Exploit every legal opportunity

While the imperialists are gloating over the 'success' of the Iraq elections, their troubles are far from over. They are likely to be faced with increasing demands from within the new assembly to end their occupation, combined with the continuation of the armed insurgency. Results will not be known for at least a week, but the electoral commission has estimated that the turnout was around 57%, which amounts to about eight million of Iraq's 14 million or so registered voters (though this figure is, of course, much smaller than the number of those actually eligible, had they not boycotted the whole process or been unable to register). As for the two million Iraqis who live abroad and are entitled to vote, only 265,000 did so. Sunday's elections were conducted under a direct system of proportional representation with the whole of Iraq treated as a single constituency. In that sense, Iraq provides a bit of a democratic model, for we communists have long fought for the UK to adopt a PR system. Unsurprisingly, the largest turnout was in Kurdistan (some 95% of Kurds are sunni) and the shia-majority areas of southern Iraq, though it has been reported that there has been a major shortage of ballot boxes and voting papers in these areas. For example, in the northern provinces of Kurdistan alone, 180,000 were unable to vote for this very reason. Obviously, though, attention has been focused on the extent of Arab sunni involvement in the elections. CNN has calculated that in Salahuddin, the largely sunni province which includes Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, turnout was under 20%. This looks like a pattern to be repeated across all the sunni-majority areas. However, it does seem that Respect's George Galloway is indulging in a spot of wishful thinking when he declares: "The sunni Arab population has boycotted the election almost in their entirety" - (interview - http://www.dem-ocracynow.org). But whatever the exact case, Arab sunnis will certainly be underrepresented in the 275-seat national assembly. The central task of the assembly - apart from electing a president and two deputies, who in turn will select a prime minister - is to write a new constitution, which must be approved this year in a referendum scheduled for October 15 ahead of a second wave of elections due on December 15. If all goes to plan, the new government will take office on December 31. However, under a clause in the interim constitution, the new constitution could be rejected if two-thirds of the electorate vote against it in three or more of Iraq's 18 provinces. Seeing how sunni Arabs form a clear majority in at least four provinces, the potential for instability is self-evident. The danger that Iraq could fragment into its separate national-ethnic components continues. Communists resolutely oppose any measures or programmes which could lead to the 'Yugoslavisation' of Iraq, while supporting the right of peoples to self-determinations (ie, the Kurds). Of the 114 political-religious groups and parties standing in Sunday's elections, the most influential grouping, and the one sure to secure the largest percentage of the vote, is the United Iraqi Alliance, which is dominated by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and is endorsed by the grand ayatollah, Sayed Ali al-Sistani, whose prestige is enormous. It is being widely predicted that the Iraqi List, headed by the current stooge prime minister, Iyad Allawi, will come second. This might sound initially puzzling, given the fact he is hated by millions. However, Allawi is generously funded, not least by the United States, and has almost unfettered access to television and radio. Given the 'security situation', as it is euphemistically called, which has seen central Baghdad, for example, turned into one large fortified military camp, this has given Allawi a disproportionate advantage over his rivals. The other lists include the Kurdish Alliance, fronted by the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and the People's Union (or Unity) led by the 'official' Communist Party of Iraq, which has ministers in the current administration. How should this election in Iraq have been approached? For many on the left the answer is straightforward - it is simply a sham and a fraud, engineered by imperialism in order to disorient the Iraqi masses and lend its occupation a spurious 'moral' legitimacy. This is only partially true. The same can be said of the opinion presented by George Galloway that the elections were "a farce", "rigged" and "flawed beyond redemption" - surely it is "impossible to hold an election when there is a full-scale war going on between the occupying armies and the resistance forces" (http://www.democracynow.org). A view echoed by the Scottish Socialist Party: "The elections that have just been staged by the occupiers cannot be regarded as legitimate, as they were deliberately manipulated using national rather than provincial voting rolls in order to reduce sunni representation and to anoint US-supported groups who will allow this occupation to continue" (press release January 31). Though it rightly shuns any idea of glorifying ethnic sunni politics - which seems to be the position of the SSP - the comrades in the Worker-communist Party of Iraq said conditions where impossible for open campaigning and normal political activity. Confronted by the US-UK occupation forces on the one side and the armed islamic militias on the other, they declared campaigning to be all but impossible. Therefore, we are meant to conclude, the left should have called for a boycott. Communists, obviously, can sympathise with that approach. After all, in the words of Sam Ramadani, an Iraqi exile and human rights campaigner: "How you could square the words 'democracy', 'free' and 'fair' with the brutal reality of occupation, martial law, a US-appointed election commission and secret candidates?" (The Guardian February 1). However, while these sentiments are perfectly understandable, we believe a boycottist line to be mistaken. Of course, what we are presented with here is a question of tactics, not principle, and, yes, admittedly, we are not exactly in the best position to judge, sitting as we are in the UK. Clearly, under certain circumstances, it is perfectly correct to boycott "rigged" or "flawed" elections. But, not so much because they are "rigged" or "flawed": rather because something much more can be gained - ie, revolution is imminent, and instead of organising canvassing, we should be organising the armed detachments of the working class for the seizure of power. Before that, when we are a minority the task of the communists is to use every opportunity at our disposal to gain the ear of the masses. Therefore, on balance, we think it was correct for communists to have contested the poll. Voters should have been given an opportunity to vote for class politics, not ethnic-religious politics. Self-evidently, the imperialists are using the elections as an opportunity to legitimise their occupation. But it is not true that they wanted to rig the elections so as to exclude Arab sunnis - many of them not only oppose the occupation, but feel threatened by democracy because they constitute a minority. Sunni Arabs are substantially outnumbered by shia and Kurds. And that is certainly why it was the shia religious-political forces that were at the forefront of those demanding elections. One year ago, let us recall, there was a wave of protests led by al-Sistani demanding elections, with massive numbers pouring into the streets of several Iraqi cities, especially in the shia areas, chanting, "Yes to election, no to designation". Socialist Worker observed at the time: "In the predominantly shia muslim south, there were demonstrations tens of thousands strong last week calling for immediate direct elections. The US plan is to hand over authority to a fig leaf Iraqi council in June, while maintaining the levers of power. The council would not be elected, but instead would be endorsed by local meetings of notables. Those notables would be invited to the selection meetings by the very council members who they would in turn back. The plan has infuriated most people in Iraq" (January 31 2004). Appointment of pliant former exiles and tribal chiefs was proving untenable. Faced with mass protests, the US authorities had to backtrack, for fear of further inflaming the situation and provoking a Khomeini-style movement. Reluctantly, and after frantic face-saving 'mediation' by the United Nations, Washington eventually agreed to hold elections no later than the end of January this year. From then on it was making a virtue out of necessity. True, in August-September we had the 'battle of Najaf', which saw the US vow to "crush" the shia islamist forces led by Muqtada al-Sadr. But, alarmed by these events, grand ayatollah Sistani marched to Najaf and brokered a peace deal between al-Sadr's Mahdi militia and the US - with one of the conditions, of course, being that a proper census should be taken in order to prepare effectively for the upcoming January elections. In other words, to view the elections as a mere sham or fraud, which is deserving only of loud denunciation, is hopelessly wrong. A substantial number of anti-occupation candidates will be elected. The United Iraqi Alliance calls for a quick US-UK withdrawal and will certainly use the assembly to agitate for a unitary state and its right to impose its own brand of reactionary rule. The ICP will also have a presence, albeit, given the years of severe oppression, a modest one. Under Iraq's PR system, you can win through, theoretically, with just one-275th of the vote. So the ICP, leaving aside its opportunist politics, which stood a full slate of 275 candidates under its People's Unity ticket, should get a bloc of its people elected (5% of the vote would result in 13 representatives in the assembly, for example). Under Iraqi conditions, surely even one genuine communist could play an outstanding agitational and propaganda role in the new assembly. Certainly December's elections should be fully exploited. Remember Karl Liebknecht. In the midst of World War I he defiantly used his privileged position in the Reichstag to condemn both sides in the inter-imperialist slaughter. Famously he announced: "the main enemy is at home." He became a hero of the militant working class and, along with Rosa Luxemburg, went on to found the Communist Party of Germany in 1918. Then there were the six Bolshevik deputies elected to the tsarist duma just before World War I. The tsar's elections were definitely rigged - there was not 'one person, one vote', but indirect elections through a curia system. Workers and peasants were thereby grossly underrepresented and the capitalists, clergy and nobility grossly overrepresented. Women could not vote at all. Nor were there the conditions for free and open electioneering. The Bolshevik Party was illegal. Nevertheless, using the duma, the six deputies - the Bolsheviks won the entire workers' curia - brilliantly exposed the tsar and the autocracy. The Bolsheviks combined legal parliamentary work with illegal work. Eddie Ford