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Saturday, November 29, 2003

Well looks like the Bush administration has finally met an authority it can't push around or ignore -- Ayatolla Ali Sistani. It seems that the plan for the future of Iraq lasted two whole weeks. I didn't like it to begin with.

Very odd the link to the plan in the CPA web site is no longer working. Has the plan gone down the memory hole ?

The Bush approach is to decide what to do then make other people agree. Works fine with the IGC but does not work with Sistani. The reaction to his pronouncements makes it very clear that he has the power of veto. It is reasonable to respect his veto given his presumably high standing and relative reasonableness (I mean you democracy does have something to do with elections you know). However, two public about faces in two weeks mean that his great power is now enormous.

I still think that it would have been better to try to discuss things relatively quietly with, among other people, Sistani. Then to publically announce things acceptable to Sistani. I don't mind at all saying I told them so two weeks ago.

I don't see why it should be impossible to agree with someone who thinks elections are an essential part of democracy. The problems are

1) Some Iraqis will vote for Ba'athists and moslem fundamentalists.

Certainly true but only a reason to delay elections if you are confident that the vote will be better later. I think it's past time to temper optimism a bit.

2) There is a risk of tyranny of the Shi'ite majority.

Certainly true if a constitutional convention is elected and a simple majority can pass a constitution. As I said before this can be handled two ways. Requiring a big majority for approval or writing the consitution undemocratically and having a referendum.

3) Sistani wants the constitution to say that the State can't do anything inconsistent with Islam (which means that he will have a permanent veto and his successor after him). Well that is a problem. He does seem to have a veto already so not such a huge loss. I'm afraid that some vague declaration of respect for Islam will be necessary. Anyway, if Iraq is democratic, it will respect Islam. I mean the risk that something might be interpreted as giving Sistani a veto, isn't that horrible since he clearly has one already.

Now More on writing a democratic constitution in an undemocratic way then having a referendum.

I saw a headline I really liked (but didn't save)
"Tribe reflecting on Iraqi constitution" then I read the article and found out that "Tribe" was not Lawrence Tribe but, well, a tribe. I think they should just call in Lawrence Tribe, Have Bremer act as a go between between him and the president of the ICG (won't be Talibani for long) and have the president consult with Sistani (and others) but really listen to Sistani. Then a referendum.

We have some experience with constitutions which prevent tyranny of the majority. I think a bill of rights, a federal constitution considerable regional autonomy, a bicameral legislature and proportional representation would prevent tyranny of the majority. Of course that might leave the prime minister (or president) so weak that everything would collapse.

Anyway, I don't think any democratic or semi democratic process would do as good a job as Tribe. Not to mention I don't recall the constitutional conventions of Japan or Germany which turned out OK and I do recall the Costituente Italiano which wrote a document with some problems.

Of course, if the Bush administration decided to subcontract writing a constitution they wouldn't hire Tribe and I doubt that I would like the constitution much but I'd accept it to avoid further bloodshed and I bet almost all Iraqis would too.

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