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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 07:57 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 07:57 | SYDNEY

Iraq: Return of the hanging chad?

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23 April 2010 08:49

It is something of an understatement to say that Arab voting patterns have tended to favour the incumbent in recent years.

Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak gained 94% of the vote in 1999 (as the only candidate) but a constitutional amendment allowing for multi-candidate presidential elections saw this reduced to a mere 88% in a ten-candidate contest in 2005. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has seen his popularity slump from the 96% of the vote he secured in a two-horse race in 1999 to a precarious 77% in a five-horse race some seven years later.

The Ba'thists, though, really did understand the distraction of political campaigning when there was serious governing to be done, and hence preferred the certainty of single-candidate presidential ballots.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, for example, secured a second seven-year term as president when he gained 97% of the vote in a referendum in 2007. But nobody held a candle to Saddam Hussein's political wizardry as he secured a perfect 100% of the vote in October 2002.

Iraq in 2010 threatens to introduce an entirely new concept to Arab politics – an Arab leader replaced through electoral action. Old habits die hard, though, and Prime Minister al-Maliki is not taking his loss to his rival Iyad Allawi's broadly secular Iraqiyya bloc lying down.

Despite UN and US observers saying there were no signs of widespread electoral fraud, Maliki's State of Law coalition has secured from the Independent Electoral Commission a manual recount of votes in Baghdad, where it claims there were instances of fraud. Allawi, for his part, fears that the recount itself may be manipulated, which along with the pre-election imbroglio over the Justice and Accountability Law, threatens to delegitimie the electoral credentials of Maliki's government if it is indeed returned as a consequence of the recount.

Politics is a tough business, and disputes over ballots can happen even in the most developed of democracies, as the Florida 'hanging chad' controversy showed. But claims and counter-claims of electoral fraud do nothing for the confidence of the voting public and hinder the formation of governments. And of course, the absence of confidence in the political system makes some more inclined to take action into their own hands.

While the political manoeuvring in Iraq is part and parcel of politicking, it will be interesting to see whether an Arab leader will break the mould by leaving office peacefully (if not quietly) as a result of an election. What must the Ba'thists be thinking now?

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