Wednesday, October 26, 2005

BBC gets vote results right - but only just

Iraq has announced the results of the vote on its new constitution. The process was such that a small minority of the population, concentrated in just a few provinces, could prevent ratification. If just 3 of Iraq’s 18 provinces voted “No” by a two-thirds majority, ratification would have been defeated, no matter what the degree of support in the overall population.

So, essentially, the process was stacked against approval to begin with, requiring not just majority support throughout the country, but significant minority support even in those few areas where opposition was expected to be high.

In the event, support was overwhelming: 78% of the overall population voted in favour of ratification; 15 of the 18 provinces had majority support; and only 2 of the 3 provinces voting against did so by a two-thirds majority (the third had a 55% vote against.)

So, how does the BBC headline its article about this overwhelming vote in favour of ratification?

Iraq backs charter – but only just


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And on Radio 4's PM last night, who do they get on to comment about it? Why, a sunni of course, who hates the constitution, Americans etc. and thinks the whole thing was fixed. Very balanced. I give up.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Mark Vassallo said...

Scott, I don't understand the problem with the BBC's reporting of this. Another 12% of people voting against in Ninevah would have derailed the process. There's no value judgement about it being a close run thing, it just was. I think you're just over-reading here.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, the vote for the constitution was overwhelmingly approved; the veto vote was narrowly defeated. The Brits have lost control of their own language, as Orwell predicted.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, the vote for the constitution was overwhelmingly approved; the veto vote was narrowly defeated. The Brits have lost control of their own language, as Orwell predicted.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous iman asole said...

"Another 12% of people voting against in Ninevah would have derailed the process."
And another 12% voting Tory in last year's election would have left the Labour Parliamentary Party holding their meetings in a telephone box. Alas, they didn't. The votes cast were almost the same but Blair got an overall parliamentary majority.
Are you complaining?
Is the Beeb advocating a re-run?

6:19 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Mark V,

Anonymous who followed you is absolutely correct. At 78% of the voting public, it is clear that "Iraq" overwhelmingly approved the constitution.

If the language used by the Beeb is acceptable, then I assume that you would find it also acceptable, for example, to describe a measure passed unanimously by the UN's Security Council as "only just" getting passed, since it was a single permanent member "nay" vote away from failing to pass. I'm guessing you wouldn't agree with such a characterization accurate.

Perhaps this seems like a small, pedantic point. But it shows how the BBC tends to report Iraq news in the most negative light possible. In Western electoral terms, 78% of the population voting on nearly anything is a landslide of enormous proportions. Yet the BBC portrays such a vote in Iraq as a near miss.

And, BTW, 12%, which is how much the veto failed by, is still not a small amount. Think of it this way: When the Senate Democrats were filibustering Bush judicial nominees, the Republicans needed 60 out of 100 votes to force an end. They had 55 votes. So essentially they failed to end the filibuster by an even closer margin than that by which the minority veto failed in Iraq. And no one, not even the BBC, described Republicans as "only just" failing to end the filibuster, did they?


7:47 PM  
Anonymous Mark V said...


no, I still disagree. The whole point about the constitution vote was that it was quite hard for it to be lost. Three regions had to vote against and each region that voted against had to reach a 75% majority against for it to be lost. Given the height of the hurdle, it's depressing (if predictable) that the Sunni regions got so close to forcing a 'no' vote.

Your point about the unanimous nature of the Security Council is weak. That's just a binary thing. The Iraqi constitution vote was uncomfortably close given how it was set up to pass, and there's no point in glossing over that.

(BTW, don't suppose that I am not glad that the constitution has been passed, and that we have seen another great, mass popular vote in a previously non-democratic arab country. I just don't see the point in avoiding the problems)

1:17 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Mark V,

Quite hard for it to be lost? You must be joking. In what other kind of general referendum can a small but concentrated minority scupper a proposal supported by the huge majority of the general population?

The fact that a two-thirds (not 75%) majority in a mere 3 of 18 provinces (in other words, a small but concentrated minority of the overall population) could defeat the constitution, especially given the concentrated residential status of the minority known even before the vote to be opposed to the constitution, made it, to my mind, much easier to defeat than any normal referendum.

Can you imagine a referendum in the UK in which just 16% of voting districts could veto the proposal, if only those 16% were able to get a 2/3 majority? Would you seriously consider that such an arrangement had made it "quite hard" for the proposal to be lost? I doubt it.

And, again, the Sunni's didn't get all that close in any event. They missed by 12% in the pivotal region, which is a lot in any vote. Indeed, with 55% against, they were closer to passing the constitution by a majority - only 5+% away - than they were to getting the necessary 2/3 nay vote.


8:16 AM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

A 78% yes vote on good turnout is a landslide. Period. Far from being a figleaf, the three-province mechanism to protect the minority Sunnis stands proud -- a bold act to be admired and maybe imitiated by so-called mature democracies on critical votes. It was designed to protect the minority from claims founded on the slippery idea of the "tyranny" of the majority. (Next EU vote anyone? Or devolution of the Celtic fringes? No, didn't think so).

And yes, that 12% difference is substantial; the more you think about it, the more significant it is.

I do not believe, Scott, that you are over-egging here, as the Brits sometimes say. The BBC's disdain for the entire process is revealing but, sadly, not surprising.

What continues to amaze is the broken-backed, demoralized non-response from the befuddled and increasingly ridiculous Briddish public. Is there anything they can't ignore or won't shuffle away from?

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Mark Vassallo said...

This from the The Economist this week:

"Iraq's constitution has been passed - but by the narrowest of margins, and under suspicion of fraud...Those in the Shia south and in the Kurdish north had approved the constitution, with at least 95% of the electorate voting yes.The overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province and the majority Sunni Salaheddin province however rejected the ballot with a 97% and an 82% no vote respectively. This left only one Sunni majority - Nineveh - that could still put the no voters over the threshold of the two-thirds majority in three provinces needed to scupper the document...Ninevah has a large Kurdish population, but even so that 45% figure [of yes votes] looks suspicious."

Ah yes, that must be the famously befuddled Brddish public providing a typically ludicrous non-response. Or wait, could it be just a sober, realistic view of what happened, as opposed to yet another ludicrously over-optimistic response in an area that has suffered recently from a string of over-optimistic responses.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


That's the first I have heard about possbile fraud. It certainly wasn't in the BBC article which I criticized.

With regard to the "narrow margin", The Economist could be said to be technically correct. Given the veto that the process granted to the minority sunnis, and the minority was one province away from exercising it, in that sense the margin was "narrow". (I still, however, say that 12% is not a "narrow" margin in any vote, teh authority that you place in Teh Economist not withstanding.)

But, again, the "narrowness" of the constitution's victory was defined by the process which made it very easy to scupper, not by the amount of support it garnered, which was overwhelming by any measure. We could get into a semantic discussion about what exactly is meant by the term "Iraq", the people or the political process, but I don't think its worth it. I think a broad look at the BBC's coverge of Iraq, since the day of the invasion through to today, would show a strong tendency towards the most negative interpretation of events possible, and that headline that I highlighted is simply more evidence of that fact.

BTW, I'm all in favor of a sober, realistic view of what is going on in Iraq. I would love to see the likes of the BBC stop overdramatizing every single event that happens in Iraq. (Perhaps we could start with the sober, realistic understanding that 2,000 American deaths is a remarkably small number given what the allies have accomplished?) With regard to the constitution, lets make it plain that the process of passing it was stacked in favor of the minority which opposed it, and that that minority got 2/3rds of the way towards scuppering it, but ultimately failed in the face of the support of the overwhelming majority of the voting populace. What about that assessment is not sober or realistic?


3:49 PM  

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