Palestinian municipal elections

AP’s Ali Daraghmeh is reporting that Hamas did pretty well in the small-scale municipal elections held in the occupied Palestinian territories yesterday. Indeed, Hamas did better than I’d expected in those elections, which were held in just 26 of the OPT’s more than 600 local jurisdictions.
Those elections were an important “test” of the good faith– in the run-up to the January 9 OPT-wide “presidential” race– of all the parties concerned: not only Fateh and Hamas, but also, crucially, the Israelis. Indeed, can the Palestinians or anyone else have trust in the January 9 vote if it is held while Israel still holds unchallenged control over all major aspects of the security situation within the OPTs?
The jury is still definitely out on that, given Israel’s arrests of numerous candidates in the municipals and the steps it’s already taken to obstruct free campaigning in the presidential race.
Daraghmeh writes that, according to early results he’d seen, Hamas won nine of yesterday’s 26 contests, and Fateh 14, with two of the races won by a joint Hamas-Fateh list and one– Ya’bed– still unreported. (He notes that in some cases interpreting the results requires a lot of local knowledge.)
For their part, Hamas claimed to have won 17 of the contests, so evidently both the major parties were claiming victory in some places.
Why was I surprised?

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A gift to JWN readers from Professor Sachedina

    Abdulaziz Sachedina is a very experienced scholar of and in the tradition of (Shii) Muslim thought who’s the Francis Ball Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He’s the chair of the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy, which co-sponsored the conference I went to in Iran three weeks ago, and the author of The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (Oxford University Press, 2001.)
    Professor Sachedina has visited Iraq a number of times since the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein. For an account of a conversation I had with him about Iraq last January, go here.
    … So imagine my delight this morning when I saw he had sent the following, very important contribution to JWN, which I am of course honored to post here in full. It is worth a careful, close reading.

by Abdulaziz Sachedina
In the midst of today’s political turmoil in Iraq there is a ray of hope for the future. There is nothing more exciting for any nation than to be able to democratically elect a government to represent and protect its people’s rights. Yet as the people of Iraq prepare to choose a legitimate government in the elections scheduled for January 30, 2005, the 60 % Shiite majority bears a heavy moral burden. It has to reassure the 20% Sunni Arab minority that it will not be punished for its repression of the Shiites.
It was Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and the inspiration of Shiite Islam, who emphasized the importance of forgiveness and compassion to those in positions of power. It is true that throughout their history in Iraq the Shiites have suffered when the minority Sunnis controlled absolute power. And under Saddam Hussein, powerful Sunni officials committed terrible atrocities against the Shiites. Not long ago, after the war began in earnest in March, 2003, in a meeting with Iraqi religious leaders in Amman, I heard a prominent Iraqi Sunni leader, Professor-Shaykh Qubaisi, urge Prince Hassan of Jordan to take over Iraq, so that the Sunni influence would continue in this “Arab” nation. The call appeared to suggest that if the Shiite majority were to come to power the “Arab” character of Iraq would be lost…

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Post-conflict election: Mozambique

Mozambique will on Dec 1-2 be holding the third of the democratic national elections it has held since the termination of its civil war in 1992. If the election proceeds successfully, as seems to be expected, this will be yet another piece of evidence of the success of the country’s whole conflict-termination experience.
I note in addition that in this election the ruling party, Frelimo, will have a new presidential candidate, Armando Guebuza, replacing Jose Chissano, who has now completed his two-term limit.

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Post-conflict election risks

Can hasty, ill-planned elections actually impede democratization in post-conflict societies? You bet they can. “It is one of the perverse realities of postconflict elections that this lynchpin of the democratic process can also be its undoing,” argues Benjamin Reilly of the Australian National University in a recent book on “The U.N. Role in Promoting Democracy”
The book will be launched by its publishers– the United Nations University– in New York next Thursday. But some its main points have been previewed in an op-ed that university vice-rector Ramesh Thakur has in today’s Daily Yomiori.
Thakur writes (fairly optimistically, imho) that, “in Afghanistan, the world’s most fledgling democracy, President Hamid Karzai succeeded in legitimizing his rule through elections and preparing the ground for a longer-term peaceful system of power-sharing arrangements.” Then he asks,

    Will the same happen in Iraq in January? Hopefully, but not necessarily.
    An election by itself cannot resolve deep seated problems, particularly in a society deeply traumatized by conflict. According to a new U.N. University study of experience in several countries, ill-timed or poorly designed elections in volatile situations can be quite dangerous. They risk producing the very opposite of the intended outcome, fuelling chaos and reversing progress toward democracy. They can exacerbate existing tensions, result in support for extremists or encourage patterns of voting that reflect wartime allegiances.

He notes that,

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Iraq Democrats Disappointed

Back last summer, I got into a heartfelt exchange with a friend of mine who’s an Iraqi democrat. His name is Siyamend Othman. He’s a wise and good person, an Iraqi Kurd who’s lived in exile for many, many years, and who worked for a bunch of them as a researcher for Amnesty International in London.
Understandably, he loathes Saddam Hussein. In our exchange last August or so, I was commenting critically on articles he was writing about how an American military victory over Saddam could usher in an era of democratization in Iraq.
I wrote to him, based on my experience of having lived in a war-zone–in Lebanon–for six years back in the 1970s: “I have never believed that democracy can be brought to any country on the tips of bayonets (or the nose-cones of cruise missiles, come to that). I guess for me it is also, to a major degree a human-rights question, since I consider that war itself constitutes a massive assault on people’s rights, and always, always, brings in its train conditions that constitute a continuing assault on human rights for a very, very long time after…”
He wrote back, “I understand where you are coming from and respect the proposition that ‘war (I presume you mean any war) itself constitutes a massive assault on people’s rights’. However, would you hold the same position regarding World War II – the bloodiest confrontation in the history of Mankind? But that was different, I am repeatedly told. Hitler was a menace to humanity; Saddam is a small-time Third World tyrant who has been effectively ‘contained’… Needless to say that establishing the foundations of democracy in post-Saddam Iraq is by no means a foregone conclusion. In all likelihood, it would be a long and painful process with no guaranteed outcome. In my opinion, much will depend on American attitudes. That is why I keep repeating that winning the ‘Battle of Washington’ is as important as winning that of Baghdad. In this endeavour, Iraqi democrats are in dire need of all the help they can get from their Western counterparts, yourself included.”
As I said, Siyamend is a wise and good person. We agreed to disagree– but not before I warned him that putting any faith in the idea that this U.S. administration might have any commitment to democratization or democrats seemed an improbably long bet.
The most recent message I got from Siyamend indicated that he and his Iraqi-democratic friends feel they may now have lost the ‘Battle of Washington’. It included an article his friend Kanan Makiya wrote in the London Observer on Sunday, as well as an Observer article about the growing disillusionment of Kanan and Iraqi opposition boss Ahmed Chalabi over Washington’s recent pronouncements for their plans for a post-Saddam Iraq.
“The United States,” Kanan wrote, “is on the verge of committing itself to a post-Saddam plan for a military government in Baghdad with Americans appointed to head Iraqi ministries, and American soldiers to patrol the streets of Iraqi cities. The plan, as dictated to the Iraqi opposition in Ankara last week by a United States-led delegation, further envisages the appointment by the US of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government. The plan reverses a decade-long moral and financial commitment by the US to the Iraqi opposition… ”
This whole business is truly tragic. It is true that the “Iraqi opposition” is a diverse conglomeration of people. Ahmed Chalabi has been on the lam from Jordan for years for bankrupting thousands of Jordanians through the collapse of his Petra Bank more than 15 years ago. Kanan Makiya got catapulted to fame and fortune in August-September 1990 after he published–under the pseudonym Samir Khalil–a lengthy indictment of Saddam’s misrule that was a tad short on documentation if very long on emotion. In addition, there are ayatollahs-in-waiting massed in their hundreds in exile in Iran. There are Kurdish tribal leaders who wouldn’t even speak to each other for most of the past decade… And then, there are also among the opposition many serious people who are sincerely committed to building a real democracy in their country.
Why on earth did the Iraqi democrats ever put any faith in George Bush?
Makiya, for his part, may well have grown to love the attention he got from being lionized by some segments of the administration. In his Observer piece, he asks coyly, “Is the President who so graciously invited me to his Oval Office only a few weeks ago to discuss democracy, about to have his wishes subverted by advisers… ?”
Well yes, Kanan, maybe the Prez had any “wishes” he ever had for “democracy” subverted a long time ago.
But seriously: discussing democracy— with George W. Bush??