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Author: Subject: What's likely to happen with Democracy in Iraq

Universal Peach





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  posted on 6/8/2005 at 12:58 PM
Here's an article from the American Conservative Magazine that might "fire" few people up. Basically what the author, Jon Utley said the type of democracy, which is based on "proportional representation" doesn't seem to work very well. Hell, we got enough problems with our own congress trying to get anything done, imagine when you read the Mr. Utley's sceniaro of a "PR" congress, how much more less things would get done. Definely, food for thought, once again, Iraq is case of what you get when you try and create a "shake and bake" democracy. To my Republican friends in this forum, reading this article, there's a lot of conservatives that don't buy into this President's BS. This article is good example of that.

June 6, 2005 Issue
Copyright © 2005 The American Conservative

PR Problems
Proportional representation creates dysfunctional democracies.

by Jon Basil Utley

Most democracies in the Third World have not brought about great prosperity. Many are corrupt, dysfunctional, and in disarray, unable to control crime or perform the most basic functions of civil society.

As Washington promotes a constitution for Iraq and Arab rulers are pressed to reform, we would do well to analyze why some democracies work so much better than others.

The rules for economic development and effective government are proven and well known; what’s less understood is why many societies are unable to adopt them. The failure is often blamed on their cultures or on corruption, but a common affliction is their political structures: nearly all have proportional representation (PR).

To understand PR, imagine if our Congress were composed of four parties, Democrats, Republicans, a traditionalist Old Right Party, and Greens, each of the last two with 5 percent of the seats. Also imagine that each party is run by the old men who had been around the longest, perhaps a Senator Byrd for one and Bob Dole for another. There would be little new thinking and close political disputes would often be decided by the swing votes—the Old Right and Greens. That system of government, with even more parties, afflicts most of Eastern Europe and Latin America. Any political party that can garner at least 5 percent of the vote would obtain representation in Congress.

It gets worse. Each party runs nationwide, and its candidates are determined by lists controlled by each party’s machinery—usually old-timers who are owed favors and remember grudges. The old men name themselves to the top of the list while the younger start at the bottom, if the bosses approve of them. If the party then wins 40 seats in Congress, the first 40 names on the list get selected. Old politicians like this system: they rarely lose office. Also, reformers—often seen as troublemakers—can be eliminated by simply keeping them off, or at the bottom, of the lists. Corruption is endemic and protected as voters can’t throw out an individual representative. As long as their party gets at least 5 percent of the vote, the old-timers at the top of the list will always have seats in Congress and decide who else gets on the lists. In parliamentary governments, the winning alliance then votes for one of their old leaders to become prime minister.

In the American and English systems, each legislator represents a distinct geographical region. He can be voted out in the next election and new candidates can challenge a powerful incumbent. With proportional representation, those who represent the whole nation or large parts of it represent everybody and nobody. They can speak in generalities and are rarely called to account for specific votes, policies, or consequences.

Venezuela is a perfect example, all too typical of Latin America. From the ’70s to the ’90s, two old men, Carlos Andres Perez and Rafael Caldera, each won the presidency twice as voters had no other choice: in rejecting one, they got the other. In their desperation to get rid of the corrupt, incompetent, statist, and paralyzed old parties, they voted for leftist ideologue Hugo Chavez, the current president. Vladimir Chelminski, former director of the Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce, described the situation in the Wall Street Journal:

For decades, the quality of life had been deteriorating. The democratic process seemed to function well only for the benefit of politicians and their friends. The political parties that had alternated in power since 1958, Social Democrats and Social Christians, were very much the same. Both offered socialism with political freedom. Their policies paid lip service to the poor but always proved counterproductive. Private property and contracts meant little in their laws. Two-thirds of willing workers could not find employment in the formal economy …

Israel’s government offers another example of nationwide proportional representation. A party can get seats in the Knesset if it wins just 1.5 percent of the nationwide popular vote, some 55,000 votes. The system gives crucial power to the religious parties, a determined minority that gains some 20 percent of the vote. As the swing bloc, which could go with the Labor or Likud to form a government, they have such great political power that they are exempt from military service. Many don’t even have jobs or pay taxes.

There are a few nations doing fairly well with systems of PR, Slovakia and Spain, for example. But they are young democracies with young leaders. Their parliaments haven’t yet atrophied into the paralysis of older PR governments. They are also ethnically homogeneous. Note, however, that the successful East Asian democracies (and India) do not use proportional representation, although some have a mixed system with 10 to 20 percent of their legislatures elected with PR. Russia’s Duma is 50 percent PR, Mexico’s is 40 percent. Chile is one of the very few Latin American nations not to use the system.

Ruth Richardson, former Finance Minister of New Zealand and an architect of that nation’s free-market reform and prosperity in the early ’90s, spoke at a conference last year in Moscow sponsored by Cato Institute. She argued that many nations “afflicted with proportional representation” had a low quality of public policy and great difficulty at legislating meaningful reforms. She cited much of Western Europe as an example. Except for England, it has been unable to reform its paralyzing labor laws and anti-entrepreneurial regulations.

Peru’s great economist Hernando de Soto also focused on this problem in his classic book The Other Path, arguing that democracy works so much better in Anglo-Saxon nations because they do not use PR.

With this global civics lesson at its disposal, the United States still chose proportional representation for its Iraqi experiment in democratic transition. The system draws no electoral districts with distinct territorial representation such as the U.S. Congress, which gives a balancing power to smaller states and constituencies. Such a bicameral system as America has would help resolve the problem of protecting minorities such as the Kurds, Sunnis, and Christians in a Shia-majority population. The concern about terrorists preventing people from voting in Sunni areas would have been solved if there were precise geographical districts each entitled to a representative in the Congress. Then a low voter turnout would not have mattered. The people in the district would still have a representative.

European analyst Frank Glodek, in a letter to the Central Europe Review, May 2000, noted:

Proportional representation is particularly dangerous in any nation that has suffered from ethnic, ideological or religious divisions, virtually compelling people to vote along these pre-established lines, regardless of whether they know it to be destructive and of their preference to do otherwise. Not even a five percent vote threshold for a party to hold seats in parliament is a barrier to these voting patterns and their negative impact.

Why? When you have proportional representation, you must assume the ‘others’ will vote ethnically, putting you at risk. The only way to protect yourself is by doing the same…

A proportional representation system can never unite so many diverse nations and peoples effectively, as it is inherently and unavoidably biased toward extremism, instability, immoderation and ineffectiveness. … People forget that the United States was, from the outset, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

Dysfunctional democracies foster instability and misery in much of the world. They represent a threat to American interests and world prosperity. Although other cultural factors, such as how prime loyalties reside with family and tribe rather than nation, also play a critical role, Washington’s efforts towards building prosperous, moderate governments in Iraq and the Arab world need to encourage systems which have proved successful elsewhere.
_____________________________________________________

Jon Basil Utley, a senior fellow with the Mises Institute and the Atlas Foundation, has written and broadcast for 17 years on the Voice of America about Third World economic issues


[Edited on 6/8/2005 by cleaneduphippy]

[Edited on 6/8/2005 by cleaneduphippy]

 
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Universal Peach



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  posted on 6/8/2005 at 05:15 PM
<bump> just don't want this to get buried. I really am curious what some might think about what Jon Utley has to say. Got some good credentials, so if you disagree need to make a "good" argument.
 
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Ultimate Peach



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  posted on 6/9/2005 at 08:14 AM
Good article. But one glaring error right off the bat:

There are a few nations doing fairly well with systems of PR, Slovakia and Spain, for example. But they are young democracies with young leaders. Their parliaments haven’t yet atrophied into the paralysis of older PR governments. They are also ethnically homogeneous.

Spain is NOT ethnically homogenous. Nor is Slovakia for that matter. Spain is much like the former Yugoslavia- a conglomeration of many peoples (Catalans, Basques, Castillians, etc) complete with one violent separatist movement (ETA) and some non-violent ones. Slovakia has a large Hungarian minority as well as a good deal of Romani (Gypsies).

My prediction for Iraq is that it will follow a path similiar to South Korea from 1950 to 1990 or so. Periods of stability and instability alternating with military rule with a final evolution to something resembling a fairly prosperous democracy.

I could be wrong.

 

Zen Peach



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  posted on 6/9/2005 at 08:18 AM
quote:
Good article. But one glaring error right off the bat:
There are a few nations doing fairly well with systems of PR, Slovakia and Spain, for example. But they are young democracies with young leaders. Their parliaments haven’t yet atrophied into the paralysis of older PR governments. They are also ethnically homogeneous.
Spain is NOT ethnically homogenous. Nor is Slovakia for that matter. Spain is much like the former Yugoslavia- a conglomeration of many peoples (Catalans, Basques, Castillians, etc) complete with one violent separatist movement (ETA) and some non-violent ones. Slovakia has a large Hungarian minority as well as a good deal of Romani (Gypsies).
My prediction for Iraq is that it will follow a path similiar to South Korea from 1950 to 1990 or so. Periods of stability and instability alternating with military rule with a final evolution to something resembling a fairly prosperous democracy.
I could be wrong.

Good points KR, and I hope you are right, but at this point I don't think anybody has a clue how it will ultimately turn out. One thing I think we can count on; we're going to have troops there for quite some time for there to be any possibility for any outcome besides complete civil war.

 

Ultimate Peach



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  posted on 6/9/2005 at 08:39 AM
quote:
but at this point I don't think anybody has a clue how it will ultimately turn out


Agreed. My prediction amounts to a mere guess, nothing more.

 

Zen Peach



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  posted on 6/9/2005 at 12:09 PM
quote:
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A senior European Union delegation, including Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, visited Baghdad on Thursday to discuss plans for a major conference on Iraq to be held in Brussels this month.

Straw, whose government opened a major rift with EU partners such as France and Germany by joining the U.S. invasion of Iraq, said the first such EU visit to Baghdad was a sign of change.

With EU foreign affairs commissioner Javier Solana, external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, he held talks with Iraq's president, prime minister and foreign minister during the half-day visit ahead of the June 22 conference.

"Europe was divided -- bitterly divided -- over the Iraq war but the fact of this delegation today ... underlines ... the commitment of the European Union to put the past behind us and work for the Iraqi people," he told a news conference.

Eighty-five countries are set to attend the Brussels gathering, hosted by the United States and the EU and designed to allow Iraq to discuss face-to-face with donors and investors its plans for reconstruction and security.

"We have a very important meeting on the 22nd of June. We will not speak about Iraq, we will speak with Iraq," Asselborn told Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during their meeting.

"It will be a very, very important moment not only for Europe but also for Iraq. We will do our best to help you to establish and restore the rule of law," said the Luxembourg minister, whose country holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, a role Britain will take over on July 1.

PLEDGE OF ASSISTANCE

The EU has pledged 200 million euros (134 million pounds) in further assistance to Iraq and is expected to target that spending around the guidance Iraq gives at the conference. The EU has already spent about 300 million euros on Iraqi aid.

Talabani said Iraq would send a 40-person delegation to the conference, including the foreign minister, and said he hoped the event would mark a new era of cooperation between Iraq and the European Union.

"We see a night and day difference in the attitude of the EU towards Iraq," he told the delegation. Several of the most influential countries in the EU, including France and Germany, were opposed to the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"There are tremendous opportunities for cooperation between Iraq and the European Union," Talabani said.

For its part, the EU plans to open an office in Baghdad in the near future, depending on security, Ferrero-Waldner said.

"We will have to find the right building and then we have to see about the security arrangements. As soon as we do this then we will start to have more staff here," she said.

"I guess it is a matter of months."



© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.


 

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