The Iraqi election results

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Here's a story on the results of the Iraqi election. (Interesting that the New York Times ran wire copy on this. Not important enough for an NYT reporter? Hmm. Anyway, the AP story seems just fine.) The good news is that the United Iraqi Alliance didn't win an absolute majority; it came up 10 short, with 128 seats of 275. That means it will have to govern as part of a coalition. I have long thought that the fears of a Shiite fundamentalist regime in Iraq were exaggerated — a way that mainstream media could paint the results of an amazingly encouraging democratic process as threatening and dangerous. But now it's clear that the UIA, despite its considerable support, can't command the majorities needed for ordinary governance, much less the supermajorities required for some actions.

It has been constantly repeated that Iraq's multisect, multiethnic character makes it more difficult to construct a democracy there. I have long thought it makes it easier. The fact that Iraq has multiple sects and ethnic groups forces Iraqis and their advisers to recognize the need for both majority rule and minority rights. Doubtless the Iraqis will haggle over just how to do so — we're still doing that here in the United States, 218 years after the adoption of the Constitution. But it's the right question to ask, and there are lots of acceptable answers.

One question the Iraqis will have to face is how to divide the oil revenue. Splitting it among the regional governments would be a big mistake. Sunnis will charge that they're being cheated (their regions have almost no oil; it's mostly in the Shiite and Kurdish regions) and will have an incentive to somehow take over the national government, which they dominated from the 1920s to 2003. And putting all the oil money in the hands of government—the central government or the regional governments—tends to encourage corruption at best and violent seizure of power at worst. The better solution, long promoted by Ahmed Chalabi, the current deputy prime minister and oil minister, is to give individuals a share of oil income, in a system something like Alaska's Permanent Fund. I have urged this several times, and it's been encouraged by intelligent voices on the left, like the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons and Brazilian Sen. Eduardo Suplicy, who represents the state of Sao Paulo.

If every citizen gets an identical annual oil dividend payment, Sunnis cannot complain that they're being cheated; they'll each be getting the same as everyone else. Citizens will have a form of wealth against which they can borrow to finance small businesses or higher education. Government, deprived of easy oil revenue, will have to tax citizens and will have to justify tax levels and expenditures in turn: the kind of accountability you don't find in most oil-rich nations. Creation of such an oil fund is permitted by Article 110 of the Iraqi Constitution. It should be one of the first acts of the new Iraqi government.