What a miserably pessimistic Peter Preston column in the Guardian today. When people talk of the western left losing faith in the transformative power of liberty, I think this is the kind of stuff they must mean:
Democracy, among other things, apparently means peace and power-sharing and reconciliation and prosperity and the rule of law. That is why January 30 is Iraq’s great date with destiny. That is why an election must, somehow, be made to take place. But Northern Ireland has been voting repeatedly over the decades, and only exhaustion brings it a certain glum tranquillity today.
…..Would Northern Ireland, in such circumstances, even dream of holding an election? Naturally not. The chief constable wouldn’t quaver over his advice. And voting in Protestant but not Republican areas (remembering that around 25% of their respective populations are Sunnis and Sinn Féin supporters)? It doesn’t bear inspection: it’s ludicrous, an impossible route to power-sharing. Of course, the majority Shi’ites want an election desperately. They’re going to win it. Of course, the Kurds more or less agree. There are other distant, devolved deals for them to make thereafter. But the Sunnis, Iraq’s erstwhile masters, have to be an integral and proportional part of the equation, and there is no realistic prospect of that happening.
American forces won’t defend the polling stations: that will be left to Iraq’s own failing resources. The only answer is to stay away, to skulk at home with the door locked, then complain about democratic illegitimacy later.
The only answer?
Here is a suggestion that a different answer may be provided on January 30th. A poll from the Iraqi newspaper Al-Sabah (translated here) asks residents of the Baghdad area about their plans for election day:
Will the security problems cause you to?
Not come out and vote the day of elections = 18.3%
Come out and vote the day of elections = 78.3%
No opinion = 3.4%
I’ve no idea who will be proved right by events. But I certainly know who I hope will be right.