On February 23, the United Nations released the report of a fact-finding mission to Iraq, dispatched in response to requests from the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council. Led by Lakhdar Brahimi, special advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the mission was sent out to study the feasibility of early elections and possible alternatives. The report is excerpted below:
There is a deadlock over the issue of direct elections versus the caucus-style process prescribed by the Agreement. At the end of the long discussion held by the mission at both the political and technical levels, a consensus was forming in Iraq that it would be extremely difficult and perhaps even hazardous to try to organize general elections before 30 June 2004. There was equally a consensus that the caucus system as currently conceived is not a viable option. . . .
Second, there is consensus among all Iraqis that elections are an important step in the long road towards establishing democratic governance based on the rule of law. Elections in themselves do not constitute democracy. They are not an end but a step, although an important and essential one, in the path towards a peaceful, stable and united Iraq. . . .
The necessary stages for the preparation of the [electoral] process would include, among others, the definition of all electoral procedures and the preparation of the necessary procedural manuals; the registration of political parties and/or candidates; a regulation defining political financing; a regulation concerning electoral campaigning; the accreditation initiatives; the procurement and assembly of electoral material (for the various electoral operations); the mapping and choice of polling locations and assignments; and the logistic preparation for polling, counting and tallying results. . . .
In countries with conditions and characteristics similar to those of Iraq, it is possible to say that the minimum time required for preparing a credible transitional election would be no less than eight months from the time [End Page 180] the three conditions described above are met, that is to say, once the political agreements have been formalized in a legal framework and once the basis of a functional electoral management body has been established and the necessary resources are made available. If it is anticipated that an election should take place by January 2005, it would be necessary to reach the basic agreements that would form the backbone of an electoral law by May 2004.
An improved security environment is a precondition for the conduct of free and fair elections in Iraq. Lack of security could lead to major disturbances undermining the administration of the election. . . . Just as important is to have an environment that permits respect for the civil and political rights of candidates, parties and voters, ensures free campaigning and a free choice, and guarantees free speech, opinion, information, assembly, movement and association during elections. While transitional contexts are not always the most conducive for credible elections, minimum conditions should be ensured to allow for the process to be a successful one, whose results are accepted by all parties. Security is therefore a major conditioning factor in ensuring the legitimacy of the process. The current circumstances, resulting in widespread fear and anxiety among the population, are a major obstacle to the success of an election. The existence of militias (especially if connected with political movements) could also be the source of coercion and intimidation that would undermine the political credibility of the exercise.
It is important that the electoral campaign and the election itself be monitored by independent observers. . . . Elections that are not properly prepared and that are held without the best possible conditions first being established often lead to “token” democracies and radicalized politics, and undermine compromise among stakeholders and coalition-building. . . .
The United Nations recommends that in order to start working immediately towards a well organized electoral process that would result in polling at the earliest possible date, an autonomous and independent Iraqi Electoral Commission be established without further delay. . . .
The resolution of the timing of the election provides opportunity and space for Iraqis (both those on the Governing Council and those outside the political process) and the Coalition Provisional Authority to engage in a more focused dialogue on the mechanism to which sovereignty will be transferred on 30 June 2004.
The United Nations would be willing to offer its assistance to help build consensus among Iraqis on the specific powers, structure and composition of such a provisional governance body and the process though which it could be established.
The United Nations would be willing to provide advisory services and technical assistance to support Iraqis in their efforts to establish an electoral legal framework and design and implement the various aspects of the electoral process. [End Page 181]
On January 25, Mikheil Saakashvili was inaugurated as president of Georgia (for more information on the recent political developments in Georgia, see the article by Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr., on pp. 110-24 of this issue). Below are excerpts from his speech given at the inaugural ceremony in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi:
This is the place where selfless heroes sacrificed their lives for Georgia’s freedom and independence. It was here that cadets, who did their best to prevent the conquest of their homeland by the Bolsheviks and the exclusion of Georgia from the world processes, fell. It was here that heroes, who fought for Georgia’s independence, died on 9 April 1989. It was here that they were severely dealt with by the Soviet troops and tanks. . . . Those young people sacrificed their lives for the Georgia of their dream. Today, it is my own and our duty to make this dream come true. We have to make this dream come true by turning Georgia into a united, stable, democratic, free, and strong state. . . . Georgia should become a model of democracy in which every citizen will be equal before the law, in which every citizen will have equal opportunities to achieve success and to realize his or her abilities. Georgia should and will become the homeland of free, educated and proud people. Georgia is a home for all Georgians, as well as for each representative of all the ethnic groups. . . .
Georgia should have a capable government responsible to the people, a government in which every citizen is represented, and in which the voice of every Georgian is listened to. So far, people have listened to the government. The time has come for the government to listen to the people very attentively. So far, the government has protected itself from the people. The time has come for the government to protect its own people and each citizen. So far, people have been punished by the feebleness of the government; we proved here, in this square, a little while ago that a moment was approaching when people would punish the government for feebleness and for the lack of love for the homeland. . . .
We must build a strong democracy based on the supremacy of the law. We must root out corruption. As far as I am concerned, every corrupt official is a traitor who betrays the national interest. We will root out corruption and we will change the system that created the vicious circle of corruption. We need to create a judiciary system in which every individual, from the president to any ordinary citizen, will be equally accountable to the law. We need to reform the authorities and establish genuine self-governance. We need to reform the country’s governance and ensure that any honest and motivated professional individual will be able to find his or her place and will be able to take part in the process of building the country. . . .
The time of hard and tireless toil has come. Nothing can be done over [End Page 182] night. The president is not able to do everything on his own. However, if all the people, together, get down to work, manage to get Georgia on its feet firmly, work hard day and night, we will be able to achieve a very great success. I am confident of this but it takes tireless work, huge enthusiasm, great optimism to accomplish it. The recent events have released a huge volume of energy which has always been in the Georgian nation. Today as never before, the huge spark of hope, which has always been inside every Georgian, should turn into a positive energy, a positive energy that will help us to create a much better Georgia for our children. . . .
I am becoming the president of Georgia today. I am dedicating my presidency to the heroes who died for Georgia’s freedom. I am dedicating my presidency to every individual living in hardship in Georgia. I am dedicating my presidency to the future generations of Georgia, to the dreams they entertain and to the fulfillment of these dreams. I am dedicating my presidency to the reunification and strengthening of Georgia.
On February 18, Iran’s hard-line judiciary closed down two leading newspapers for publishing a letter, signed by over one hundred reformist parliamentarians, which criticized Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for approving the Guardian Council’s disqualification of more than two thousand candidates from the February 20 parliamentary elections. Excerpts from that letter appear below:
We are protesting lawmakers who played a role in bringing about the 1979 Islamic Revolution and made efforts for its victory and stabilization. We have learned from the school of Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini the lessons of dignity, freedom, religion and telling the truth. . . . The popular revolution brought freedom and independence for the country in the name of Islam, but now you lead a system in which legitimate freedoms and the rights of the people are being trampled on in the name of Islam.
You have succeeded an imam who always and everywhere defended the rights of the nation and never allowed the people’s vote to be undermined under any pretext. Now, institutions under your supervision, after four years of humiliating the elected parliament and thwarting bills and restricting the legislature, have now, on the verge of the parliamentary elections, deprived the people of the most basic right—the right to choose and be chosen. . . . The people’s opinion on how the country should run is reflected in ballot boxes. The more votes, the more stability for the system. But the way the next legislative elections are being organized and the crisis over illegal mass disqualifications are going to reduce turnout. . . .
Figures who are the most respectful and prominent political, cultural personalities and have offered effective and important services to the country have been disqualified by the Guardian Council. . . . The fact is that the [End Page 183] gentlemen [of the Guardian Council] have prepared a list of those whom they had already decided to disqualify, and . . . have effectively chosen the future parliament. . . . The vastly illegal action of the Guardian Council . . . prompted objections from the president, parliamentary speaker, Cabinet ministers, vice-presidents, provincial governors, and prompted the president to describe this method as unfair, not competitive and a violation of the rights and freedoms of the nation, the result of which is a sham election with a foregone conclusion. . . .
The president and the parliamentary speaker, in a letter to you, demanded postponement of the elections, but you rejected the offer in a speech. We believe postponement of the elections was neither against religion nor against law. Those who demanded postponement were the president, parliamentary speaker, lawmakers, Cabinet ministers, provincial governors . . . not the United States and the “enemy.” The reason for demanding postponement was that the February 20 vote is not free or fair. Therefore, the dignity of the Islamic Republic should not be damaged through holding such an election.
Is there any interpretation other than that you approve of the illegal actions of the Guardian Council, since you insisted on holding such elections on February 20 without obstacles being removed? A parliament formed not on the basis of the people’s vote but on the decision of the Guardian Council will not only be unable to defend the national interests and integrity of the country and the people’s rights, it will probably turn into a threat to the country’s independence and national security. We are greatly worried that the system, having lost public support, will inevitably give in to overt and covert plans of foreigners.
Before God and in front of the nation and our conscience, we are relieved that we have not been a partner in trampling the rights of the nation and have fulfilled our legal responsibility to protest such actions.
Excerpted below is a speech by Zainab Hawa Bangura of the Campaign for Good Governance in Sierra Leone, given at the opening of the World Movement for Democracy the Assembly in Durban, South Africa, on February 1-4 (for more on the Assembly, see pp. 187-88 of this issue).
The core problem obstructing [Africa’s] development, my sisters and brothers, is not lack of resources, although that is a serious constraint in many countries. Not long years of colonialism—that was more than forty years ago—but the lack of democratic states with true democrats as leaders.
Our greatest tragedy in sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately, is that we have suffered from misguided dictatorships and autocratic rule for far too long. Most of our African leaders have bestowed upon themselves god-like qualities and the unquestionable authority of the most powerful chieftain. They are mostly refusing to retire as our continent’s elder statesmen, but [End Page 184] keep changing their countries’ constitutions to extend their stay. And yet the longer they stay in power, the more disdain they have for their people and the greater their power becomes. They have consolidated the presidential powers and planted the roots of cultism, making it more difficult to get rid of them than it was to get rid of colonialism.
The role of democratic leadership in Africa has been barren for a long time now. Our first generations of leaders had governed through their sheer strength and personality. The second generation of leadership in Africa, who were younger, less educated, less sophisticated, and less nationalistic, mastered power politics, but little else. They silenced all opposing voices, except for those of the party line, and succeeded in plundering our continent’s abundant resources. What we need now are democratically elected men and women with reasoned voices and clear vision to rebuild our badly battered continent. . . .
You will all agree with me, then, when I say that democratic citizens and leaders do not fight intrastate wars, but learn and accept the arts of compromise. Democracy has been used and continues to be used as a conflict-resolution mechanism. People are inclined to see others in a truly democratic country as less threatening and more trustworthy.
We have also seen that countries with democratic governments like Botswana, Mauritius, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, and Benin tend to be more prosperous. They mostly have market economies, which are likely to prosper. They have fostered education of their people, which has been helpful to innovation and economic growth. They have strongly sustained the rule of law and secured property rights. They have effectively enforced contractual agreements, avoiding arbitrary intervention in the economic lives of their countries and citizens.
To my African brothers and sisters here today: I say to you without any hesitation that if our continent is to develop and join the global world, our present leadership in Africa must reexamine their consciences. . . . They must realize and understand that our first generation of African leaders did not fight for independence to be less free instead of more free, poorer instead of better off, more illiterate instead of educated, to eat less food instead of more, get more sick instead of less . . . to have generations of their children growing up in refugee camps, instead of living the stable and prosperous lives they so rightfully deserve, and dying of HIV, instead of living to a ripe old age and telling their grandchildren about their exploits as youngsters.
The bond that has been created between us as a generation all over the world, that has brought us to Durban this week, has enabled our struggle for democracy in Africa to draw inspiration from the achievements of activists in Eastern Europe, China, the Philippines, and many of you here tonight. But we in Africa also have a lot to share. Here in South Africa, Nelson Mandela has shown the possibilities of statesmanship. Conflict resolution groups like ACCORD have helped bridge divides that once seemed insurmountable. Our sisters and brothers in the Democratic Republic of Congo [End Page 185] are leading the struggle for peace and democracy in their country after millions have died. Our Nigerian brothers and sisters know a lot about overcoming dictatorship and fighting corruption and injustice. Our civil society movements in the Mano River Union have resisted warlords and child soldiers and are struggling to rebuild their countries. In Sudan, we hope to finally have peace, and then we must restore democracy and respect for human rights. Our generation is creating new kinds of democratic governments, finding new ways of solving our problems, and we are determined that one day all of Africa will be truly democratic.
I say to all of you here tonight, whether you are from Asia, Europe, the Americas, or Africa, la luta continua—the struggle continues. There is no turning back. You and I must continue to hold our hands together in the fight for democracy, human rights, and good governance—that is what the World Movement for Democracy is all about—and move forward to build truly democratic countries, countries which all of us here can proudly call home.
On February 10, Lebanon’s al-Nahar published a petition signed by more than seven hundred Syrian intellectuals, writers, and lawyers calling for an end to the country’s state of emergency. The petition appears below:
On March 8, 1963, the Council of the Revolutionary Leadership declared a state of emergency in Syria. Although 41 years have passed since then, the state is still bowed under the yoke of the emergency laws, whose effect encompasses all areas of the life of society and citizens in Syria. As a result, society is under siege, its movement is halted, its potential is damaged, and thousands of citizens are thrown into prison because of their opinions, political views, or charges that do not constitute a criminal offense.
The ramifications of the emergency law (the military laws and the special courts) have engendered special military laws, that depend to a large extent on the whim of those carrying them out.
We, the undersigned, ask the Syrian authorities to remove the state of emergency and to abolish its ramifications and its legal, political, and economic effects, including:
- Abolition of all the military laws and all the state-of-emergency laws;
- Ceasing all arbitrary arrests;
- Releasing all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and compensating the injured parties;
- Reexamining cases of revocation of citizenship (for political reasons);
- Returning the exiles to their homeland, with legal guarantees;
- Opening the case of those who have disappeared, revealing their fate, regularizing their legal status, and compensating their relatives;
- Giving democratic freedom, including the right to establish political parties and civil associations.