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Wednesday, February 2, 2005
On Electoral Boycotts

By Steven Taylor @ 6:55 am

Via Reuters: Iraqi Sunni Clerics Say Poll Lacks Legitimacy

A leading group of Iraqi Sunni clerics said on Wednesday any government emerging from Iraqs landmark election would lack legitimacy because many people had boycotted the poll.
Setting aside all other considerations for a moment, the logic that a boycott=de-legitimization of an electoral process is an long-standing ploy that has been attempted by many, many groups over the decades, but that essentially never works. By the time one gets to the point of an election taking place, a boycott tends to only have the effect of damaging the boycotters.

The inexorable logic of elections is that for every person who does not vote, the relative significance of those who do vote is augmented. As a result, any electoral boycott has the dual effect of damaging the boycotters (because you can’t win anything if you don’t participate) and enhances the power of the parties with which the boycotters are feuding.

The only hope that an electoral boycott has is if it is wide and deep-and even then the boycotters will be shut out in at least the short term (and likely longer) from government.

While the significance of Sunni participation in the government is key it isn’t the entirety of the process and I predict that self-interest will eventually drive the Sunnis to the table. Unless they plan to secede (which would be a trick because they are not perfectly concentrated in one are, plus even if that would work, they would be enveloped by Shi’a Iraq on one side and Shi’a Iran on the other) I don’t see how they manage a long-term boycottof the whole process. What would it gain them? Further, I am not certain it is wholly proper to speak of the Sunnis in such monolithic terms, as the press is in the habit of doing. It shall be interesting to see if there are any Sunni victors one the votes are counted, for example. My guess is that there will be. I further suspect that Sunni will be offered slots in the assembly in any event.

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  1. Point of Order: The Sunnis are found more along the western part of Iraq than the eastern part. Maybe they could hope to join Jordan or Syria-because Anbar province and that part of Iraq isn’t especially promising agricultural land and doesn’t have oil, either.

    Comment by Jem — Wednesday, February 2, 2005 @ 7:42 am

  2. Point taken-although I was thinking in terms of the “Sunni Triangle” which is more central than either truly east or west.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Wednesday, February 2, 2005 @ 8:17 am

  3. The Sunni’s are like the Democrats who complain after the election that they did not get a fair shake. Get over it and organize for next time.


    Comment by Mark — Wednesday, February 2, 2005 @ 12:53 pm

  4. The trouble with telling the Sunnis that they have only themselves to blame for getting the short end (or no end at all) of the stick is that this election is of a rather unusual sort. It’s not for the purpose of distributing power among factions within a state that is already generally recognized as legitimate. Rather its purpose is to make the construction of a legitimate state possible. That means that nonparticipation by any significant group is a serious problem, because even if they chose not to participate, the result of the election may make impossible the construction of a state whose legitimatacy is widely enough recognized to be viable.

    Comment by SqueakyRat — Thursday, February 3, 2005 @ 9:21 am

  5. I don’t deny that it is an issue. However, as a practical matter, boycotts damage the boycotters.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Thursday, February 3, 2005 @ 11:28 am

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