The Allawi Thing

I’ve been meaning to link to this smart Allawi critique on Americablog. There’s one part that bothers me:

Most importantly, and quite simply, Allawi has virtually no support in Iraq. In the last elections, in December 2005, his party won a piddling 8 percent of the vote, earning just 25 seats in the 275-seat parliament. Further, his support is hardly rising: in the previous election, in January 2005, his party won 14 percent, capturing 40 seats. So his support is low, and it got lower in between elections. Iraqis largely view him as an American puppet, which isn’t unreasonable considering his oft-reported ties to the CIA. But just in case that wasn’t enough to torpedo his popularity in Shia-dominated Iraq, he’s also a former Baathist — to be fair, he split from the party nearly 30 years ago, but Iraqis have long memories and he’s still tainted by the association.

The real reason that Allawi’s party won just 14 percent of the vote (or 8 percent) was that the Sunnis by and large boycotted the 2005 elections. Turnout was just 2 percent in Anbar province. Whatever you make of the Anbar Awakening, it seems clear that if an election were held today, the same Anbar sheiks that are cooperating with the U.S. to recruit police would also encourage their people to participate.

This explains to the 2nd part of the argument, about why the Iraqi government has yet to topple Maliki:

Or the parliament would pass a vote of no-confidence — remember, Iraq isn’t like the American system; there the parliament can topple the PM anytime with a majority vote. The fact that they haven’t jettisoned Maliki should be a big glowing sign that there’s no consensus alternative. The country is majority religious Shia, and that fact is reflected in the government. It’s true that even the religious Shia parties aren’t getting along, but the idea that Allawi would improve things is ludicrous. Anyone who claims otherwise doesn’t understand Iraq.

Isn’t it more likely that the reason they haven’t jettisoned Maliki is because their are so few Sunnis in the parliament? A new, non-boycotted election would change the balance of power and probably make Maliki’s position less tenable. That’s one reason that Mickey Kaus’ idea for “faster elections” from a couple years back was so appealing:

One advantage the Iraqis have had, accountability-wise, is several votes (and quasi-votes) in rapid succession. That’s arguably just the ticket when a country’s starting up–if a leader clearly isn’t doing the job, he can be gone in a matter of months (before destroys the nation). But the current election will choose a parliament that is to serve for four years! If those leaders screw up, their government won’t make it to the end of their terms. Which means that after Thursday, accountability is in some crucial respect out of the voters hands. … Wouldn’t a two-year term have been better? If the Sunnis are still angry after this vote, do we think they’re going to wait patiently four years to have another crack at it? Where’s Feiler when you need him? …

I don’t want to suggest that Allawi’s the answer to our prayers. But the reason he has no constitutency is not simply that he’s just the candidate of DC elites, but rather because of the specific sectarian makeup of the Iraqi parliament that’s due to a boycott that might not happen the next time around.