We Promised American Democracy

We promised the Iraqi’s American democracy and the current election seems to have delivered. According to the Financial Times,

The main Sunni Arab coalition and the list headed by secular Shia former prime minister Iyad Allawi were among 35 groups that yesterday called the December 15 Iraqi elections illegitimate and threatened to boycott parliament. The groups, in a statement, demanded that their complaints about voter intimidation and fraud be addressed, and accused the country’s Independent Elections Commission (IEC) of abetting the violations.

It would seem that the problem is that the United Iraqi Allliance (UIA), which consists of mostly Shia, seems to have performed better than expected in the election, especially since millions of new Sunni voters participated in this election, after sitting out the January constitutional eleciton. The Shia seemed to have turned out more voters, but not surprisingly, the other factions see things differently. As the Financial Times reports:

The UIA’s opponents, however, believe it cheated. They have filed hundreds of complaints against the coalition, accusing it of storming into polling stations, particularly in heavily Shia neighbourhoods, and voting multiple times. Poll monitors allegedly turned away voters who said they would vote for lists other than UIA.

Sunni Arabs also are upset that they appear not to have won as much as they expected. They are usually estimated to number 20 per cent of the population but often claim they are a majority in the country and in Baghdad, in particular. In the capital, however, the UIA took 58 per cent of the vote, against 19 per cent that went to the main Sunni coalition and the 14 per cent received by Mr Allawi.

For this reason alone, many Sunni will doubt the results. Prior to the election, one outspoken Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlek, said he would suspect fraud if the UIA received more than a third of the vote.

The complaints of fraud are similar to those that have been raised in recent U.S. elections: voting sites failing to open, shortages in election materials, and vote fraud. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported,

Although the balloting was hailed as an overall success, the cries of fraud and ballot-rigging have surged since the results emerged….Electoral commission members cautioned that the results must be checked and cross-checked, and numerous allegations of election violations must be settled before the results are declared final. …among the 1,000 complaints received so far, about 20 were serious enough to affect the vote. The complaints included “some forgeries, fraud, and use of force and efforts to intimidate.”

The problem of course is figuring out a solution when fraud has occurred. The coalition that is questioning the results has raised the idea of having new elections, but several observers have noted that new elections just raise new opportunities for claims of fraud. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of outside observers monitoring the election (most organizations found that doing this would be too dangerous). Also, getting either the same result or a different results can result in fraud claims. In the first case, the same losers claim that the same winners engaged in fraud to obtain the same result and in the second case, the former winners claim the former losers cheated to improve their position.