January 29, 2005
Iraqi Elections Special
Some assorted quotes from Iraqis on the eve of elections:
I voted under Saddam--it was bogus and now I am ready for a real election...Everyone in the neighborhood is going to vote."
"Inshalla,...we will go to the poll center...My mother, she's an 80-year-old woman, but she will go vote."
God willing, I will not be voting...Our religious leaders have not told us to vote."
All these quotes come from a couple Dexter Filkins dispatches from Iraq. Note that the NYT's lead story through the night (on-line) was the gloomier of Filkins' pieces (featuring the quote from the non-voting, Sadr supporter) as compared to Filkins' later article which is now the lead and which features the two rosier quotes. Let's briefly check out this snippet from Filkins' gloomy piece:
Less than 48 hours before nationwide elections here, Nasir al-Saedy, one of the city's most popular Shiite clerics, stood before a crowd of 20,000 Iraqis and uttered not a single word about the vote.
Compare this with the more, er, nuanced (especially the last bit about Sadr's pamphleteers...) reporting of the FT:
At noon prayers in the Buratha mosque, a gathering-place for mainstream Shia parties, preacher and candidate Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer issued a rousing call to the faithful to go to the polls in spite of the risks.
Look, the point here isn't another blogospheric beat-up routine of the big, bad NYT meanies of the MSM. Filkins' reporting feels a bit schizoid because, well, no one knows really, how tomorrow is going to go (though I think the attempt to represent that Shi'a turnout will be significantly lower than expected is inaccurate and a bit disingenuous). But let's put all this parsing of the media aside and look at the bigger picture. Andrew Sullivan asks:
How do we tell if the Iraqi elections are a success? That they happen at all? Surely we should have a higher standard than that. Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud. But it makes sense to have some guidelines before Sunday so we don't just fit what happens to our pre-existing hopes or rationalizations.
I think Andrew had started with 1,000 dead, which he revised down to 500. Then, today, he updates: "My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. Reasonable?" Truth be told, I don't really think we should be handicapping, say, how many innocents will be slaughtered tomorrow like some kind of sports game. But, that said, let me hazard a few voter turnout predictions of my own on the cusp of this historic event--which are a little more optimistic than Andrew's (keeping in mind that the Administration would probably prefer that its allies in the commentariat lowball their turnout estimates so as help define success down--here, I'm just giving you my best quasi-educated guess--so, any lefties out there, this isn't some spin exercise).
1) Shia and Kurdish turnout will be well north of 50% (perhaps as high as 60%-65%...and many Sadr supporters will vote too).
2) Sunni turnout will likely push 30% (fingers crossed!)
As for Andrew's speculations re: casualty counts--I, of course, don't know how many people are going to die tomorrow at the hands of anti-democratic fanatics (I don't think Iraqi nationalists angered at the American occupation are the ones intent on blowing up polling stations and their own countrymen--those are only the radical jihadists and Baathist restorationists). But what I do know, thanks to an on the ground source close to the elections (who sent me some polling data today), is that 45% of persons polled believe the elections will help to bring positive gradual change, while just over 30% expect a dramatic improvement as a result of the elections tomorrow. So, and unlike the people at the Nation and blase "wankers" like this (doubtless, and ever so shallowly and short-sightedly, rooting for a bad day tomorrow just because it's bad for Chimpie-in-Chief), it appears a good 75% of Iraqis appear to think the elections are going to start getting them on the right track (with a sizable chunk expecting an immediate dramatic improvement). Which leads me to another point, also made by Steve Hadley in a kind of coming-out as National Security Advisor in today's WaPo--the elections really represent just the beginning of real, tangible moves forward on the path to democratization and viable sovereignty:
The critics also seem to forget that the assembly elected tomorrow will be a transitional body--only the most recent step on the road to Iraqi democracy. Iraq will move from the appointed government that it has today to an elected one. This assembly will select a government and draft a permanent constitution, which will be ratified by a popular referendum and under which a new round of elections will be held in December. Eligible Iraqis who choose not to vote tomorrow will be able to participate in that process and vote later in the year.
Another issue to keep in mind tomorrow? How many Sunnis, if the security environment were better, would have braved the polls? On this, note that the aforementioned polling data sent on to B.D. indicates that when Sunnis were asked how likely it is that they will vote, they responded thusly:
21.50% Very Likely
Now, if you strongly believed the entire elections process was rigged and illegitimate, you'd doubtless be part of the 28.50% who say they are very unlikely to vote. But think of the 28.20% that say they are somewhat likely. Why only "somewhat"? The lack of security is doubtless the biggest reason--not that they think the whole process is corrupt and illegitimate. No, this isn't a defense of the Administration. Of course it would be better if Anbar Province, say, had been secured via application of the requisite manpower. But the point is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want to vote--as Hadley points out too. And, that the U.S. is engaged in a struggle to help them exercise that right--one they mostly cherish and are hankering for. Put differently, we are not in Iraq to rape, to plunder, to conquer--but to get a constitution and viable government in place. No, I'm no naif. I know that our presence there involves extending our sphere of influence to a region critical to our national interest. But, say, if Iraqis don't want to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, or want no permanent U.S. military bases there--we will respect their will. This is to say, we are now fighting, in the main, for the Iraqis to have a right to assert a national will and so as to support them on their journey towards sustainable political governance structures. What, really, is so horrible about that? No, we should be proud of our struggle there, particularly given that we unseated a leading genocidaire of the late 20th Century to boot. God speed tomorrow, I say! Or, as they say, Inshallah turnout will be relatively high (near or above 60% for non-Sunnis; pushing 30% for Sunnis) and the fascistic, vicious carnage relatively low. Here's hoping.
Posted by Gregory at January 29, 2005 06:52 PM | TrackBack (30)
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