I wonder how the leader of the “no” campaign tried to inspire his supporters after Saddam got a 100 per cent “yes” vote in his election. I suppose he said: “Obviously we’re disappointed, but we fought a good campaign and I enjoyed every minute. I’ve made no decision about my own position yet, though there will be those who say I let the team down by not even managing to vote ‘no’ myself. But remember, the campaign for the next election starts today”
The other puzzle is whether, after a 100 per cent vote, you still get people who lie. So that today there are people across Iraq going “I didn’t vote for him”, while a Mori spokesman says: “I don’t understand it, our exit poll showed a hung parliament.”
Saddam did even better than Napoleon, who held a referendum in which he won 3 million votes and the antis got 1,562. He was helped by tactics such as those described by one soldier: “We were summoned by our general who said: ‘Comrades, you are free to hold your own opinion. But the first man not to vote for Napoleon as leader for life will be shot.’” The marvellous thing is there could be a similar rule now forcing people to vote Conservative, and there’d still only be a 2 per cent swing.
Saddam must be especially pleased after the disappointment of only getting 99.96 per cent last time. Now he seems to have won over the floating voter, possibly with his campaign slogan “With our blood and souls we defend Saddam Hussein”, which has to have the edge over “Things can only get better”. And, in the manner of opposition movements, you can bet the 0.4 per cent that voted against him last time have since split into three warring factions that denounce each other from their stalls outside Baghdad Arndale Centre.
Apparently, lots of voters ticked the box with their own blood, which has the sense of drama you should expect in an election; you can’t imagine anyone marching into a primary school with a Stanley knife, slicing the end off their thumb, marking their paper and, on the way out, telling the old bloke with a clipboard that they voted for Margaret Beckett as usual. Anyway, pencils were one of the objects Iraq was banned from importing under the sanctions, in case they were turned into one giant pencil of mass destruction. So in most polling booths there was probably a piece of string tied to a razor blade.
There have been complaints that anyone kept on hold on a phone was greeted with a message of “Yes yes, Saddam”. But at least Iraqis only have to put up with that sort of thing on election day. We have to listen to 25 minutes of Celine Dion while trying to talk to someone from the bank or Orange every day of the year.
Western leaders seem ready to imply that some aspects of the election may not have been entirely legitimate, which is providing excellent propaganda reasons for bombing the place. Except that the American military haven’t always been that bothered about the voting systems of regimes they back. In Chile they were happy to help into power a military government that had a novel method of choosing a leader: you hold an election for president and then whoever wins, you kill him. I think it’s called the “single transferable coup”.
It’s a PR system, so that people from all sorts of different parties opposed to military rule get a chance to be killed, as against the more restrictive “first past the post” coup. In Guatemala, they overthrew an elected government on the grounds that “the country is not ready for democracy”. I wonder if, when the Ancient Greeks invented democracy, they understood all these sub-clauses and gathered on the Acropolis to debate the city’s strategy for three days before voting for their leaders and then clubbing the winners to death with lumps of marble.
Another difficulty the West will have to clear up urgently is who is the new Hitler. Various people have held the post, from Nasser to Saddam, with a break for Milosevic, but at the moment there appears to be confusion over whether it’s Saddam or Bin Laden. This needs sorting, because Blair has said al-Qa’ida are like the Nazis, but if that’s true why are we going to invade an entirely different country? In 1939 Churchill didn’t say: “The Nazis must be stopped. So let’s go to war with Peru.”
An honest complaint George Bush could have had with Saddam is that he might have made the Iraqi election much more theatrical by dragging it out a few weeks â€“ by, to pick a strategy at random, getting his brother, who happens to run a nearby province, to knock anyone unlikely to vote for him off the register and having the whole thing approved by judges who were appointed by his father.
There is a way that Saddam could have got the same result without fiddling anything. All he had to do was sanction the existence of a genuine opposition party and allow it to campaign as much as it liked â€“ but insist it had to be led by Neil Kinnock.