Thursday, December 15, 2005

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SO DO THE IRAQI PEOPLE REALLY WANT DEMOCRACY? That may sound like a dumb question to ask on a day when millions of Iraqi voters (even Sunnis) demonstrated once again just how much they care about voting. But, A) OxBlog has never been afraid to ask stupid question and, B) recent polling data helps provide a detailed portrait of precisely what Iraqis think about their political system.

So lets start with a statement of the problem. Both the 2004 and 2005 polls began to probe their respondents' political preferences by asking (in questions #15 and #20A, respectively) what Iraq needs. This year, the number one answer was "a (single) strong Iraqi leader", with 74.8% saying that they strongly agree and 16.1% saying that they somewhat agree.

The second most popular answer was "a democracy", with 73.8% in strong agreement and 16.4% in moderate agreement. So here you get a sense of the problem. The design of these questions lets Iraqis say that their country needs many things, some of which Americans might consider to be mutually exclusive.

For example, the same question asked Iraqis if their country needs a government made up of religious leaders. 48.1 percent agree, either strongly or in moderation. A similar percentage said Iraq needs a government made up primarily of military leaders. In 2004, this series of questions elicited very similar answers.

So what the heck does all of this mean? Fortunately, the poll takers included a number of questions that would force respondents to express their perceptions of democracy in greater detail. For example, question #20B in this year's poll asked:
What do you think Iraq needs after the election planned for December 2005? Please mention only one choice.
Question #20C then asked:
What do you think Iraq needs in five years’ time? Please mention only one choice.
50.9 percent said that Iraq needs a single, strong leader after the elections. But only 30.5 percent said that this is what Iraq will need in five years time. 28.2 percent said Iraq needs a democracy after the December election, with 45.2 saying that Iraq will need one in five years time. The third most popular answer was a religious government, with approximately five percent in favor. In 2004, the numbers were bascially the same.

Thus, Iraqis clearly sense that their is a trade off between democracy and one-man leadership. But if they support a strong man in the here and now, will they ever have a chance to enjoy the democracy they prefer? One problem with questions #20B and #20C is that they do not clearly indicate whether a "(single) strong Iraqi leader" means a dictator. According to the Dr. Christoph Sohm, the director of the organization that conducted the poll (who was quoted by the BBC):
"Their desire for a strong leader within a democracy shows that they want a Konrad Adenauer, not a Saddam Hussein." Adenauer was the first chancellor of post-war Germany.
Presumably, Sohm's confidence comes from the answers provides to questions #21A and #21B:
A. There can be differences between the way government is set up in a country, called political system. From the three options I am going to read to you,which one do you think would be best for Iraq now?

B. And which one of these systems will be best for Iraq in five years’ time?
The three choices respondents had were:
Strong leader: a government headed by one man for life

Islamic state: where politicians rule according to religious

Democracy: a government with a chance for the leader(s) to be
replaced from time to time through elections
Democracy won by a landslide, with 57.2% support in the here and now and 62.0% support in five years time. 25.8 percent preferred a strong leader now, with 17.8 preferring one in five years time. 13.8 wanted an Islamic government now, with 11.8 preferring one in five years time.

Interestingly, the analagous question in the 2004 poll, #17, only gave respondents' a choice between a "Strong leader", "Islamic state" and "Democracy". Democracy also won that round by a landslide, but the Islamic state option broke the 20 percent barrier, bring democracy down to the mid-forties.

Although there is some more data on the subject, this post has covered all of the major points. And the message is clear: The people of Iraq clearly want democracy and clearly understand that dictatorship and clerical rule are not acceptable substitutes. Thankfully, it looks like the Iraqi people will get what they want.

What is much harder to say is whether Iraqis have a sufficient understanding of and commitment to civil rights and liberties in order to ensure that their democracy becomes a truly liberal one. In light of recently discovered torture chambers run by the Shi'ite-controlled Ministry of the Interior, there are obviously great challenges to overcome in this regard.

Nonetheless, such actions may well reflect the tyrannical disposition of only a small- to medium-sized minority. After suffering so much under Saddam, the majority of Iraqis may have an instinctive sense of what it is that democracies consider unacceptable.
(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

I'm reading that Iraqis are elated by the envy they are getting from the Iranians, Kuwaitis, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis, Palestinians and Syrians about their new form of government. And they are holding up their toddlers to wave and smile at the American soldiers. It looks like George W. Bush is on his way to becoming the Simon Bolivar of the Middle East, despite Frank Rich and Maureen Doud.
I enjoy good fantasy like anyone else, but I suggest exguru should read some George R. R. Martin for tips on how to do it right.
There is always a better way to do everything. That's why nothing gets done. Its called diplomacy. Diplomacy provides full employment for diplomats.
OK, Ckrisz, I put up a post acknowldeging your previous criticism. Now it's time for you to fess up.

Did you expect any of Iraq's three elections to be this successful? Did you expect the Sunnis to join the process? Did you expect two out of three peaceful votes?

Or did you presume that Iraqis wouldn't buy into a system supposedly forced on them at the point of a bayonet?
I found your blog through Yahoo! Blog listing and found it fascinating.

You have a great post on the political ideals of the Iraqi people. Personally, I think it is amazing that so many have turned out and voted in the elections.

One thing the media has yet to do is refer to the poll numbers you have. Clearly the Iraqi people prefer a democracy. Unfortunately, those in America who have a democracy don't want the Iraqi people to also enjoy it's benefits. Freedom is something to be spread, and some who have it refuse to spread it. Great job on your blog, keep up the good work, and make the news known to others.
As an American, I typically vote for a "single, strong leader" every four years. We call him "President." Is there any member of any western democracy that doesn't want a single, strong leader representing it on the world stage? If someone asked you if you thought France needed a single, strong leader wouldn't your answer be, "of course?" I mean, what is the alternative to a single, strong leader? A coalition of weak parliamentarians? No one wants that. OK, maybe the Germans. In any case, Observers need to be careful not to confuse "single, strong leader" with "dictator."

What exactly am I supposed to be fessing up to? Insufficient enthusiasm?

Beyond that, where did I even say a word about the elections for you to impute either (1) any attitude on my part towards them at all (2) a belief that the elections were imposed at the point of a bayonet? Do they teach you to ask questions like you already know the answers at Oxford, or is this just a feature of your personality?

My own views about the elections are thus: yes, I knew that they would secure widespread participation amongst the Shia and Kurds. The elections were forced by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani upon the Bush Administration (well, that and the pressures of the Sunni insurgency and the two al-Sadr uprisings, which gave Sistani clout he may not have had without), not the other way around --- if they had their way, Paul Bremer would still be disgracing the combat boots he wore traipsing around the Green Zone. al-Sistani's influence guaranteed broad Shia participation, and the Kurdish factions' guaranteed that of the Kurds. Anyone who could read a newspaper would know this --- I have zero idea why you think otherwise.

The only major surprise I had were the decision of Sunni insurgent groups to participate in this election. While this will obviously not end the insurgency, it does point to a political way out IF the Sunnis can form a coherent political program which the Shias and Kurds can then negotiate with and accept in the form of an amended Constitution. This Constitution will then have to be enforced consistently by a set of national institutions that all sides have a relatively decent amount of confidence in. If not, then continued civil war.
I just saw the "for life" tag. Missed that. Nothing to see here, folks.
Heavy participation of the Sunnis in the election "obviously won't end the insurgency?" This is not obvious at all. Are the insurgents going to start killing the elected Sunni M.P.s? How will the voters regard that? Why did the insurgents not shoot up the polling places? How do you know the Sunni insurgency hasn't ended already? The MSM is wishful it's not over, and the DoD/White House says it's not over--just in case it's not--but it might be.
As David notes, some of the polls do not define "single, strong leader" as dictator, but once the polls come out, the poll analysts will assume it means dictator. And yet, an elected president can be a "single, strong leader," and not a dictator.

If we're talking about public opinion of dictators, then "single, strong leader for life" is a better definition, and I see it was used in the more recent poll. The word "unaccountable" might help, too.

As for the new poll's definition of Islamic state, it's far too vague. Islamic state is defined as "Where politicians rule according to religious principles." Both democracies and dictatorships will claim they rule according to religious principles.

The definition of Islamic state should mention that all laws must be approved by religious clerics not elected by the people, and, ultimately, by a Supreme Leader (a la Iran), who is, in effect, a single, strong, unaccountable leader for life.

Despite the poll's broad definition, it is revealing that the Iraqis still reject the idea of an Islamic state.

Guess what? They'd rather be free.
Standard garbage poll, I'm afraid, and not worth much analysis. Independent questions here aren't actually independent. If a respondent answers that what Iraq needs now is a strong leader, and if a strong leader is defined as a dictator for life, then respondent has also made the choice for the question re what Iraq needs in five years. Unless, of course, we can count on the strong leader to die within five years. It's also odd that a mere chancellor would be offered as an example of a strong leader. The presidential system tends toward much stronger leaders than the parliamentary system - perhaps a reason why it's not so commonly adopted nowadays.
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