Tuesday 1 February 2005

take these lies and make them true somehow

As anti-fraud measures go, it's fairly basic. No biometrics here. You vote, you dip your finger into the paint to make sure you can't vote again. Simple. It's become more than that though - it's become a symbol. It's a Churchillian 'V' for victory.

As Kurdo says:

"All these fingers are up for you terrorist, anti-democracy, pro-beheading, suicide-bombers, Baathiest, Saddamist and anti-peace people."

This election was going to be a massive failure. With no other coherent exit stategy from a desperately ill-conceived invasion, it was set up by the "coalition of the willing" as a way of getting the hell out of Dodge as quickly as they possibly could. There are thousands of American troops in Iraq. There are thousands of British troops in Iraq. With every day that passes, more of them are dying. Some are being killed by "insurgents", some are being killed in accidents, some are being blown up by splinter groups... whatever... with every single body bag that is shipped back home wrapped in the flag, the political authority of the governments that sent them is being eroded. Why were they over there? What the hell were they fighting for? What have they died for? All difficult questions to answer. Impossible even.

So: Saddam has been removed, all the juicy reconstruction contracts have been awarded to George's buddies... so what's left? Ah yes. Set up a stable, democratic regime and exit with heads held high and return home in triumph.

Just like in Afghanistan, right?

So the date was set for the election in Iraq and no amount of suicide bombing was going to stop the progress of democracy. All of the press coverage (at least in the UK) seemed to focus on how the candidates were all hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, so great was their fear of reprisals. Polling booths would be bombed, we were told. Everyone would be too scared to leave their home and cast their vote. It was an election carried out under the shadow of the gun.

And what happens? An estimated 72% turnout. That figure looks like being a bit of an excitable over-estimate, with the real turnout likely to be something over the 60% mark, with something like 8 million votes cast.

Do you remember the 2004 US Presidential election? Surely you must do - it was one of the most hotly contested ever, where both candidates polled more votes than any other candidates in US election history? The one that gave George W. Bush an 'overwhelming mandate' to carry on his ill defined "war on terror"...

The turnout? 60.7%

As far as I'm aware, there wasn't an occupying army in the USA at the time, and there was little other than apathy to keep the population away from the polls.

I suppose we should look forward to a time when Iraq is that secure in its democracy.

So what's next for Iraq? When the last vote has been counted and the results have been announced (with the winner receiving something less than the 99.9% that Saddam enjoyed in the last election), can we expect the new democratically elected government of Iraq to take office, and for all conflict to be resolved? Will there be a surge of goodwill that enables the occupying coalition armies to hand over the reigns of power and withdraw, heads held high, to return home in triumph (or to Iran, or to North Korea, or to whoever is next in the Democracy World Tour)?

No, of course not.

For now though, I think we should celebrate the fact the woman pictured above is able to go to a polling booth, cast her vote and proudly, defiantly display that fact to the world.

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