Key to Stability Is Small-Scale Democracy

Tuesday May 04, 2004

Iraq can quickly move to democracy if it is based on small groups rather than the mass democracy practiced throughout the world today. Small-group voting can be implemented quickly, at low cost. A bottom-up election process can create a democratic legislature in Iraq by June 30, in time for the planned transfer of sovereignty to Iraq. 

Mass democracy has failed throughout the world. We see the failure today in Haiti, and throughout Latin America, where elected governments have repeatedly been overthrown. Democracy has broken down in Africa, and works badly in Russia. A new model is needed for democracy to take root and resist being toppled. 

Democracy must start small. Each village and city neighborhood elects a local council. These would be the cells of the political body. Where a traditional clan leadership is in place, it would be recognized as the local authority. The cell would be small enough so that the people can hold meetings and know the candidates personally. There would be no need for large amounts of campaign money. 

Democracy for Iraq must thus begin with the village or neighborhood council. The local council would be open to women, giving anyone a chance to enter into governing. The coalition authority in Iraq has already established village and neighborhood advisory councils. These now need to be elected by the people and given real governing authority. 

The local councils would then elect the provincial or city councils, which would elect regional councils. The national legislature would be elected by the regional councils. The legislature would elect the president. This multi-level voting structure gives more power to the individual voter, because his concerns can be leveraged up. The direct election of top representatives in a mass election provides a feeling of choice while in substance leaving the individual citizen with little influence, because he is but one of many thousands of voters. 

Cellular, bottom-up multi-level democracy can be implemented in time for the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30. This would to a great extent resolve the problem of political power among the religious and ethnic factions of the country. The question of Islamic law would be shifted to the local councils, avoiding the problem of religious domination. 

The violence in Iraq feeds on the absence of self rule. The Governing Council is dismissed by many Iraqis as puppets of the coalition, and the U.S. is blamed for whatever goes wrong, because it is in charge. Establishing genuine democracy and restoring sovereignty quickly will thwart the anti-democratic forces, because it will be clear then that they are fighting the Iraqis, not the Americans. The coalition troops would still maintain order and provide civic services, but only at the invitation and consent of the people of Iraq. We can achieve lasting stability in Iraq with decentralized bottom-up democracy. 


Fred Foldvary is a Berkeley resident.