Thursday, March 18, 2010

Iraq and China

The people of Iraq went to the polls last week, and we are just now beginning to get a picture of whom they elected. The election tells us many things, not just about Iraq, or even the Middle East, but about democracies in general, and whether governing with the consent of the governed is a concept that can take hold in China (hint: it can).

For decades, the Chinese Communist Party has insisted that "Western-style democracy" could not take root in its country. China was just too different, too special, and essentially too unique for such a thing to work. Never mind that the group of islands just across the Taiwan Strait - islands that CCP members insist are as Chinese as they are - have managed to build and maintain a functioning democracy for fourteen years, with not one, but two transitions of power from one party to another. Never mind that Hong Kong actually had a democratically elected City Council in place when it passed into CCP control, and that it was the CCP, not the people of the city, who limited and restricted democracy there. Never mind that with every day these contradictions continued, the notion that "mainland China" was no different from Hong Kong or Taiwan sounded stranger and stranger, compromising the CCP's own nationalist agenda. All that mattered was that mainland China was unsuitable for "Western" politics.

Of course, even the CCP noticed that the above seemed a little weird, so they changed the subject by focusing on other places outside of Western Europe where the people were not allowed to choose their own leaders and holding them up as paragons: the mullahcracy of Iran, the military junta in Burma, the al-Qaeda friendly regime in Sudan, the Ba'athists in Syria, at times even the Taliban itself, and - of course - Saddam Hussein. Every tyranny was another example of the folly of "Western-style democracy" outside of the West.

This is where Iraq's second election comes in.

For years, Iraq's painful experiment with popularly elected government seemed to confirm the CCP's self-serving notions. As prized as the ballot was to Iraqi voters, the politicians seemed to use that power largely to aggrandize themselves, enrich their connected friends, settle old ethnic and religious scores, and generally tear the country apart. Adding to the CCP's macabre glee was the fact that their client regime in Iran was well-positioned to pick up the pieces.

Then something happened, starting about three years ago: Iraq's political process began responding to the people's needs and wants - exactly what critics from the CCP on down insisted it could not do.

It started with the formation of a functioning political opposition (al-Iraqiya, or the Iraqi National Movement) under ex-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The rise of Allawi as de facto opposition leader created a dynamic where voters knew they could hold their government accountable without resorting to violence or terror. Within two years, the government was not only responding with better services, but Prime Minister Nouri Maliki himself split off from the religious coalition that helped install him and created his own secular cross-faith coalition.

This month, Maliki and Allawi are far and away the leading vote-getters in Iraq. Which one will lead the country is still unknown, but clearly the Iraqi government has become and will continue to be more accountable and responsive to the people.

What caused it? The rise of an opposition.

That's what the CCP fears; that's what makes "Western-style democracy" a real threat to them; the presence of a competitor for votes that can't be arrested, beaten, or pumped full of pharmaceuticals. In the long-run, it means the end of CCP rule. Even in the short-run, it would force the Communists to attempt honest and responsible government - an anathema to a regime where the Party Card is a coveted licence to steal.

So Iraq is a reminder of how important democracy is, and how dangerous it can be for tyrants. However, we cannot simply declare victory and rest on our laurels. The CCP knows how dangerous democracy can be, which is why they have spent so much time trying to restrict it at home and limit its influence abroad. Tyrants around the world can count on the CCP to help them because the CCP understands that each tyranny that survives give them more time to rule over the Chinese people.

Thus, every democracy is a threat to the CCP, and in response, the CCP has made itself a threat to every democracy, from the oldest (the U.S. and U.K.) to the youngest (Iraq, among others).

1 comment:

Noah said...

Communism is fully a Western thing, so the CCP's argument about "not wanting Western democracy" on the basis that it is "Western" is pure rubbish.

DJ, have you commented the "Google-China" affair? Just read this on BBC

So funny how the CCP attacks Google on "US ties" while itself tries to control everything in China. It's similar to when in 2008, around the Tibet issue, the CCP started a "people's campaign" to denounce "biases" in Western media against it's Tibet policy.