By ADNAN PACHACHI
Iraq is now barely two weeks away from scheduled elections, which will not merely install the next government but will also put in place an assembly to draft a permanent constitution. It is clear, however, that no constitution drafted while parts of Iraq are unrepresented can possibly have a claim to legitimacy. Under the existing system of proportional representation, Iraq is treated as one electoral district, so that a low voter turnout in some parts of the country and a heavy turnout in others will leave a large segment of the population disenfranchised and many regions underrepresented.
In spite of my misgivings, we are ready to participate in the elections, and I have submitted a list of candidates for my party. But delaying the elections for a few months would enable us to engage groups that are now outside the political process while addressing the security situation.
That situation has deteriorated significantly. None of us could have imagined a year ago that parents would refuse to send their children to school because of rampant kidnapping in the capital, Baghdad. Baghdadis have told me that they have no intention of leaving their homes on Election Day, because they fear the terrorists.
The same can be said of areas such as Fallujah, Samarra and Mosul, where a recent attack on a U.S. Army base shows how easy it would be to disrupt elections, as do the recent bombings in Karbala. Nothing remotely like electioneering takes place in Iraq, even in relatively peaceful areas in the south and north. For candidates to announce mass rallies would be to issue an open invitation for terrorists to attack. Not many electoral messages beamed on radio and television will be seen or heard because of the nationwide electricity crisis.
Some argue that delaying elections would give a victory to the terrorists, and I admit there is merit in this argument. But there is more than one way for the terrorists to win in Iraq in January. Another would be for them to cause large numbers of Iraqis to stay away from the polls, not in protest but out of fear for their lives. That would result in elections whose legitimacy would be questioned. Whoever was perceived as having won such a flawed election would claim a mandate, while others would claim they had been disenfranchised. Very few scenarios take us deeper into chaos and civil unrest than this very likely outcome. I would argue that the prospect of these disastrous events unfolding is far worse than any short-lived claim of victory the terrorists might make.
There are other reasons for delaying elections, unrelated to security. Thanks to the barbarity of the previous regime, Iraq has suffered several exoduses, with the result that a significant part of the electorate is living abroad. Planning for expatriate participation takes time. Additionally, the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission has not adequately engaged Iraq's polity regarding upcoming elections, and too many Iraqis wrongly believe that we are about to directly elect the next president of Iraq.
This fact underscores another failure of which we, as a political class, are guilty: We have not engendered any discussion about the future of Iraq, the nature of a constitutional order, the rule of law or federalism, despite the fact that these are the very issues at stake in the elections. A delay in the election date would allow us to sort out the problems and practical difficulties in organizing elections outside Iraq, and to engage the electorate on a host of issues.
Though I advocate a few months' delay in elections, we must not waste that time doing more of the same. During that period, we must work to achieve national reconciliation so that all political groups will take part in the process. This must be done before, not after the elections.
We ought to identify those groups now outside the political process with which it is possible to have a dialogue, distinguishing them from terrorists bent on destroying Iraq's progress toward democracy and pluralism. Recognizing that the former have some legitimate grievances arising out of the occupation that ended in June, a reconciliation conference with such groups would serve several functions. It would be the critical step in driving a wedge between such groups and the terrorists, who would become isolated. The legitimate grievances of the conferees must be addressed substantively, as the conference must not be merely cosmetic, a fact we must make clear at the outset. That would encourage maximum participation not only in the conference, but in the elections themselves.
Finally, a modus vivendi must be arrived at for the transitional period, so that all Iraqis can be reassured of a continuing, active role as we take our first tentative steps toward pluralism and democracy. Elections were delayed in Afghanistan, but the results there gained wide acceptance from all political factions. That must be our aim in Iraq. It is far more important for Iraqis is to accept the legitimacy of the election results, whatever they might be, than that elections be held on a particular day in a country that has known no elections for nearly 50 years.
X The writer has served as foreign minister of Iraq, president of the governing council and chairman of the committee for drafting the Transitional dministrative Law. He currently is a member of the national assembly and heads the Iraqi Independent Democrats Party.