Saturday, May 28, 2005

Problems with Iraq's new government

After all the optimism in the runup to the Iraqi elections in January, the last few months have been a real disappointment. The new government has been so plagued by infighting that it took over two months just to agree on naming a few ministers to their posts. And, the new government has been the subject of criticism due to underrepresentation of certain groups (Sunnis, etc.), and the disenfranchisement of some Christians in the election due to technical problems at polling stations.

Over the next few months, this same government is supposed to form a constitutional committee to write the country's new constitution. Given the complexity and importance of this task, and seeing how the simple task of choosing the government ministers was tied up in so much infighting, I do not feel very hopeful that they will be able to formulate a new constitution in a reasonable amount of time.

Part of the problem in Iraq seems to be the political system that was put in place. Instead of copying a system that works well (such as what we have here in America), it seems the political system in Iraq seems to have been modeled after the system in Israel, which itself is tied up in infighting. In Iraq, like in Israel, seats were distributed to political parties based on the percentage of the popular vote each party brought in. Unfortunately, in Iraq, this meant that if certain areas have low turnout (due to ongoing violence or other reasons), those regions were underrepresented the resulting government. What would have worked better in Iraq would have been a system where the country was broken up into electoral districts, with each district electing one representative, and the president (or prime minister) being chosen separately by a popular vote. In this situation, even in those areas like Fallujah and Mosul where ongoing violence prevented many people from going to polling stations, there still would have been a local representative elected, and I expect the government would have better represented a cross-section of the Iraqi population.

Another problem in the current government is the high threshold (two thirds) necessary to appoint the government ministers, which was the cause of much of the delay over the last two months. In other countries using an assembly for their government (Canada, Britain, India, etc.) a simple majority is all that is needed. Setting this threshold too high is a good recipe to form a government that is so hobbled by infighting that it does not get anything done.

A third problem is that the prime minister was appointed by the assembly, and not directly elected by a popular vote. We have the same problem in Canada, Britain, and other countries, and what it does is impugn the independence of the assembly members. In Canada, each member of parliament (MP) in the ruling party is generally forced to vote along with the prime minister's wishes. If he fails to do so, the prime minister (as the leader of the party) can throw the MP out of the party, forcing him to sit as an independent, and virtually assuring that he will lose his seat in the next election. The "Ad-Scam" corruption scandal that is embroiling Canadian politics now is a product of this lack of independence. In the United States and other countries, this problem is avoided by directly electing the president by a separate popular vote than that for the assembly members.

I hope that Iraq will be successful in fixing some of these deficiencies when they formulate their new constitution in the coming months - their ongoing stability and prosperity as a nation will depend on it.