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February 2, 2005
Sunnis: Do-Over!

The Sunnis in Iraq still appear to suffer from an electoral hangover. Earlier today, Sunni clerics declared that Sunni underrepresentation in Iraq's historic election -- which they psrtly caused by calling for the Sunni boycott -- renders the resultant government merely temporary. They demand that the new parliament assume only limited powers and schedule new elections immediately:

In its first statement since the balloting, the Association of Muslim Scholars said the balloting lacked legitimacy because of low Sunni participation. The Association called months ago on Sunnis to shun the polls because of the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops. ...

In its statement, the Association said the election "lacks legitimacy because a large portion of these people who represent many spectra have boycotted it." As a result, the Association said the new leadership lacked a mandate to draft a new constitution and should be considered a temporary administration.

"We make it clear to the United Nations and the international community that they should not get involved in granting this election legitimacy because such a move will open the gates of evil," the statement said.

"We are going to respect the choice of those who voted and we will consider the new government if all the parties participating in the political process agree on it as a transitional government with limited powers."

What's the Iraqi word for chutzpah? I understand that the Iraqis are new to elections, but in a free society, choosing not to vote has consequences. As we say here in America, if you don't vote, you can't complain about the results. The Sunnis chose not to come to the polls, and while plenty of complaints have come in about a shortage of balloting materials in some polling stations, the true situation was that Sunnis largely chose not to participate.

All governments in a free and democratic society are temporary at any rate, and ideally they hold limited power. However, the new leadership in Iraq cannot afford to think of itself as yet another caretaker government for any length of time. The Iraqis endorsed them in the millions and they need to serve the entire country in establishing security and work on solving their own infrastructure problems. What the Sunni clerics prescribe is a plan for another year of dithering, which will only allow the country's problems to fester and create more hostility and resentment. That will push more people to radicalize instead of casting their lot in with the government chosen by the people.

The Sunnis missed the bus this time around, and the reaction from the clerics sounds more like a way to keep from experiencing the wrath of their followers for pushing some incredibly stupid advice than any kind of prescient warning. The Sunnis themselves should remain patient. The leaders elected by those who did vote promise to involve them despite of their boycott, and if the system works as designed, the bus will come around again on schedule.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 2, 2005 5:54 AM

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