September 28, 2004

The Bush Definition of Democracy

by Rahul Mahajan

When Vladimir Putin used illegal tactics to engineer the election of his hand-picked subordinate Ahmad Kadyrov as president of Chechnya last October, Western pundits were quick to condemn the election as a farce. Yet the same media talking heads have expressed little outrage at the series of equally farcical "elections" organized by the Bush administration in the name of exporting democracy, be it to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani recently expressed his unhappiness at the plans of the main U.S.-affiliated political parties to negotiate a "consensus slate" of candidates for the upcoming U.N. Security Council-mandated elections in Iraq.

In some countries, with a well-established parliamentary system and a history of active political parties and an inclusive public discourse, alliances between political parties are not necessarily a problem. In India, for example, such electoral alliances may be necessary to get smaller parties some degree of parliamentary representation. In Iraq, however, the effect may be extremely damaging.

According to a recent New York Times editorial, such a "consensus" slate could create "essentially a one-party election unless Iraq's fragmented independents manage to organize themselves into an effective new political force." Without adequate safeguards, wrote the Times, in an uncharacteristically direct manner, "Iraq's first free election may look uncomfortably like the plebiscites choreographed to produce 98 percent majorities for Saddam Hussein."

While the Times neglected to mention this fact, the Bush administration has established a track record of managing elections to produce such lopsided results for its favored candidates first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.

During the June 2002 Afghan loya jirga, roughly 1500 delegates assembled to pick the interim president of the country. Although all delegates were under a great degree of pressure from U.S.-backed warlords (who did everything from killing delegates before the assembly to controlling the floor at the assembly), over 800 signed a statement in support of Zahir Shah, the exiled monarch. Omar Zakhilwal and Adeena Niazi, delegates to the loya jirga, told the New York Times that the United States then stepped in and "the entire loya jirga was postponed for almost two days while the former king was strong-armed into renouncing any meaningful role in the government." When the assembly resumed, delegates were given a choice between Hamid Karzai and two unknown candidates thrown into the field purely for symbolic value (For example, one of them was a woman). . . .


[Rahul Mahajan is publisher of the blog Empire Notes and teaches at New York University. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah during the siege in April. His latest book is "Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond."]

Enver Masud, "New Iraq Constitution a Pretext for Exploitation," The Wisdom Fund, September 16, 2003

[. . . he fell out with the Bush circle because he wanted free elections and rejected an imposed programme of privatisation.--David Leigh, "General Jay Garner sacked by Bush says he wanted early elections," Guardian, March 18, 2004]

"Monitors sound Afghan poll alert," BBC News, September 6, 2004

Dexter Filkins, "Top Shiite Cleric Is Said to Fear Voting in Iraq May Be Delayed," New York Times, September 23, 2004

David Rhode and Carlotta Gall, "The U.S. Has a Favorite in Afghanistan," New York Times, September 26, 2004

Farnaz Fassihi, "A Journalist's Letter from Iraq," The Wisdom Fund, September 30, 2004

Timothy J. Burger and Douglas Waller, "The Bush Administration takes heat for a CIA plan to influence Iraq's elections," TIME, October 4, 2004

"US envoy accused of being the power pulling Karzai's strings," The Australian, October 5, 2004

Jim Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar, "The Elections in Afghanistan: A Test for Bush Not Afghans," CounterPunch, October 8, 2004

Colin Freeman, "Afghan election fiasco as Karzai rivals pull out over fraud claims," Telegraph, October 10, 2004

Interview: "Christian Parenti in Afghanistan: Saturday's Elections Were A "Farce"," Democracy Now, October 12, 2004

[The United States-based group has conducted detailed research into the darkest periods in recent Afghan history - the wars between 1978 and 2001 - and accuses some of the most powerful men in the country of involvement in murders, mass rapes, summary executions and indiscriminate rocketing and bombing of civilians.

It also calls on the Western powers backing the Kabul government to apply pressure against warlords, and accuses the US of helping discredited figures back into power and re-arming them as allies in its fight against al-Qa'ida.--Nick Meo, "Afghan warlords poised to take up power," October 14, 2004]

Mohamad Bazzi, "Bush said no to plan to send Muslim peacekeepers to Iraq to help UN organize elections," Newsday, October 18, 2004

Thalif Deen, "US Wants UN Fig Leaf for Elections," Inter Press Service, October 22, 2004

Robin Wright, "Religious Leaders Ahead in Iraq Poll," Washington Post, October 22, 2004

["We have decided to declare a state of emergency in all areas of Iraq, with the exception of the region of Kurdistan for a period of 60 days," Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's spokesman Thaer al-Naqib told a news conference.--Fadel al-Badrani, "Iraq Declares Martial Law, 23 Police Killed," Reuters, November 7, 2004]

[Elections would be delayed for more than a year and in the meantime, Iraq's first "sovereign" government would be hand-picked by Washington. . . .

Mr. Bremer argued the country was too insecure to hold elections, and besides, there were no voter rolls. . . . many argued that Iraq was safe enough to have elections and pointed out that the lists from the Saddam-era oil-for-food program could serve as voter rolls.--Naomi Klein, "Die Now, Vote Later," AlterNet, November 10, 2004]

"Confusion in White House on Aim of Iraq Election," Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2004

"Iraqi Gov't Warns Media About Coverage," Associated Press, November 11, 2004

"US Marines arrest Iraq's deputy Speaker," Pakistan Times, November 16, 2004

"US military arrests Iraqi in charge of Sistani electoral list: aide," AFP, December 5, 2004

Ian Buruma, "An Islamic Democracy for Iraq?," New York Times, December 5, 2004

[Afghanistan's first true national elections were in 1986 and 1987, under Soviet military occupation. First, the KGB organized a "loya jirga," or national assembly in 1985 and, through bribes and intimidation, got its new Afghan "asset," Najibullah, positioned to replace the ineffectual Afghan communist puppet then in office.

In 2002, the CIA got its Afghan "asset," Hamid Karzai, nominated president through a loya jirga that seemed to many as rigged as the one that promoted Najibullah.

National elections in 1986 and 1987 confirmed Najibullah, Moscow's man in Kabul, as president of Afghanistan. These elections were manipulated, yet they were arguably more open and fairer than the recent U.S.-staged Afghan election.--Eric Margolis, "U.S. caught in Kabul," Toronto Sun, December 12, 2004]

[. . . the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) -- are part of a consortium of non-governmental organizations to which the United States has provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in post-Saddam Iraq.--Lisa Ashkenaz Croke and Brian Dominick, "Controversial U.S. Groups Operate Behind Scenes on Iraq Vote," New Standard, December 13, 2004]

Steve Negus, "Allawi group slips cash to reporters," Financial Times, January 10, 2005

Dan Murphy, "Secrecy surrounds Iraq vote: Concerned about violence, some political parties won't even reveal candidate lists," Christian Science Monitor, January 13, 2005

[United Nations officials involved in the election said that they had been dubious about allowing so many Iraqis outside the country to vote. But they said that the former exiles installed in Baghdad by the American occupation insisted on such an arrangement, hoping that a large vote outside Iraq would help their chances in the election.--Steven R. Weisman, "Many Iraqis to Cast Votes in U.S.," New York Times, January 13, 2005]

Yoav Stern, "Israelis of Iraqi origin can vote in Iraqi elections," Haaretz, January 13, 2005

["It is the vehicle for the Americans to ensure that (Prime Minister Iyad) Allawi gets back in. . . .

"We will settle for $5- to $10-billion," Sheik Hussein says. "This is for the destruction in Fallujah, the shedding of blood and the killing of innocents - history will write of this. The Americans started off by killing Native Americans and still they kill people they look down on."--Robert Fisk, "We won't go home and we won't vote, say refugees of Fallujah," Independent, January 13, 2005]

[There was total religious tolerance under Saddam when he came to effective power in 1974, with the one exception that religious leaders could not play politics.--Jude Wanniski, "Religious Toleration Under Saddam,", January 14, 2005]

[. . . an election so physically dangerous that the international observers will be "observing" the poll from Amman.--Robert Fisk, "Not Even Saddam Could Achieve the Divisions This Election Will Bring," Independent, January 16, 2005]

[When 8 million Afghans voted in October, at least 122 international observers from across Europe and Asia monitored the presidential election--Robin Wright, " No Foreign Observers to Monitor Iraq Vote," Washington Post, January 22, 2005]

Andrew Buncombe and Kim Sengupta, "Iranian and Saudi cash weighs against local parties," Independent, January 29, 2005

Scott Ritter, "Hijacking Democracy in Iraq," AlterNet, March 23, 2005

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