Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Thursday, June 10, 2004

France: the Monkey Wrench of the World
Written by: Beck

In today's WSJ Opinion Journal, the article Next Up, Iraq Elections highlights a few more bad ideas from the French and how they could potentially sink democracy in Iraq should they be implemented.

Anyway, as I've discussed earlier, political systems which encourage fringe political parties lead to instability. The examples of Israel, Italy, and most South American nations are highly illustrative of what happens when a smallish party with fringe political beliefs has the power to derail the entire government. Should France have their way with the elections to be held in Iraq no later than January of 2005, a splintered government composed of officials who feel no compulsion to appeal to a broad spectrum of society will likely result.
The U.S. and Britain have what's known as constituency-based democracy. That is, voters in neighborhoods or districts select a single person to represent them in Congress or Parliament based on whoever wins a plurality of the vote. This system has many virtues, producing stable and effective governments that can be held accountable by voters at the next election. When Prime Minister Tony Blair came to power, for example, the Tory defense and foreign ministers lost not just their cabinet posts but their seats in Parliament--an outcome almost unthinkable under a system of "proportional" representation.

Yet the latter is precisely what Ms. Perelli proposed last week for Iraq. In this system, voters choose not among individual candidates but among parties that are awarded a share of legislative seats based on their percentage of the vote. Proponents say the system better allows all significant voices to be heard. But even in the best of cases--Italy over much of the past 50 years--proportional systems tend to produce unstable governments easily paralyzed by the little parties they have to cobble into a majority coalition. Would-be candidates are beholden to party bosses who determine their place on the electoral list and thus their chances of success.
Furthermore, the more ethnically divided a nation is (witness the impact of multiculturalism in Europe), the greater the fractious impact of a heavily multiparty system. In other words, efforts at ensuring broad representation result in ensuring that only extremists are represented. The WSJ says it better:
Ms. Perelli's nationwide proportional system will encourage voters and parties to separate themselves along sectarian lines. What's more, where constituency systems tend toward centrist politics as candidates seek a majority, proportional systems empower extremists who could never win outright in any single area but who can garner a significant minority of the vote. Look for the mad Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr, for one, to get elected under these rules.
But why would anyone want this if it's so obvious?
So what's driving this strange push for a party-based proportional system in a country with no well-established parties besides the Baath? A big part of the motivation appears to be the dogmatic desire of the U.N. and State Department to ensure that at least 25% of Iraqi legislators are women, which is a goal but not a requirement of Iraq's interim constitution. You can rig a party-list election to ensure such an outcome, and Ms. Perelli wants to mandate that every third candidate be a woman. She couldn't do that with constituencies.
Finally, a France-bashing money quote for you:
Regarding the new resolution, what would we do without the French? They tried to be more Iraqi than the Iraqis, insisting that the new interim government in Baghdad have a veto over coalition troops. But the Iraqis themselves said they didn't need it. They seem to appreciate that to provide proper security the U.S. military needs flexibility. And the hardest calls--whether to clean out Fallujah, say--will require Iraqi assent in any event. Yesterday a mortar round wounded four Iraqis from the unit given control of Fallujah in April, and the new government is going to have to ensure that that city doesn't become Iraq's version of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Should Iraq ever become the quagmire that Vietnam was (and I firmly maintain that at present, it is not a quagmire in any sense of the word), once again, we will have much to thank the French for.

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