Column: The farce of American democracy

By David Solana

The Iraqi elections have been called incompetent, a farce to legitimize the U.S. occupation of Iraq and sectarian by Muhammad al-Duri, Saddam Hussein’s last ambassador to the United Nations, according to Whether the elections were run incompetently is debatable. Any number of people could be found to back either side of an argument about the elections having been rushed to legitimize U.S. occupation. However, calling the elections sectarian and therefore detrimental to the political health of Iraq defies an understanding of the goal of democracy. Yes, the elections produced clear divisions between populations in Iraq, but this is how democracy works. The goal of democracy is to represent all groups and bring them together in a peaceful manner that delineates government policy without oppressing minorities or allowing their oppression.

Many democracies in Europe see large numbers of parties represented in their legislatures, often with no party having an absolute majority. This forces parties to talk with each other, compromise and thereby represent a larger spectrum of their countries’ diverse ideologies. The lack of the expected absolute majority of Sunni-affiliated parties forces them to talk with other parties. With this forced cooperation, it will be difficult for one party to write a constitution that shoves portions of the population into political oblivion.

Examining the U.S. model demonstrates the problem with democracy. With a legislature composed of two parties and a negligible number of independents, it is impossible to represent a reasonable proportion of the varied ideologies in this nation. Even the presence of a third party in numbers sufficient to disallow any party more than 50 percent of the seats in either legislature would initiate much-needed debate in U.S. government.

Iraq’s president and prime minister are going to be chosen by the newly elected legislature, which allows the Kurdish contingent, the second largest, to request the presidency in return for backing the Sunnis in voting for the prime minister. A “you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” policy is normal in democracy, but in this case it’s not the typical type seen in the United States where congressmen wheel and deal to get more money directed to their state. The cooperation needed to accomplish anything with Iraq’s new parliament is the type that in current U.S. policy could lead, for example, to gay marriage legalization across the board in exchange for a free-trade treaty. It allows representation of various groups, each accomplishing a goal for their constituency instead of a single machine dictating policy. Even a cursory glance at most European governments shows the system doesn’t work quite as I’ve described here, but there is conversation between parties before agendas can be advanced.

U.S. democracy is a sham. It doesn’t work because it allows for majority rule. The Constitution itself becomes meaningless because a majority that runs all branches of the government has no checks or balances. It doesn’t matter which party is in charge, they are able to run their policy with no thought for the remainder of the population. Ideally this would have a backlash in following elections, but even if that were to happen, but as long as that majority is maintained, it doesn’t matter how oppressed the minority is – they still wouldn’t have the requisite numbers to elicit change.

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As we live today, the majority of the U.S. population is able to turn its back on freedom and deny marriage to gay couples. While minority groups in the past have seen improvement in their status, it has taken civil war, followed by turbulent civil rights movements, to merely alleviate the oppression of blacks, and women had to campaign more than 100 years just to gain the right to vote. The minority in the U.S. is still subject to the majority will, which is not the purpose of the Constitution, simply a side effect of being able to ignore it.

With luck and compromise, the Iraqi people just may end up with a more-democratic government than the majority-run oppression we live with here.