While most of the recent headlines understandably dwell on the violence in Iraq that has tragically claimed the lives of so many Marines the past few days, progress is still ongoing. The liberal Brookings Institute’s Iraq Index reports that electricity production (rated as Iraqis’ highest concern, higher even than security) is now significantly higher than prewar and close to the all-time postwar high reached last August, another 4,000 Iraqis have joined the real freedom fighters in Iraq to defend their nascent democracy, and some interesting details are leaking out now about the structure of the new democratic Iraqi government.
The committee has also settled on a government with three branches: legislative, judicial and executive.Sounds familiar. I know I’ve heard that before somewhere…
The legislature, according to the three delegates, will be parliamentary and will consist of two chambers, a National Assembly and a Council of Provinces and Regions, both of which will be directly elected. Thamir al-Ghadban, a former oil minister and a committee member, said that the National Assembly would probably be elected in a regional system of balloting rather than a nationwide vote, and that the membership of the Council of Provinces and Regions would be proportional to the provincial populations.
I know a lot of people thought Iraq would be better off under party-slate elections, which I believe is what Germany has, and that’s how the current Iraqi legislature was elected under the interim constitution. Under that system, voting for the legislative bodies is done nationally and seats are allocated by percentage of votes received. The advantage is that voting, at least in theory, then becomes more about ideas than geography and ethnicity. On the other hand, direct election makes the people feel like they have “their representative” and tends to help rein in corruption through local accountability, which tends to be more demanding than intraparty accountability because you vote for the person not the party. In modern America we’re fortunate enough to have evolved a system that gives us the best of both worlds: we have what sometimes nearly amounts to national party-slate elections, because there are only two parties with real power, they have general intraparty agreement on how they lean on the major issues, and for the most part they aren’t region-based, but we also have direct elections and the accountability that goes with them. This wasn't always so, of course; in the old days politics was much more geographic, and winning the Presidency meant fashioning inter-regional alliances.
Which brings me to the executive branch:
The presidency will be essentially ceremonial, Mr. Ghadban said.
Obviously Iraq has had some issues with a heavy-handed executive branch, to put it mildly. But as they say, you need to fight the next battle, not the one before. A Presidency with at least some authority might have helped form inter-regional policy alliances, much the way we see Senators Kerry and Clinton "moving toward the center" in our own elections. The worry is that the directly elected legislature will become a breeding ground for regional/ethnic factionalism, with no real check from the executive branch. But I expect Iraq will muddle through as long as those in power remain committed to the democratic process.
Some other details:
Under the current draft, there will be a "higher council of the judiciary," with the duty to select judges, and a national court to resolve disputes between the central government and regional authorities.
This is interesting. Look for this to become a political hot potato over the next several years. In America’s earlier years, the judiciary, fearful of civil war, often bent over backwards to compromise between regional factions, leading to things like the Dred Scott decision and the Missouri Compromise. One wonders how the Kurds, with their militias, will react to being overruled. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone really wants civil war, so I think it’s likely it won’t ever come to use of force.
In addition, the constitutional committee has agreed to create several independent governmental institutions, including a central bank and religious endowments authorized to maintain the country's religious centers.
Central bank: good; central funding of religious centers: maybe not so good. But as long they aren’t creating an maintaining an official state religious institution (with all the nightmare possibilities that evokes), it’s probably not that big a deal for Iraq in the long run.
But what I think is maybe the most important thing is something not mentioned in the article: there are constitutionally provided “amendment periods,” I believe at two and four years. As Glenn points out often, democracy is a process, not an event. Iraqis may elect some, shall we say, regrettable officeholders their first few times at bat (expect a lot of negative Western media coverage from the likes of the NYT if/when it happens, which is probably a good thing in many ways). But the great saving grace of democracy is that it’s an iterative process: every election is a chance to refine the ideals of the nation. It took America 100 years and a Civil War to free blacks, and longer to give women the vote and treat minorities as equals. But we got it right in the end – and so will the Iraqis.
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