Elections Pushed Iraq Into Current Chaos as Predicted

Not my usual beat but with the Iraq tragedy worsening each day it may be useful to recall that experts said in 2004 before the much-heralded Iraq elections that voting would make the situation worse. Sadly they were all too correct.

“It is one of the perverse realities of post-conflict elections that this linchpin of the democratic process can also be its undoing,” Benjamin Reilly, a political scientist at Australian National University — 2004.

UN Study: Premature Vote May Prove Disastrous
by Stephen Leahy

(Originally published in Oct 2004)

Oct 19 (IPS) Elections in Afghanistan and Iraq may prove disastrous by increasing violence and extremism, according to studies of other post-conflict societies included in a book released Monday by United Nations University Press.

If elections in volatile situations are ill-timed or poorly designed, they risk producing the direct opposite of the intended outcome, fueling chaos and reversing progress toward democracy, adds the volume, The UN Role in Promoting Democracy.

“It is one of the perverse realities of post-conflict elections that this linchpin of the democratic process can also be its undoing,” Benjamin Reilly, a political scientist at Australian National University, said in a news release announcing the book.

“Elections are a defining characteristic of democracy, but the timing and method of electoral processes are critical,” added Reilly, one of the book’s contributors. The volume examines post-conflict societies, such as Namibia, Mozambique, Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan, where the United Nations played a major role in holding elections.

Based on the volume’s evidence, Iraq is not ready for a vote. (National elections are scheduled for Jan. 31, 2005, but Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar says that may change depending on security in the violence-ridden nation).

By comparison, the book argues that early post-conflict elections in Angola and Bosnia created more problems than they solved. Polls exacerbated existing tensions, increasing support for extremists and encouraging patterns of voting that reflected wartime allegiances. As a result, local elites kept a tight rein over access to power after the vote.

Based on this and other case studies, the book recommends that elections should not be held in post-conflict societies until at least two years after fighting has subsided, in order to properly prepare the people and create an institutional framework for elections.

It is still too early to judge how elections have influenced the peace-building process in other post-conflict societies, such as Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan, said Reilly.

Creating democracy where none has existed is an extremely difficult and lengthy process, according to another contributor to the book, Roland Rich, also of the Australian National University, in Canberra.

“Real change is generational when it comes to instilling democracy,” Rich said in an interview.

The book’s sober views are in stark contrast to the Bush administration’s glowing reports of the election in Afghanistan just over a week ago. According to an article in the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the Afghan vote “breathtaking.”

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