The Right Coast

March 09, 2004
Iraqi Constitution Signed
By Mike Rappaport

Fortunately, the 5 Shiite holdouts have changed their position and approved the temporary Iraqi Constitution. It thus received the votes of all 25 members of the governing council.

Apparently, Ayatolla Sistani decided that it made more sense to agree to the Constitution and to attempt to work out differences at a later point. This is enormously important, not just because it allowed for the establishment of the temporary Constitution. It also shows that the Shiites can compromise and decide to forego lesser goals in order to achieve larger ones. While this might seem weak praise, it is not. In a region without free politics, these habits of political behavior must be learned. After more than 50 years of negotiating, the Palestinians have never done so.

While I am discussing the temporary Iraqi Constitution, I should clarify something I previously wrote. The temporary Iraqi Constitution requires that the permanent Constitution be enacted through a general referendum and provides that “The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it.”

In an earlier post, I described this as requiring a supermajority rule for the establishment of the permanent Constitution. While the rule is a supermajority rule in the broad sense of not making majority support sufficient to pass the Constitution, it differs from ordinary supermajority rules that require, say, 2/3 of voters to enact a measure. This rule is less constraining than an ordinary supermajority rule, because it allows a majority to enact the constitution subject only to the constraint that the constitution is not strongly rejected by three provinces.

While an ordinary supermajority rule would have been stricter and therefore potentially better, it also would have made it more difficult to negotiate an agreement. Despite Iraq’s achievement in securing unanimous agreement for this temporary Constitution, perhaps it would simply be too difficult for that nation, which has not had democratic institutions, to ratify a constitution under a supermajority rule. While Americans did it in 1787, they were not plagued by terrorists from other nations and had been engaged in democratic politics and constitution-drafting for many years prior to the ratification contest.