Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Are Elections The Solution?

One of the big lessons I learned in grad school was that electoral competition can lead to bad outcomes. Specifically, Donald Horowitz and others talked about ethnic outbidding, where the election process essentially becomes an auction where the two or more candidates compete to be the best nationalist. Not good.

Well, jump forward twenty years, and we still see elections as potential panaceas. Marc Lynch does a nice job of discussing the tradeoffs and complexities. I am no expert on the Middle East (despite the occasional depiction as one when I appear on Montreal TV), but the dynamics that Marc describes in these cases are not unique and we should not be surprised.

I think much of this has to do with wishful thinking more than analysis, since:
  1. "bad guys" can win elections;
  2. competition lead to outbidding, including Karzai trying to outbid his opponents and the Taliban on the collateral damange issue;
  3. corruption during a campaign can undermine the legitimacy of the effort;
  4. elections can serve as focal points for political violence.
Anyway, read Marc's stuff to see why Iraqi elections may not provide the dramatic ending to the US mission there.

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