Indian style democracy in Iraq

Millions of Iraqis have braved bullets to cast their vote. Iraq is a multi-ethnic country, and its best bet is an Indian-style federal system where every group gets a fair opportunity to further its aspirations, says ERIC KOO PENG KUAN

What is India News Service
4 February 2005

On the scheduled election day on January 30, Iraqis braved the risk of sudden death from insurgents and terrorists. Indeed, up to 44 people had reportedly been killed in the week before the elections. Yet this did not deter millions from turning up at the polling stations. The thirst for the right to rule has over-ridden even intimidation. Democracy, in a way, has scored a hit against terrorism.

When the USA defeated Saddam and his forces, they naturally took for granted that a US-styled democratic government would eventually be set up to head a unified Iraq. What they did not reckon with in minute detail is the multiethnic and multi-religious nature of Iraqi society.

Kurds, Arabs of both Shi'a and Sunni faiths, and Christian Assyrians must co-exist in the wake of a nation devastated by war. It is natural that different groups have their own aspirations and would want to further their group's interests. Yet they must do so within legitimate means through properly elected governments, not through violence and terrorism.

Islamic political theorist Dr Azzam Tamimi argued that it is possible for an Islamic government to also be democratic, without compromising religious ideals or polarizing itself against the West. He stated a clear difference between the procedural and philosophical aspects of democracy. The latter determines what brand of democracy is suitable for different cultures and societies. For example, the US political arena consists only of two main opposing parties - the Republicans and Democrats, whereas in Asian countries like India, Indonesia and Malaysia, a huge number of political parties of varying influence can hold sway. Philosophical democracy should be applied to the context of Iraq, just like India.
India is an example of a country consisting of several religious and ethnic groups with overlapping or grey areas. Yet, it has progressed as an independent political entity under the banner of democracy for almost six decades. Its flexible political system allows various interest groups to voice out and represent rather fairly their interests and stands in the national assembly, the Indian Parliament.

India is divided into a number of states whereby the population in each state is allowed the freedom to vote for their favourite political party. The Chief Minister of each state heads a government responsible for running local affairs in its jurisdiction. This template system of governance is unique to India, designed to meet the demands of a multi-racial and multi religious country. Hence, if democracy can succeed in India, why not Iraq?
Supposing a significant number of Iraqis prefer a strict, Islamic government ruled by the shuria law, but another portion yearns for secularism under liberal democracy? It is presumptuous to assume that all Iraqis will naturally welcome the interim government formed and backed by the US administration in June 2004. In fact, it was perceived unfavourably by many as a thin masquerade for a colonial type of rule, where a Resident or Governor appointed by the Crown would administer local affairs, but the local people would have no say. Perhaps this is the main cause for discontent in Iraq and the perfect excuse for Iraqi insurgents and terrorists to justify their kidnappings and acts of violence. Now that the elections have taken place, perhaps the common Iraqi can have a better say in local governance and a better control of things.

Iraq can well adopt India's system of governance to cope with its internal problems. The new Iraqi parliamentary assembly can sub-divide Iraq internally into different states where each interest group may form a pre-dominant population, and organize fair elections for a local government. The state governments may be given authority on internal affairs such as health care, education, and so forth. However, foreign relations, internal security and external defence must remain the responsibility of a federal government, presided over by the head of state. By thus reforming Iraq, the terrorists and insurgents will have one less reason to launch indiscriminate attacks on both security forces and unarmed civilians, thereby paving the way for economic recovery. 

The writer is a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies (IDSS). He writes commentaries
and analysis articles on international affairs, security issues and terrorism 

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