On the Iraq election, and the attacks on Andrew Williams

So Iyad Allawi’s secular Sunni coalition has won the most seats in the Iraqi elections. While the mainstream media from the New York Times to the Dominion-Post has been calling this a stunning upset, the outcome was quite predictable. My Scoop column on February 15 for instance predicted the split in the Shia ranks that has now given Iyad Allawi the first opportunity to try and form a government :

It is this potential for Shia fragmentation that bids to open the door to a compromise candidate. Iyad Allawi’s own party is quite small, but he is pulling together a wide ranging coalition of secular forces that could – under the Iraqi constitution – win the biggest initial bloc of seats, and thus give Allawi first crack at forming a government. To do so, Allawi would need to reach across to the Shia religious parties, and would probably need to offer the prime ministerial post to a candidate acceptable to both sides.

The kingmaker in this situation is now Moqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc has the second biggest Shia grouping behind the current Iraqi leader, Nouri al-Maliki. It is a sign of al-Maliki’s desperation that he is talking about electoral challenges – even to the point where his puppet Electoral Commission may try to retrospectively ban 50 parliamentarians, for alleged past links to the banned Baath Party, in a move mainly aimed at stealing the election victory back from Allawi.

Already, Allawi has been in talks with Al-Sadr’s grouping of Shia religious parties, and with the Kurdistan Alliance, which took something of hammering in the elections, but still commands a sizeable bloc. The reality is that the Shia cannot be shut out of the top job – and so the search will be on for a Shiaprime ministerial candidate acceptable to both Al-Sadr and Allawi. That shortlist, as I said in the mid February column, would include the highly controversial Ahmad Chalabi – once the darling of the Bush neo-cons, until he was found to have lured them into the Iraq war and provided security information to Teheran, while reportedly working as a double agent for the Iranians.

The prospect of Barack Obama having to embrace Ahmad Chalabi as Baghdad’s best, future choice for stability really would be an amazing karmic boomerang – and would mark the final decline of the US expedition in Iraq from tragedy to farce. Regardless though, the fact that a secular coalition should have come in ahead of the Shia bloc in these elections is something to applaud in itself – because it means that the theocrats beholden to Iran no longer call all of the shots.


The Williams Beat-up

If urination in public is a hanging offence, what price the way that his critics within the Act Party have been pissing all over democratic process in Auckland? To state the bleedingly obvious : the destruction of democracy in the name of the Supercity is a far, far more grievous offence than anything yet proven about the behaviour of North Shore mayor Andrew Williams – who deserves to be left alone to serve out the remaining six months of his current term.

To beef up their urination case against Williams, these same critics have dropped hints of drink driving – in that he had driven home afterwards. Well, it now transpires (from RNZ reports this morning) that Williams was indeed on the premises for some time but according to bar staff, he shared one bottle of wine among six people during that time, and drank water as well.

If the proximity of alcohol to those in power is an issue, I would have thought that Matt McCarten’s most recent column in the NZ Herald flags a far bigger story, and a much more pressing problem. Rodney Hide’s choice to be the first CEO of the Supercity will be Doug McKay – who as McCarten explains has been responsible, in his other role as the chief of Independent Liquor, for targeting the sale of flavoured alcohol drinks to the youth market, via alco-pop drinks that have been a particular favourite of teenage girls. McKay’s firm has made hundreds of millions of dollars out of this ethically dubious trade. McCarten explains how Auckland’s new civic leader customarily plies his wares :

Their innovation is they promote spirits mixed with soft drink and give them trendy names and designs to appeal to younger drinkers.

They market their lollipop-bottled alcohol as RTDs (ready to drink) in four-packs.Their marketing strategy is awesomely calculated. They scan the web identifying trends in culture. Based on what they find, they design a brand such as Woodstock, KGB, Pulse or Cruiser. ….They design the labels and promotional materials first. After that, they then make up an alcoholic drink with lots of sugary additives and flavourings.

They make a batch and trial it at parties where young trendsetters hang out. They sponsor huge music events at which their products are given out freely.

The latest ploy is to find emerging bands and massively blanket market their product wherever that band goes.The booze is guzzled down like lollywater by mainly young girls.

Sounds like a great guy. Oh, and McKay’s firm also has a notorious reputation, according to McCarten, for its union-busting tactics, and treatment of staff. It is those revelations that should be triggering calls for resignation this morning, and not on the North Shore.


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