Iraqi elections a sign of hope
Before the Iraq election last week, there were many of the “gloom and doom” persuasion who were convinced that the turnout would be low as a result of high levels of insecurity and threats of reprisals from terrorists. It appears now that millions of voters were not willing to be intimidated and have instead showed by their courageous actions that they really want democracy after years of being under the thumb of a vicious dictator and his gang of thugs.The BBC has been running a web site on which Iraqis have been posting their thoughts. Typical is the following:”Today I went and voted. There were many people walking in the street, everyone was running around smiling and happy, it was just like a feast day. Everyone is so excited. We heard many bombs this morning, but we didn’t care because we have to use our right to vote. So many people were afraid to go this morning, but now it seems in the afternoon that more people have voted.”The votes remain to be counted, and we will not know for some time exactly what percentage of the electors voted in each city. But there is every indication that the Kurds and Shia Muslims voted in large numbers, whereas in Sunni area’s turnout was much lower. This lower turnout by Sunnis is probably a reflection of the greater presence of terrorists in the cities that were Saddam Hussein’s base.While insurgent threats of violence may have deterred some, others may be obeying boycotts of the elections called by some Sunni political parties. Whatever the case, the Sunnis will only have themselves to blame if they are under-represented in the new government.In contrast, the high turnout by Kurds reflects that they were anxious to get as high a proportion of the overall vote as possible in order to influence the new constitution as well as to obtain key ministerial posts in the new government.President George W. Bush has called the Iraqi election a “resounding success” and said Iraqis have rejected the anti-democratic ideology of terrorists. “The people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East.By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs and assassins.”Elation over the success of the elections is not uniquely Republican. As Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman commented, “Today’s elections mark a new dawn for democracy in Iraq. The terrorist killers made a last ditch, violent effort to derail the democratic process in Iraq because they know that it spells the beginning of the end for them. But they failed, and the millions of Iraqis who bravely cast their votes today can claim a crucial victory for themselves and for their dreams of a new Iraq.”The success of the elections should also send a shock wave into the neighboring countries that have a history of repression and lack of democracy. And their people may soon be demanding that they, too, have the right to elect their own governments. Just imagine how the people of Syria must feel about some 17,000 Iraqis living in Syria who were able to cast absentee ballots while they themselves have to put up with an un-elected dictator. In Iran, the number of Iraqis registered to vote exceeded 60,000; this cannot have gone unnoticed by the restless youth of Iran who are getting tired of the repressive regime of the mullahs.Much remains to be done to improve the daily life of Iraqis and to eliminate the remaining terrorists in their midst, but we in the United States and our Coalition partners can be proud of our efforts to make possible this first vital step towards a functioning democracy. We must remember that the Soviet Union did not collapse immediately, but did so over time as a result of the resolve of those Western countries that did not give into threats or follow the path of appeasement.Just as most former Soviet puppet states are now amongst the most fervent supporters of capitalism, so we can hope that many of the repressive regimes of the Middle East will in due course become peaceful, democratic states, following in the footsteps of the brave Iraqis who have now told the world where they stand.The last thing that Iraq needs now is for the United States to “cut and run,” as has been advocated by some politicians. We need to increase the training and effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and thus improve security. This will then provide fertile soil for the infant democracy to flourish and become a responsible member of the international community. VTPeter Leslie is a former CFO of the United Nations Development Program, now living in Vail. His comments on UN issues are on the web site of the Foreign Policy Association and his column appears periodically in the Vail Trail.
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