Misinterpreting Our Institutions
Russell Degnan

As the Iraqi elections draw nearer and the assorted columnists debate the likelihood of achieving a result that is fair and accepted by the Iraqi people without exploding into further violence, a thought nags away at me.

In almost no democratic country does the first election figure in the democratic consciousness. Key dates in the slow expansion of the franchise are celebrated, but the first election is rarely mentioned, because it is over-shadowed by the granting of rights - to an independent state, to life, liberty, justice, property, speech and many others. A fact reflected in the celebrated documents of the slow rise to democracy. The Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Hardly a people on the face of the earth have not, at some point in their history, had an opportunity to elect a leader, and done so. In so many though, the granting of power through elections has led to the abuse of that power, and to the degradation of the democratic process in order to maintain those powers.

The projected fractious relationship between majority Shiites and their Sunni counterparts should not have to exist. It only will, because the expectation of democratic institutions is the process of "bargaining, squabbling and learning to share power". That is, the holding and use of power among the claimants to it, not the limitation of it through checks and balances.

The world's pseudo-democracies never imbibed liberal ideas and the west seems to have forgotten them. But underlying the greatest leaps forward in democracy was not the right to vote and a say in power, but the curtailing of that power. The creation of institutions to prevent power being abused is a constant theme in the quest for liberty. Given the choice between having no vote, and having no liberty I know what I would choose. I am sure the Sunnis feel the same way.

Update: Rob studiously avoids taking a cheap shot at me from Benambra. Redirect any comments there.

Sterner Matters 21st January, 2005 01:41:19   [#]