No. 6

STONE the crows! Did no one notice what happened in Iraq on the weekend? Yes, the terrorists were busier than usual, murdering as many innocents as they could manage. Yes, the electricity was off for hours at a time and the army of unemployed sat around, wondering if the economy will ever improve.

But, among the death and despair, Iraq had an election. Tens of millions of people turned out to vote – something which drives Islamic extremists there, who think religious scholars they agree with should make all the decisions, absolutely nuts.

And while it will be weeks, even months before the representatives of a people deeply divided by religion – Shia and Sunni, and ethnicity, Kurds and Arabs – form a government it seems this was an ordinary election, based on what the voters wanted, not what clerics and ethnic leaders told them.

So, why aren’t the friends of Iraq who opposed the war to remove Saddam Hussein delighted? They should be. The hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the sectarian strife that followed the dictator’s defeat was an appalling price to pay. But it looks like Iraq might be turning into a functioning democracy. Just like George Bush hoped it would.

Not a secular dictatorship based on murder and theft by the ruling family and its friends like the brutal Saddam ran. Not a garrison state where a private paramilitary force that claims to protect the nation’s faith controls anything up to a third of the economy, as the Revolutionary Guard does in Iran. Not even an old fashioned autocracy where a huge ruling clan assumes what suits it suits the state, as in Saudi Arabia.

Rather, it looks like Iraq might become a democracy, where ordinary people pick their rulers, but only on the understanding that they reserve the right to throw them out at the next election.

This is fantastic news. Sooner or later, fair elections deliver the other pre-requisites for freedom, property rights for all and equality under the rule of law. It’s why ruling castes of all kinds hate the idea of ordinary men, let alone women, doing what they choose, especially in politics. The people who hold power because they have the money and the guns and want to pass them onto their children always fear democracy. They know they will be out of office if the masses are ever asked who they want running the country.

And it demonstrates that opponents of the war – the ones who said trying to establish democracy in Iraq was a form of American imperialism – were dead wrong. Just like they were wrong in the 1990s when they said the Asian tigers (remember them?) did not need, want, or would ever understand democracy.

Just like they are wrong about Afghanistan when they say it is a tribal society where ordinary people prefer to defer to feudal warlords.

Anybody who argues that devout Muslims who respect the rights of their co-religionists dislike democracy should have a look at Indonesia and Malaysia where people have the hang of it pretty well. Religious parties opposed to the process they participate in have not done well at the polls in recent elections.

And, for all the talk about the need for stability, Indonesia went from dictatorship to democracy in just about a decade and the country is better for it.

There is not a place on the planet where ordinary people do not instinctively understand democracy, where they do not welcome the chance to select their rulers if they can do it without putting their lives and property at peril.

It is only in countries where democracy ensures good government that people do not bother to vote. But when things are serious they return to the polls. Some 63 per cent of Americans voted in the 2008 presidential poll, the biggest turnout for 50 years.

Anybody who argues democracy is a Western idea, which other cultures do not understand and do not want, should have a look at Iraq where millions risked their lives to embrace it.

Sure the country is a mess – the political class squabbles over the spoils of squalor and their incompetence may still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, by surrendering the country to a Shi’ite strongman.

But the best defence against this occurring is that people understand they have a right to a government of their choosing which works.

And if that’s an imperialist idea I’m all for a global empire of electorates where the politicians hold power at the pleasure of the people.

'2012