I just want to take a moment to send best wishes from this little corner of Korea to the Iraqi people as they take part in their first multi-party elections. Here Iraqis will be voting for and how (provided by the Associated Press):
WHAT'S ON THE BALLOT: Each voter will be given two paper ballots — one for the 275-member National Assembly and the other for provincial legislatures. Voters in the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq will receive a third ballot for the self-governing region's parliament.
HOW WILL THEY VOTE: Each voter will be led to a cardboard booth to mark the ballots. Voters will choose one party list from 111 possible lists, with the number of candidates seated from each party determined by the party's percentage of votes nationwide. Once the ballots have been marked, the voter hands them to an election worker who drops them into a ballot box. The voter then proceeds to the final station, where an election worker marks his or her hand with indelible ink to prevent repeat voting.
The fact that Iraqis will also be choosing provincial assemblies is important. Because the UN decided that Iraq should use a proportional representation (PR) system in which Iraqis vote for party slates rather than individual candidates and parties gain seats in the legislature based upon the percentage of votes they get.
I dislike PR as a general rule. Among other things, it creates unstable minority or coalition governments in parliamentary systems (Italy comes immediately to mind) and sometimes gives an official government platform to extremist parties.
For reasons why PR might not be right for Iraq, I give you an old piece from Michael Rubin (Warning to blue-staters; you are about to read something from a guy with a suspiciously 'neo-con' name. You may want to shield your eyes.):
Liberal Iraqis favor constituency-based elections. The Transitional Administrative Law calls for a 275-member National Assembly, which translates into each district's member representing approximately 87,000 people. Contests would occur not between parties but between individuals, who would be accountable to local residents rather than party bosses...
The party-slate system will not bolster representation. Many Iraqis share ethnicity but not local interests. Tel Afar, a town of 160,000 east of Mosul, is 95 percent Shiite Turkmen. Its Turkish-speaking residents have little in common with Turkmen in Erbil or Kirkuk. The party-slate system might also undercut religious freedom. Christians, for example, represent less than 3 percent of Iraq's population. They remain concentrated in towns such as Alqosh, Ainkawa and Duhok. Many Christians do not support parties such as the Assyrian Democratic Movement. Without district-based elections, they may find themselves without representation. Smaller religious communities that do not have their own political parties but who live in clustered districts may find themselves without political representation in the important constitutional process.
Another advantage of single-member districts is that we would be able to deal with one major problem facing today's election; uneven voter turnout. In Shiite and Kurdish areas, up to 70% of eligible voters may come out. In Sunni Arab areas, turnout might be less than half of that. The net effect of this imbalance in turnout will be that the Sunnies will be underrepresented in the assembly.
If the Iraqi election had been based on the Single-Member District Plurality system (SMDP, as used in the USA and Britain, among others), then Sunni-dominated areas would send their representatives to the legislature regardless of turnout discrepancies since every district would send somebody.
On the other hand, using SMDP might have also been difficult for one simple reason; it would be extremely difficult to draft legislative districts before a government was in place. One of the incoming legislature's main jobs will be to set up Iraq's permanent electoral system. Perhaps they will draft districts for Iraq's next round of elections.
A logical compromise would have been for using a PR system but having the vote based upon each of Iraq's 18 provinces. That would have gone a long way towards ending problems associated with regional variances in turnout. It would not have been without problems (allotting legislative proportions to the districts would be difficult without accurate census data) but I think it would have been the most workable system.
In any case, I just want to repeat my best wishes to the people of Iraq from this little IKK outpost.
UPDATE: The picture on the right worries me a little. That ink, if designed correctly, will take a couple of days to wear off, even with washing. In areas with a lot of terrorists, those ink markings could be a death sentence for those that fall into their hands. There have already been reports of suicide bombings.
UPDATE 2: While many pundits I have read think that religious parties will dominate the election, at there are at least some signs that moderates will do well:
Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi may gain the most support in the National Assembly election Jan. 30 because he appeals to all sides of the nation's religious and ethnic divisions, according to interviews with voters and the latest opinion poll.
Iraqis will elect a 275-member assembly that will choose a president and two-vice presidents. They will appoint a prime minister. Secular parties, including Allawi's Iraqi List coalition and the Kurdish Alliance, are likely to win the most seats.
``People have agreed it's in their interests to elect Allawi prime minister,'' said Rime Allaf, an Iraq analyst at Chatham House, a London foreign-policy institution that advises European governments. Many Iraqis ``don't want a religious government.''
A poll by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan U.S. research group, showed that almost 60 percent of Iraqis say Allawi, a Shiite, has been effective since taking office. The survey was based on 1,903 interviews from Nov. 24 to Dec. 5 and had a margin or error of three percentage points.
BTW, I hope to have a chance to visit the offices of the International Republican Institute while I'm in DC. Once I'm done here in Korea I would love to have a chance to work with them or the National Endowment for Democracy in their vital efforts to help democracy around the world.