I was watching some of the Iraqi election coverage on CNN International on Saturday when the polls here in Baghdad had only been open for a few hours. They had already started to talk down the referendum for, as usual, some petty reasons. The anchorman, Shihab Rattansi, was interviewing one of the correspondents, who was reporting from one of the thousands of polling stations we had set up. To demonstrate his wordliness and sophistication, Mr. Rattansi regurgitated a factoid about how many local Sheikhs promised to deliver their entire village's vote in one way or another. He commented on how this meant that many would vote only as their Sheikh directed them, and that wasn't really democracy. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's the British accent combined with the slick suit and anchor
desk pulpit, but he couldn't have appeared more smug about it.
This brings a few things to mind:
- There are many statistics, but the most favorable one places the national literacy rate here at about 60%
- How many people do you know that vote one way or another because their friends, parents or union boss tells them to do so?
- Whether it is a candidate or a constitution, when is the last time the practice of the law or the elected official has been directly in line with the way the law was written or the candidate's campaign promises? The word "never" comes to mind.
- You're supposed to vote your conscience with as much information as you can get at the time. This varies widely between people.
- Local Sheikhs here promise much and don't always deliver.
- This is a secret ballot. They have no way of knowing how their tribe will vote when it comes down to it.
My late Father received a phone call before every election from a quintessential "little old lady" who lived in the neighborhood asking him how he was going to vote. He went to great lengths to explain why he was voting the way he was. She thanked him profusely but really did not care. She voted exactly as he did every time. She thought highly of him and respected his judgment. That was still democracy. I'll bet she was better informed after a 45 minute conversation with my father than half of the voters out there.
The Iraqis are making are making a go of it as best they can with what they've got, and bravely so. The nit-picking of an Englishman with a camera and a microphone will not stand against them, even if it is on CNNi. What a stick-in-the mud!