Warren Coats on Democracy

The highly respected economist Warren Coats, who has spent years working with post-Soviet economies, recently sent around an interesting article about his trip to the Middle East, expounding on some observations about democracy, which I thought some of my readers would find valuable. Coats is the Senior Monetary Policy Advisor to the Central Bank of Iraq for the IMF and to Afghanistan for BearingPoint/USAID. He retired from the International Monetary Fund in 2003 and holds a Ph.D in Economics from the University of Chicago. voting050708.jpgDemocracy—the consent of the Governed By Warren Coats Democracy must be earned Democracy seems to have been trivialized in recent years as “voting.” When the voters in the West Bank and Gaze elected Hamas to govern them, in what has universally been characterized as the cleanest election ever held in the Muslim Middle East, the United States rejected the result. In fact, the Palestinian vote seemed more to punish Arafat’s Fatah for its incompetence and corruption than to endorse Hamas’ stated policies toward Israel. This is in the best tradition of democracy. So much for democracy.

The first principle of living under the consent of the governed is to live within the relative predictability of the rule of law. The rule of law protects me from the coercion of my neighbors and arbitrary treatment by the state. I am not a political philosopher, of course, but I have grown up and formed my political views in a society that has explicitly rejected the idea in its constitution that a majority of voters is free to impose any thing on me it likes. I have rights as an individual that transcend the will of the majority.Yet I do believe that a constitutionally limited democracy is ultimately the best form of government when it has been properly earned, i.e., when citizens understand and accept its requirements and their obligations. Our efforts to impose “democracy” (i.e. voting) in Iraq illustrate some of the problems of voting before the necessary foundations of law and public understanding are in place. I gained further insights into our mistakes in “nation building” in Iraq from a recent interview in the Washington Post with Sameer Shaker Sumaidaie, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S.A major over riding mistake was to install democracy, aka “voting,” far too quickly. The Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by Jerry Bremer, governed Iraq from May 6, 2003 until end June 2004, cutting one to two years off the planned transition period. I was there when the order came down for the CPA to hurry and wrap things up. The interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allaw lasted from June 28, 2004 until April 2006. On January 30, 2005 Iraq held its first multiparty elections in 50 years to elect a transitional National Assemble and on October 15, a new constitution was adopted by referendum. Elections were held under the new constitution for a fully “democratic” government on December 15, 2005. No party won a majority and it took until April 22, 2006 for the new government to be formed.At least the process was phased, but 22 months was just not long enough to develop the foundations of democracy that would allow an elected government to function properly. Political parties were not organized. “The main people who were organized were the Kurds and the religious, or the Islamist, parties. The secular organizations were very underrepresented. That was the situation in 2005, when U.S.-backed elections were held “before the country was really recovered and was ready,” according to Sumaidaie. The results have not been pretty.“BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Nightmarish political realities in Baghdad are prompting American officials to curb their vision for democracy in Iraq. Instead, the officials now say they are willing to settle for a government that functions and can bring security.”Ambassador Sumaidaie remains optimistic about the future. He said that the first set of elections in 2005 “created a lot of problems, primarily because voters were given a list of parties and not individuals. The upcoming provincial elections will be different,” he said, “because voters will know candidates’ names.” This, according to the Ambassador, will give ethnic and interest groups accountable representatives who will be better able to protect the interests of their constituents in the give and take of governance.