An ethno-sectarian democracy!

November 23, 2010

Even as Iraq’s leaders congratulate each other on resolving bitter disputes over the country’s top executive positions, another battle has emerged for the coveted ministerial posts.
This new round of political jockeying has raised the most pressing question facing the new Iraq: is Iraq a true democracy or an ethno-sectarian system? Is it ruled by elections and votes or is it shackled to the dysfunctional quota system?
Terms, like “power-sharing” and “unity government,” are making headlines, but the reality is much different. Over the next month, the political blocs will try to answer the questions posed above, and, so far, it seems that the ethno-sectarian quota are beating out votes.
One of the key issues around the head of Iraqiya, Ayad Allawi, receiving one of the other two top posts, president or speaker of parliament, was that he was a Shia, even though he headed a mostly Sunni coalition.
The “logic” of Iraqi politics today dictates that the top three slots – prime minister, speaker of parliament and president – are distributed between Shia, Sunni and Kurds. Even so, the divvying up of top slots was still a major hurdle over the past eight months of wrangling.
With that, however, the simple math is over. Observers wishing to decipher the next round of government formation had better use a calculator.
As in the last government formation, a complex system gives points for each senior position. A rough breakdown of this allotment, pending a final agreement of the blocs, is as follows; prime minister (15),www.ekurd.netspeaker (12), president (10), deputy prime minister or speaker (8), vice-president (8), sovereign minister (8), production minister (6), service minister (5), minister of state (3).
This system also gives each bloc participating in government a number of points based on the number of seats they have in parliament. The seats-to-points ratio is decided by the negotiating teams of the blocs. In the last election, it was one point for every two seats. This time, some negotiators are talking about 2.6 seats for each point.
For each post taken, the allocated points are then deducted from the relevant bloc’s total. Given that all the players are participating in government this time, the demand for ministerial posts is at an all-time high. As usual, each bloc is counting on a lot more than they deserve in accordance with this system. Most of them would be thinking in quota terms and not in points. The question her is which system would prevail, points or quota.
The Kurds, for example, would have used most of their electoral points by the time a deputy prime minister is appointed. If the points system is applied, the government would have no Kurdish ministers!
In another scenario, if Allawi or another leading Shia member of the Iraqiya bloc receives a high-profile post that gobbles up a big share of points, Sunnis who still see Allawi as a Shia and not member of Iraqiya, would regard this as disturbing the “national balance” as there would be more Shia than Sunnis in the new cabinet.
In the end, such dilemmas prove that Iraq’s political math still has its own rules. The sad truth is that Iraq remains an ethno-sectarian state, one which acts and governs accordingly. There is clearly still more importance given to representation quotas than the election results. The results in governance speak for themselves. This must change.
All Iraqis have all seen how the ethno-sectarian quota system has contributed to the increase of corruption and decrease of security. For this to be redressed, two key measures need to be taken by the next government. First, true national reconciliation. Second, all outstanding issues between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government must be worked out.
These two important initiatives would be a step towards ending quota and affording democratic rights and equal opportunities for all Iraqis, regardless of ethnicity or sect.
Although these principles are carefully enshrined in the constitution and repeated almost daily by Iraqi leaders, they are hard to come by in the streets.
Until this happens, Iraq will remain an ethno-sectarian state in which no one truly trusts each other and all the groups looking for protection, compensation or the upper hand.
In such a divided system, designed in theory as an equalizer, big groups get less than they deserve and small groups get more than they deserve.

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