Is democracy feasible in Iraq?

The most poignant reason that majoritarian democracy for Iraq is a political fallacy is the role that political memory plays in defining groups views toward the state.

Vehicles drive under campaign posters ahead of the parliamentary election, in Erbil, Iraq (photo credit: AZAD LASHKARI / REUTERS)
Vehicles drive under campaign posters ahead of the parliamentary election, in Erbil, Iraq
(photo credit: AZAD LASHKARI / REUTERS)
The September 25 Kurdistani referendum has altered the political landscape of Iraq. The fine relations among the political parties of Iraq, particularly the Kurdish and Shi’ite, deteriorated to levels never seen before after the independence referendum. Although, the government evidently succeeded in regaining control of the Kurdish-held disputed territories, the Shi’ite establishment quickly attempted to solidify their leverage by forcing the Kurdish government to give in to their demands, namely on control of borders, airports and oil revenues.
The post-Saddam order was a period where Iraq’s Shi’ites, relative to other constituent groups, became the most dominant player in the economic, political and security sectors. The biggest losers from the new order, on the other hand, were the Sunnis. Although, not all the Sunnis were Ba’athists, they were still viewed from the purviews of the Shi’ite-centric state as a defeated component of Iraq. This view led to the political marginalization of the Sunnis that later precipitated Sunni mass demonstrations in their regions against the government, which arguably culminated in the emergence of the Islamic State. Although the so-called inclusive government of Prime Minister Abbadi defeated ISIS, the government shifted its outlook toward the Kurds after the ill-fated independence referendum and the fall of Kirkuk by the Kurdish Peshmerga. The plight of the Sunnis and the Kurds at the hands of the Iraqi state since 2014 has placed inclusive governance and coalition politics – a pillar of the post-2003 order – at peril.
Since 2003, the form of the democracy that has been practiced in Iraq has been the coalition model – or in political science terms, consociational democracy. Before jumping into the argumentation of which form fits Iraq’s political system best, a brief introduction is necessary.
In political science, democracy has different forms and facilities different types of political systems. The most popular model is widely understood as the majoritarian system, whereby the political entity that obtains an overall majority of the popular vote is eligible to acquire executive authority. The minorities, on the other hand, become the official opposition in the legislature.
Usually, this form is practiced in the centralized governments such as the United Kingdom.
In order to practice this model without causing trouble for the political environment, there must be certain criteria. First, this system is present in the contexts in which the people are ethnically or culturally homogeneous.
Secondly, the majority political parties are usually those that represent a comprehensive interest and will of the entire country not a single ethnicity or group. Thirdly, the political entities do not have essential differences in terms of their political ideology, such as secularism versus theocracy. If we apply these criteria, none of them can be met in Iraq, due to its diversity in religions, cultures and ethnicities.
The most poignant reason that majoritarian democracy for Iraq is a political fallacy is the role that political memory plays in defining groups views toward the state. Based on numerical majority, the Shi’ites would obtain executive power at every electoral opportunity. This, combined with the fragility of the Iraqi state, would no doubt precipitate intra-group violence, as evident by the 2007 civil war and most recently the emergence of ISIS.
Therefore, although the formation of a consociational government is an arduous process and perhaps hinders the state’s decisiveness, it ensures that each group has a formative stake in the central state, which if maintained can reduce justifications for violence.
Hence, in order to have a stable country, this form of democracy should be abandoned in Iraq and maintain the coalition-government model. The most remarkable difference in the coalition form of democracy would be that the minorities that could not win the majority of the votes are not powerless.
In other words, being the opposition is not the only choice on the table. Furthermore, any bills could not be passed without the consent of the minorities.
For example, the recent passing of the 2018 budget law without the consent of the Kurdish parliamentary blocs was a clear violation of inclusive governance, leaving the Kurds feeling marginalized and sharpening their view that the central state operates counter to their group’s interests.
With the spread of those voices arguing for majoritarian rule, especially among some Shi’ite political parties, it must seriously be countered by all constituent groups, especially the other Shi’ite parties. Otherwise, majority rule could destabilize the post-2003 political equilibrium that was established.

The writer is a student at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), majoring in International Studies and minoring in the Iraqi Law.