Saddam’s Two-Percent Advantage
Are U.S. elections similar to those in Iraq?
November 11, 2002
On October 16, 2002, Saddam Hussein held a nationwide referendum asking the Iraqi people whether he should get another seven-year term. Official Washington rightly dismissed the referendum as a farce with an utterly predictable outcome — not a real exercise in democracy.
But then came another election with an outcome that was almost as predictable — the elections to the U.S. House of Representatives.
One would have thought that it was hardly possible for Saddam Hussein to improve his performance from the improbable 99.96% outcome of the previous referendum. But the Iraqi dictator managed to pull it off.
This time, he got 100%. Which means not one Iraqi expressed any doubt or reservations about the country's leadership.
The contrast was all the greater since, less than a month later, the United States, the world's greatest democracy, was holding its own mid-term Congressional elections. Apparently, Saddam could watch the U.S. electoral process and learn some valuable lessons on how to run a truly democratic state.
And indeed, unlike the Iraqi referendum — which featured just one candidate, Saddam — the U.S. elections offered at least two major party candidates and a smattering of also-rans, representing a variety of small parties and interest groups.
Unlike Iraq, where dissent is ruthlessly suppressed, in the United States candidates were free to buy time on national and local media — and to debate each other before wide audiences.
A secret ballot was guaranteed. And this time, even Florida voters apparently got their ballots honestly counted (perhaps aided by the presence of election observers from Albania and Russia).
U.S. voters are free to abstain from voting altogether — and about 60% of eligible voters, as usual, availed themselves of that freedom.
Nevertheless, in some respects, the elections in the United States were no less amazing than those in Iraq. True, no individual candidate got anywhere near 100% of the vote.
Yet, an astounding 98% of members of the House of Representatives who were standing for re-election in 2002 were reelected.
Did House Members do such a great job that voters decided to reward its members with wholesale re-election? Hardly. Legislative gridlock has been the order of the day in Washington, and legislators periodically become embroiled in personal and political scandals.
Given this acrimonious environment, there must be something wrong with a democracy that keeps re-electing its incumbents at a 98% clip.
What the results of mid-term elections in the United States indicate is that the system has become so skewed in favor of political office holders that the only way to get them out is, quite literally, feet first.
That is a little too close to conditions in Saddam Hussein's Iraq for comfort.