Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Iraqis - keen and optimistic 

Our special correspondent Haider Ajina translated the results of the latest opinion poll published in the August 29th edition of the Iraqi Arabic newspaper “Alhayat”:
"New Iraqi Poll shows 88% will vote for constitution.

"A poll taken by “The Iraqi center for national development & dialog”, which is headed by former Planning minister Mahdi Alhafith. Reveals 88% of Iraqis polled said they will participate in the next vote (for the constitution) on the 15th of October. 5% said they will not vote 6% had not decided yet.

"Mr. Alhafith said to Alhayat newspaper: The poll included 3667 Iraqis, 53% men, the polls showed that 88% of those support holding the constitutional vote under current condition, while 10% were against for various reason. Some of the reasons were that Iraq is not a free country of its own sovereignty, the constitution will not meet their ambitions or that Iraq does not need democracy now and that the security situation will not allow the proper implementation of the constitution.

"As to how many polled support federalism, Alhafith said that 25% of those polled said they support federalism and consider it the preferred way to run the country. He added that 91% of those in favor of federalism were Kurds. While 58% prefer a central government with provincial administration. 17% refused to answer. Further, 45% want a central government, 23% prefer a union type government, 16% prefer a non central government and 13% refused to answer.

"As to the question of Islam being a main source of legislation. 42% support having Islam being the main source of legislation. 24% support having Islam be the only source of legislation. 13% support not having any law which conflicts with Islam. 14% support having Islam being only one of many sources of legislation, not the only one.

"As for women’s rights and women’s representation in the legislature. 84% support giving women full rights and benefits as men. 60% said that a minimum of 25% mandatory representation of women in the assembly is sufficient. 21% said that the minimum number should be raised to 33%.

"As for revenues from natural resources and how they should be divided. 50% said that a central government should divide the revenues proportionately between the central government and the provinces. 19% support an independent agency provided for by the constitution decide. 12% support the constitution decide the percentages between central & provincial governments. 8% support provincial governments in the provinces in which the natural resources exist decide how to divide the revenues.

"78% of those polled expected security to improve after the constitution is adopted. 85% said they are interested in and are following the elections. 10% said they are not interested and do not follow the elections. 5% refused to answer".
As Haider comments: “These are very interesting and telling results. They show a variety of expectations and requirements. A budding democracy for sure. Two things are certain, most will vote and most want women to have rights like men do. This is a unique situation in the Arab and Muslim world.”

The results certainly appear to be confusing in some instances. In particular, the Iraqis, just like their elected leaders, seem to have problems conceptualizing the best constitutional structure for their nation. Not surprisingly, the Kurds are overwhelmingly in favor of federalism. More interestingly, the overall majority, or close to it, favors a more centralized arrangement, showing that Shia politicians might be somewhat out of step with their own constituency – in contrast to Ayotollah Sistani, who seems to have picked the mood just right with his statement yesterday.

I asked Haider what his sources in Iraq are telling him about Sistani's thinking. This is what he had to say:
While Sistani supports decentralizing the government he does not want to create a Sunni federal, a Shiite federal and a Kurdish federal state. He is more in support of the provinces having more autonomy (except Kurds - they have their state like Bavaria in Germany or even more so.) Most Shiites were pushing for a Shiite region to be a federal region. This Sistani does not support, this will divide Iraq wrongly.

Iraq can not have national police force with jurisdiction over the provinces. Each province, county and city must have its own police, answerable to its council.... This concept Sistani understood instantly. Sistani believes now is not the time for the Federal push, perhaps it can come later with a more stable environment. This sounds like the U.S. but back wards.
With the Sunnis and now Sistani coming out against federalism (and Sistani carries significantly more actual weight than the noisy Sadr), the passage of the constitution in the referendum is far from certain - that is if Sistani instructs his followers to vote down the current proposal just on that point (and we have to remember that the draft did not actually settle on any specific federal model, deferring the decisions to a future parliament). Either way, interesting political times ahead.

(And for a somewhat different perspective on the relations between Shis politicians and Shia clerics see Iraq the Model.)

Overall, though, a very positive result in the poll, regarding democratic participation, level of optimism, and women’s rights. The attitude towards the role of Islam is probably to be expected – there seems to be little support for secularism of any sort. But that does not equal theocracy, Iranian-style or otherwise. Religion plays some sort of a role in laws of almost all Muslim-majority states, but that still translates into difference between, say, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.


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