“National unity” was the theme, but when all the votes were counted — then recounted and finally certified months ago — identity triumphed. In an interview this summer, Mr. Maliki himself expressed disappointment that when it came to sectarianism, the country had returned to “square one.”Should we be surprised that the Iraqi elections did not lead to ideological-based parties that sought to be big-tent parties with many ethnic groups residing in each one? No. Of course not. Iraqi Democracy is flawed in many, many ways, but elections by themselves do not create national unity anywhere. Depending on how the institutions fit the demography, elections can create incentives to make appeals to more than one ethnic group, but even then, those incentives may be overwhelmed by other pressures.
And if one makes it very hard for the competition to compete as was the case in Iraq, then we can hardly expect the election to produce joy and happiness. A record setting length of time to form a government was perhaps not to be expected, but not that shocking either.
The big question is the old one: how will the dominant majority treat the minorities? Not much hope right now, given the past, including efforts that essentially disenfranchised the Sunnis.
While elections seem to be a tool to pass legitimacy and responsibility from the outside interveners onto the locals so that they can get out, we know now pretty clearly that elections in the immediate aftermath of conflict may not be productive. And elections during the conflict are even less so.
Still, I expect elections to be used in the same way in the future--to pass the hot potato.