Middle East


A Simple Majority Rule for Iraq

The Iraqi Governing Council building in Baghdad. (Photo: Webshots)

Although the White House currently emphasizes a military solution to end the violence in Iraq and restore public security, political solutions should be found for the Iraqi government and institutions to ensure the equal rights and representation of multi-ethnic groups over national policy. Moreover, laws should be implemented in Iraq so that tensions are reduced and cooperation is enhanced of multi-ethnic groups in government participation.

One aspect of Iraqi government that can be modified is the current two-thirds majority rule to pass legislation in parliament. The majority rule may appear to represent the voice of most delegates, but with a sectarian, fractious Iraq in which ethnic distinctions constitute the basis of political parties, a majority vote may be seen more as passing preferred Shiite legislation. Unlike many nations of the West, a strong Iraqi sentiment of national unity does not exist. The nationality of a person in Iraq may be Iraqi, but within Iraq divisions begin in which people begin to distinguish themselves from one another. A single national identity as just "Iraqis" diminishes through ethnic distinctions.

However, such divisions have existed for such a long time in the history of many Middle Eastern countries, and it seems that such distinctions will not erode in the future. For this reason, until the Iraqi people are able to find a common national identity and are able to work together in their nation's interests, a democratic legislature that passes legislation on the basis of the number of political parties with a majority approval vote can be constructed to accommodate for the different ethnic groups in the Iraqi National Assembly.

Unlike Iraq, legislation passed in the United States under a two-thirds majority rule by the legislative body is considered to be in the interests of the nation. The key differences among American political parties lie mainly in ideology, position taking, and constituents, but not in loyalties to particular clans or groups. For example, Democrats and Republicans consider themselves to represent different ideological spectrums of American society, but not different "American" people.

In contrast, the key difference among Iraqi political parties is ethnicity, or religious affiliation rather than ideology. In domestic politics, Iraqi loyalties to ethnic groups are stronger than loyalty to the nation, which does not keep ethnic interests in line with national interests. This has created sharp divisions within the political process in which Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds want representatives of their own sect to assume government positions.

The current two-thirds majority rule in the Iraqi Parliament can allow a Shiite majority to determine legislation. Shiite Iraqis seem determined to consolidate their power after Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein held power since 1979. Hence, the Shiites organized the United Iraqi Alliance, a grand coalition that won 128 seats in the 2005 December elections and 113 seats, which remained after 29 members of the Sadrist Movement within the alliance withdrew from the government. Sect unity is also reflected in the Kurdistani Alliance comprised of Kurds with 53 seats, and the Iraqi Accord Front of Sunnis with 44 seats. The Iraqi National List, which won 25 seats, attempts to forge national unity with a political party of diverse ethnic membership, which is a great way to promote national interests in politics.

However, sect loyalties are strong, making political parties of diverse sect members an ideal goal for Iraqi politics. At the moment such advancement may prove to be difficult, especially since Shiites hold the majority of seats in parliament and compose the majority of Iraq's ethnic population. The rising power of the Shiite majority in Iraq causes Sunni Iraqis to unite against a Shiite majority in a position to not only determine the future of Iraq, but seek benefits for Shiites.

Still, political parties of predominantly Shiite or Sunni members can cause suspicion, and mistrust, in the political arena. If a two-thirds majority is all that is required to determine public policy, then the Sunnis have many reasons to resist Shiite political parties. A Shiite majority population may decide to continue voting for Shiite representatives and instill a Shiite majority in parliament, unless Shiite voters strongly believe Sunni candidates can relate to their interests.

Unless the parties can either set their differences aside or create parties of diverse ethnic membership with national objectives, a large Shiite majority in parliament will be strongly resisted by other groups, and violence may continue if Shiites decide to pass legislature that either Sunnis or Kurds cannot agree on. At the moment, it is difficult to organize multi-ethnic parties, and even more when parties like the United Iraqi Alliance contain radical members of the Sadrist Movement that may not be willing to collaborate with Sunnis.

In order to establish an equal voice among all political parties and prevent the domination of any majority party in the legislature, bills can be passed on the basis of the number of parties with majority approvals. If legislation is passed on the basis of a majority vote within political parties rather than a majority in parliament as a whole, the interests of diverse sects are taken into account since no one majority party can pass the legislation it most desires. If a majority of political parties vote in favor of a bill, it passes, but if the 113 members of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance along with other Shiite groups constitute a majority in parliament and they all vote for the same bill, then that bill would not pass.

With this modification, policies most preferred by various sects will reflect national interests. Minority parties with no more than five members such as The Upholders of the Message, Iraqi Turkmen Front, and National Rafidain List, which currently hold seats with less than five members, could choose to vote alone or form coalitions to exercise their vote. Thus, it would not be the overall number in parliament that counts, but rather the numbers within the parties that decides the fate of legislation.

Although this strategy may have flaws, it could provide incentives for Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds to engage in deep negotiations with one another to eventually reach a consensus on public policy. With the current system in place, Shiites may not be as willing to negotiate or dialogue with Sunnis if Shiites know they can pass legislation with the support of Shiite members in Iraq.

Over the long-term, this could forge national unity as different sects find themselves obligated to propose legislation that will appeal to diverse sects and work to establish common interests among the Iraqi population. In addition, minority groups such as the Iraqi Turks will find their representation increased as their party's majority, whether alone or in a coalition, is worth more when political parties with the most seats do not pass their own preferred legislation over minorities.

In another manner, this strategy is applied in United States Presidential elections as the Electoral College makes up for the unequal population distribution across the country. States with larger populations do not override the presidential vote of states with smaller populations. In the case of Iraq, a population with Shi'a 60 percent - 65 percent, Sunni 32 percent - 37 percent and Kurdish 15 percent - 20 percent, with Kurds seeking independence and Shi'a forging their own region, in a sense, each group psychologically views their tribal groups to be their own states. Insurgency and ethnic strife is slowly moving Iraq into an apartheid state, in which each sect dominates specific regions of the country and the sectarian violence forces Sunnis living in predominately Shiite communities to move to Sunni communities and vice versa.

In addition, the two-thirds majority rule taken from the United States Constitution, currently used in the Iraqi parliament, is one factor in American politics that from time to time allows parties in the United States to pass legislation based on the number seats a party holds. The Republican Party passed its preferred legislation in the House for nearly a decade with a simple majority of seats. As Republicans began to maintain their seats in Congress and centralize party control, they did not have the incentive to consult with the Democrats at times, and left them out of negotiations on several bills.

In addition, after the 1990's politics became more partisan in Congress when Republicans were able to pass more of their legislation. A two-thirds majority rule used in United States Congress to pass legislation, may not work at the moment for Iraq when there are deep ethnic divides amongst Iraqis, and political parties are formed more on sectarian lines rather than ideology or national interests.

There is no doubt that Iraq still needs time to develop its democracy, but the present day party politics in Iraq is a power struggle among groups competing for government control, and ultimately seeking benefits for their own sects. A new kind of majority rule based on the number of majority votes within parties can foster negotiation as no one majority party or sectarian group can dominate legislature in the Iraqi parliament.

Overall, laws that guide the function of government participation must enforce multiethnic unity for political parties to unify society. Ideas should be drafted to help Iraq develop a democracy that fosters multiethnic representation and cooperation.