Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is Iraq Falling Back Into Authoritarianism?

By: Ali Rawaf
     One sad fact about new democracies is that they might turn back into authoritarian regimes that ruled the country before those democracies emerged. Iraq's democracy might be one of those. Iraq is on the brink of falling back into an authoritarian regime, under Maliki's Dawa party.

We have witnessed Maliki's strong grip on his seat as Prime Minister. Though his term has constitutionally expired, Maliki and his cabinet still have full control of all three powers; executive, legislative, and judicial. The cabinet has signed contracts, appointed ambassadors, passed laws, all while the Parliament is not really in session. Maliki's powers are all unchecked. Maliki seems to have also manipulated Iraq's supreme court to rule in his favor several times. Furthermore, Maliki has been trying every way possible to somehow "legitimize" his bloc, which came in second in the elections, to form the next government. Maliki's bloc, State Of Law has formed an alliance with the National Alliance, the radical Shiite bloc. The alliance, was named the National Alliance hours before the first session of Parliament so al-Iraqyiah wouldn't enter the first session as the biggest bloc. Maliki's alliance with the  radical Shiite bloc had a bumpy start and remains in gridlock over which candidate they want for the Prime Minister post. The National Alliance remains under no leadership.

Recently, Iraqis marched down the streets protesting the lack of basic services such as drinking water and electricity. The protests, after taking place in five provinces, resulted in the resignation of the Minister of Electricity. The protests were seen by Maliki's State of Law as a movement to reduce Malki's popularity. Iraqi news networks reported today that Maliki  ordered to tighten security measures in Basra, the province where the protests started. The security forces have more presence in the province and their purpose is to "discourage" anymore protests. Deterring the protests doesn't remind me of anything but of Iraq's old days under Saddam Hussein.

Today, al-Arabiya news channel was raided be security forces from the Ministry of Interior. The channel staff was ordered to evacuate their office because of "threats that their office will be attacked." The staff was instructed to leave behind all their equipment and belongings in the office before the Ministry of Interior shut down their office. al-Arabiya has been known for its support of Ayad Allawi, the head of the winning Iraqyiah bloc and Maliki's rival for the Prime Minister post. al-Arabyia had interviewed Allawi a few days ago.

With one sign after the other, Iraqis are beginning to lose hope in Iraq's democracy. Maliki and his cronies have managed to take over all aspects of governance in Iraq. Their insistence on remaining in power has brought chaos back to the country and put the political process at stalemate. Almost four months after the elections, Malki still shows no signs of stepping down from his expired post and to transfer power peacefully. The change for which Iraqis voted is farther than it seemed on the night of the elections.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Contradictions of Maliki's Politics

By: Ali Rawaf

Over the past three months, Maliki has proved that rules, norms, laws, and the constitution can be boldly violated without any regards to the public sentiments. It also proved the immaturity of Iraq's democracy and the politicians who are still new to the democratic game.

First, Maliki openly supported the rise of the De-baathification committee in the Parliament, a toll that was used to "legally" disqulaify candidates before the elections and after the results came out. The commission, under its new name, Commission for Justice and Accountability, made decisions to disqualify, sue, and publicly question the integrity of candidates, even though its Parliament was not in session. Recently, the commission said it would stop disqualifying newly-elected Parliamentarians, as if they have done us a favor.

Then, Maliki ran on a secular campaign, promising Iraqis that the past of ethnic tensions was to be left behind. He also promised that the politics of confessionalism in Iraq is now an old practice. Once he found out that the results weren't in his favor, he sought Iraqnian support and quickly tried to make a coalition with the radical Shiite bloc, which came third in the elections after Maliki's 89 nine seats and Allawi's 91 seats. The Shiite "coalition" hasn't agreed on a leader of the coalition neither have they settled on a candidate for the prime minister's post, the two important features of a political coalition seem missing. But parties left and right don't like any of the other blocs' candidates(Top vote-getters) for the Prime Minister post, which is not respecting the new election law that calls for and "Open List," a term that refers to placing each candidate's name on the ballot so the voter will choose directly on who wants for the PM post.

Malki also criticized Allawi's visits to regional countries, claiming that the visits represent an invitation to those countries to interfere in Iraqi politics. In the past couple of days, Maliki sent delegations to Arab countries to garner their support for his second term, openly.

The State of Law, Nouri al-Malki's bloc rhetorically attacked Allawi when he said that a non-inclusive government will drag Iraq back into sectarian tensions and violence. Maliki, when he felt that the PM post was slipping from his hand, he claimed that Iraq will once again go back to sectarian violence if he is not to get a second term.

The State of Law's coalition with the radical Iraqi National Alliance, named "National AlLiance," declared the alliance within 48 hours of the date Parliament was set to convene and after Ammar al_Hakim, the leader of the Iraqi National Alliance met with Sistani, the Shiite Grand Ayatolla. This shows that religious authority can override the democratic process and norms and can still manipulate politics or influence it one way or another.

Maliki's government also is acting as it is the official government, not an interim one. The PM is writing laws, signing deals and contracts, and hiring ambassadors, all of which are non-constitutional.

In short, Iraq's democracy s fragile and its rules can still be bent by politicians. Once our politicians leave behind the past and the spirit of revenge and politics of confessionalism, elements of liberal democracy might be more tangible but if we keep the gridlock and bold violation of electoral rules, laws,the constitution, and proportionally distribute government positions, we will stay unconsolidated democracy, a picture that much looks like Lebanon, if not worse.