Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The will of the voters

The good news from Iraq is that it looks like the proposed constitution will probably pass when it goes to the voters later this month. The bad news is that passage only looks likely due to a major change in the rules:
"They made this change because they were afraid the constitution would be rejected," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the National Assembly who opposes the change. "But now it may be counterproductive: they made the Sunnis so furious that maybe more of them will vote no."

Under the new rules, the constitution will fail only if two-thirds of registered voters - rather than two-thirds of those actually casting ballots - reject it in at least three of the 18 provinces.

The change would in effect require almost all of those voting in three provinces to reject the document. In making the change, the Shiite and Kurdish representatives designated two different meanings for the word "voters" in a single passage of the transitional law.

It appears that if nothing else, the Shiites and Kurds in the governing coalition have been willing to work together long enough to learn a lesson or two about redefining terms (and setting reverse onuses) from their friendly neighbourhood occupiers.

But consider just how far the standard is from anything approaching majority territory. It's bad enough that the previous draft required a two-thirds vote against for rejection on a state basis. By that standard, Quebec would now have separated from Canada twice. But by the new standard, Prince Edward Island would be the sole Canadian province with enough active voters for the vote to have meaning even if every voter voted the same way. (See Table 4 for provincial turnout numbers.)

Not that the sham vote is inconsistent with some past Iraq practices. But isn't the sole remaining rationale for occupation to try to improve on Saddam-era standards for democracy?

(Update: Title changed since Section 15 got there first.)

(Added update: The original rules have now been restored. Apparently the "trial balloon" technique has also made its way to Iraq's parliament.)

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