THE elections that gave legitimacy to the new system in Iraq, thus
helping bring about the tipping point against the insurgency, are
starting to fade in Iraqi memories.
In a democracy, mandates
need to be renewed - often faster than the governing elite would like.
The Iraqi parliament and government are fast approaching their sell-by
date. (Many believe they've passed it.)
This shouldn't be
taken as a criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom history is
likely to remember as a courageous leader in a difficult time.
Successful or not, though, the incumbents need to be put to the test of
popular will again - and soon.
There are several reasons:
* The last two elections were, in fact, census operations on a national
scale. They were designed to reveal the relative strengths of the
ethnic and religious communities that make up Iraq.
of voting for lists of candidates was inevitable in a country that had
never had free elections and had lived under brutal dictatorship since
1958. People couldn't know individual candidates, for Saddam Hussein
hadn't allowed anyone to acquire a political profile.
political parties of all description - communist, nationalist, liberal,
conservative, Islamist and socialist - have had five years in which to
make themselves known and build a support base.
In Iraq today, it's possible to vote for party programs rather than bloc lists of ethnic and/or religious identity.
* The candidate lists fielded last time included a disproportionate
number of returning exiles. That, too, was inevitable, for exiles had
had more chances to make a name. Now a new generation of politicians -
homegrown, younger and closer to the people - is available and keen to
play a bigger role.
* The system of proportional
representation used in the previous elections is no longer suitable.
What Iraq needs is a new system under which voters can have a direct
relationship with their representatives. This means a system of single-
or multi-member constituencies.
representation, party bosses decide who'll be a candidate. This
encourages loyalty to the party, rather than country. The system, which
excludes non-party independents, is even bad for parties because it
helps promote "yes men" rather than those who favor debate and dissent.
* New elections are needed to cut out some of the deadwood in the political elite.
This elite includes some truly embarrassing figures. There are members
of parliament who hardly attended a session, content to pocket the fat
salary, ride in the bulletproof limo and secure lucrative posts for
nephews. Some spend more time in London than Baghdad.
Iraq is preparing for municipal elections, it could broaden the
exercise by including a general election for a new parliament. The
ideal time would be at the end of this year or in the first week of
January, while Bush is still in office and US commitment beyond
Even if John McCain succeeds Bush, Congress will
likely be dominated by Democrats, a party whose current engine is the
anti-war network dedicated to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
With a new parliament and government in place in
Baghdad, backed by a new and stronger popular mandate, the US party of
defeat would find it harder to impose its weird obsession on the new
president in Washington.