Monday, January 31, 2005
By Steven L. Taylor

Andrew Cory blogging at Dean’s World correctly correctly notes in re: Iraq that

Elections qua elections are not good enough.

Certainly one election does not a demoracy make. (Although I would note the Andrew takes a somewhat more negative tone than I think the event warrants–still his post made me think of a couple of things).

I will state, as one who studies political development and democratization, that it will be a good number of years before we can declare Iraq any kind of true democratic success. At a minimum the standard tends to be two full electoral cycles and only then if the second of those elections represents a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. It is not a hard and fast rule, but multiple cycles are necssary to truly say that democracy has been institutionalized, and the ability of the loser to accept losing, and for the winners not to abuse their victories are both key tests that many societies trying to acheive democracy fail.

In point of fact it will be at least a decade before any serious evaluations can be completed (although it certainly will be possible to make interim evaluations along the way). This was obvious to me before the war even started (and, for that matter, I have always expected a long deployment of US troops in the country to achieve these policy objectives).

However, while one election does not a democracy make (nor do elections equal democracy, even over time–look at the Soviet Union, or Mexico prior to 2000 for a less stark example) it certainly takes an election to be placed seriously upon the road to democratization.

Iraq is firmly on that road, at least for the moment, and hopefully will be able to stay upon it–certainly that is the main significance of yesterday’s election. The dictator has been deposed, an interim govenrment formed, an interim constitution written, and now a constituent assembly/acting parliament has been elected to write a permanent constitution that will have to be ratified by the Iraqi people. This all sums to a very good start.

The current challenges include boslterig the security capacities of the state and reaching a political settlement with the Sunnis (which, I would argue, is quite possible to achieve: the lack of voting in some areas will not preclude the inclusion of Sunnis in this process).

There is no doubt that it could all fall apart. However, there is also the chance that it all could work.

At this moment in time I would argue that Iraq is in the process of transition from authoritarian rule to democractic governance. The transition period will last years as they move to the consolidation phase. However, it will be, as I noted above, at least a decade, if not more, before we will truly be able to say whether or not a truly democratic state has been institutionalized in Iraq. This is a long and tricky process that requires patience.

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