation or "resolves" a vastly debated issue. Saddam Hussein him self hadn't used such techniques to manouver his way through the politicl spectrum.

Having an unpoliticized army is one of the main characteristics of a liberal democracy. During the first day of training the new Iraqi army, the Iraqi TV showed footage of the soldiers marching while calling, "Ya Ali, Ya Ali," a phrase used by Shiite Muslims to praise a major religious and historic figure. This intimidates the rest of the Iraqi population, one that consists of many different sects and religions. Many Sunnis, another sect of Islam, don't like the army because the see it as a representation of the Shiite dominance and as tool that the Shiites use to revenge against the because what Saddam Hussein, a Sunni has done to them and the way he persecuted them. In January of this year, Iraq held its local elections, where people vote for their city council, governors, and other public offices. A few days before the elections, Maliki set out the Iraqi army to march down the streets of Baghdad yelling out Shiite political slogans and carrying pictures of Ayatolla Al-Sistani, Nouri Al-Maliki, and other Shiite political leaders who are associated with the latter. Malki's party scored a landslide victory in the country. Many attributed the victory to the intimidation the army show caused.

Some American politicians would like to claim that the invasion of Iraq has brough us democracy. But many countries around the world have democracies, but many of them are not liberal democracy. Venezuela, for example, is considered a democratic country. Hugo Chavez, an army colonel, who won the election with 56 percent majority but eversince, the country hs been going down hill as Chavez became the sole arbitrator. Iraq has a similar case, where elecions take place and people vote but it is also where, the army and religion is used to arbitrate political agenda. What Iraq has today is a democracy but it doesn't have a liberal democracy.

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