'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, January 23, 2004

Yes, Jeff, Caucuses Do Suck

So cast your mind back through the mists of time to that long ago era of last monday. Remember how all the talking heads were bitching about the archaicness of caucuses? For instance in this exchange between the lovely and talented Jeff Greenfield and the sagacious Judy Woodruff: (from cnn transcipt, 1/19/04)

GREENFIELD: The problem is -- it's a great thing. The problem is very few people turn out for it. I mean, they're going to get maybe 20 percent of registered Democrats to turn out because it involves an investment. You do get more interested people. Next week in New Hampshire, roughly 70 to 80 percent of registered Democrats turn out. So yes, it's a nice thing if you've got three hours to spare. The question is whether this is the way you want to pick a president. I kind of like people going to the polls and voting and then 10 minutes later can go. It's a great system for activists, but there are real problems with it.

WOODRUFF: But you know what, Wolf, 20 percent, according to the poll that was shown not too long -- 20 percent of the people who go to these caucuses to vote for -- to express a preference for a delegate are people who have met the candidate that they're supporting. They have met these candidates...

Or later we get

GREENFIELD: You know what else you don't see here? No secret ballot. You can't do that in a caucus, right? Now, some people think that lets you stand up and be counted. On the other hand, if your boss is there, your shop steward is there, somebody you owe money to, you know, a secret ballot's not such a bad idea when you want to make the vote -- which they don't have here -- count. So I agree with you this is a night out. It's people who are involved. They care a lot. It just doesn't happen to be particularly democratic. The Republicans take a secret straw poll, and there you are.

So Iowa democrats are a bunch of weirdos with their caucuses and all; the whole process "just doesn't happen to be particularly democratic" according to Jeff Greenfield. You know who agrees with him? A hundred thousand Iraqis:

In a body later estimated at over 100,000 strong, Shiite Muslims marched three miles through a portion of Baghdad, culminating at the University of al-Mustansariyah today, demanding democratic elections in Iraq. By far the most powerful Shiite leader in the country, 75 year-old Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, who called for today’s demonstration, is said to wield the powerful force of millions of dedicated Iraqi Shiite people. It appears Al-Sistani and his followers are stepping up their demand for direct elections for an Iraqi legislature.

Throngs of protesters marched beneath a pedestrian overpass where loudspeakers echoed the booming voice of a representative of al-Sistani. The demonstration, which started at 8am, was going strong at 1pm with crowds of men filling the street as far as the eye could see.

Groups of men waving flags and carrying banners chanted Yes, yes to unification!" and "Yes, yes to voting!"

The echoes of thousands of voices chanting in unison resounded off nearby houses and buildings, fists thrust into the air behind words.

Men marched by holding banners that read, "We refuse any constitution that is not elected by the Iraqi People."

A middle aged man protesting in the demonstration said to me, "You are the media? Tell America to give us what they promised! They promised us democracy, so let us have our elections!"


Al-Sistani rejects the US plan to transfer power through a provisional legislature selected by 18 regional caucuses.. The US proposal to transfer power via this "provisional legislature" means that a transitional government would be appointed to take over from the US-led coalition on July 1, and full elections would not take place until 2005, at the earliest. The caucuses proposed by the US would be comprised of "notables" in each province of Iraq who would appoint an assembly. The assembly would then select a government.

Al-Sistani insists that only popular democratic elections will lead to legitimately elected representatives in Iraq. Representatives who gain power under any other circumstances, including the proposed US plan, are still, in his view, appointed.

Jeff doesn't like caucuses getting dominated by partisan "activists" but apparently Viceroy Bremer is in favor of caucuses that are dominated by "notables" of his fiefdom, who are presumably appointed by the US. I guess what's bad for Republicans is good for Iraqi's. Or maybe Jeff Greenfield should fly out in a secret mission to teach Paul Bremer about the wonders of straw polls.

The US has responded to the tremendous social pressure effected by the Shiite protests by running to the UN for help:

Under discussion this weekend could be Washington's categorical opposition to direct elections before the hand-over and its insistence on completing by March an agreement on the role of the U.S. military in the country. ... [snip] ... Bremer and a Governing Council delegation will discuss the situation in Iraq with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.N. Security Council on Monday.It will be the first formal meeting of the three parties in months. But officials are downplaying the meeting, saying it will be not be a watershed moment in the strained relationship between the U.S. and the U.N.

but so far has made no official statement that it's backing away from its jerrymander-by-way-of-the-undemocratic-nature-of-caucuses plan. But, you know, at this point even Darth Chalabi is coming out against the US plan: (from the Fincancial Times, "Key US Iraq ally backs Shia chief's elections demand", 1/23/04)

Ahmad Chalabi, one of Washington's staunchest allies on Iraq's interim Governing Council, on Friday added to Washington's difficulties with its exit strategy from Baghdad by joining calls for direct elections before the country returns to self-rule.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, Mr Chalabi said: "I believe direct elections are possible. Seek to make them possible and they will be possible. The date of June 30 [by when the US is committed to handing over sovereignty] is firm. We intend to abide by it and President Bush is committed to it."

Poor Viceroy Bremer, when even your puppets turn against you, you really have problems.

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