This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Oct. 15, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
BRIAN WILSON, GUEST HOST: Well, as we told you earlier in this broadcast, the early counting continues. And it appears — it appears — that the Iraqi people are embracing their new constitution and, in turn, the concept of democracy.
But questions are being raised about the surprising number of “yes” votes in the Sunni provinces. A good time to tap into the expertise of Noah Feldman who served as a constitutional adviser to the interim Iraqi government. He joins us from New York to talk about this.
Well, I know it’s still very early and we don’t have all of the final numbers, but given what the initial reports seem to indicate, what’s your take on how the referendum vote went?
NOAH FELDMAN, FMR. IRAQ CONSTITUTION ADVISER: First, the good news: The violence was less than it was in the last election. And it looks probable that the constitution will actually have been ratified.
So that’s terrific. It’s nice to have some good news from Iraq for a change.
The downside is that it seems as though a substantial number of Sunnis in at least two provinces — those are the unhappiest people in the country — seem to have voted against the constitution. So the challenge will be to get them on board with the idea of a country governed effectively in which politics and not violence is the way to go, in terms of getting change done that you like.
WILSON: I don’t want to get too deep into ground-level politics in Iraq, but you say there were two that voted against it. You needed three provinces voting in a two-thirds majority against the constitution to kind of wipe the whole thing out and start over. It seems pretty clear at this point that’s not going to happen.
FELDMAN: That seems very likely, from all that we’ve heard. That means that at least some provinces where there were lots of Sunnis, either those Sunnis didn’t turn out to vote against the constitution or perhaps some number of them voted yes.
That’s probably the result of last-minute negotiations in which some of the Sunni political leaders decided at the end that they had gotten enough concessions to justify telling their voters to vote for the constitution.
The condition that they set was that they want a possibility of amendments to the constitution to be introduced shortly after elections in December. So that’s going to be very much on people’s minds the next several months, what changes are necessary to keep Sunnis involved in politics.
WILSON: All right. Now, does this help the political stability of that country? In other words, it’s a place that’s torn up with strife, with attacks and bombings. It’s still not a very safe place to be.
Does the fact that the people have spoken in such a definitive way change the situation on the ground?
FELDMAN: I don’t think that a pure vote of yes is enough to really change things. What we need is a vote of yes from across the entire country. We need the people who are angry to also see politics as their option. And that’s going to take a little bit of time.
It’s going to take time for Sunnis who voted no on this constitution to get involved in politics. But the fact, the fact that they voted at all, is a good sign, because it means that they see politics as one way to affect outcomes, as opposed to simply relying on violence and boycotting the elections, which is what happened in the last election.
WILSON: Now, some people, when you read the wire reports about what’s going on over there, have suggested that perhaps there were a couple of areas where the overwhelming number of “yes” votes were very surprising because they were in largely Sunni areas.
Is there any talk of voter irregularities here?
FELDMAN: There are reports that their investigations of some Shia and Kurdish areas were something like 99 percent of the voters were supposed to have been “yes” votes. And in general, if the votes are that high, it makes you nervous, so you want to go and look and see whether that’s the case or not.
In some of the other areas where is it does seem that there are some Sunni positive votes, I haven’t heard any specific questions about the validity of the results, but I think we should probably take a close look everywhere. With an election like this, it’s very important, not just that it be clean, but that it be seen as a clean election nationwide.
WILSON: Now, there’s kind of an interesting dynamic going on, because the vote totals will come in, the final vote tallies will come in, in the next few days, and we are just about to start the trial of Saddam Hussein. It’s kind of an interesting time to be watching what’s going on, on the ground there in Iraq.
FELDMAN: It sure is. And it’s not a coincidence, either. The politicians who have been running the government now, the Shia and Kurds politicians, want to make their constituents happy in the run-up to the elections in December.
And they see putting Saddam Hussein on trial as a way to please the constituents and also as a way to send a message to those in the insurgency that they’re not going to tolerate any more resistance, that they’re going to have a firm hand, and that bringing Saddam to justice will send a message of that kind.
The concern is that some Sunnis might feel alienated by the timing. They might feel, especially given the subject matter of the first trial that’s going to be put on against Saddam, that they’re trying to send a message to Sunnis that they shouldn’t be involved in politics.
And that’s a very, very serious concern, indeed, because what we need is Sunnis voting and being participants, not Sunnis taking up arms.
WILSON: How do you see that trial of Saddam Hussein going forward? Some people have suggested that Saddam might try to use it as a platform. Will they be able to keep him from doing that?
FELDMAN: They can limit him to some degree from speaking sort of ad infinitum, the way that Slobodan Milosevic has done in his trial. They can say, "You’ve got a limited time to present your case."
But there’s no way the prosecution can stop Saddam from giving his side of the story, if they want their trial to look like a legitimate trial and to be a legitimate trial. And the crucial audience for that is not just the Arab world specifically, it’s not just the Iraqis, it’s the entire world that will be looking to see if the Iraqi justice system is going to be able to hand this tremendous challenge.
So they’ve got to give him a chance to present his case. And that’s going to involve some complications, because some aspects of that case are not going to be very pleasant for anybody to listen to.
WILSON: With it now appearing that the Iraqi people are embracing this concept, this difficult concept of democracy, do you subscribe to this domino theory that there might be a run of democracy throughout that entire portion of the world?
FELDMAN: It’s too soon to say that, because, in a lot of countries right now in the Middle East, people are on the fence waiting to see how democracy will come out in Iraq.
In some places, like in Lebanon, we’ve already seen substantial progress, I think in large part because of what’s been going on in Iraq.
But in others, people are worried. They’re saying, if democracy means instability, if democracy means violence, then maybe we don’t want democracy for our country. And those folks are going to wait and see whether Iraq doesn’t just become a democracy but a stable democracy. And if it does, I think it’ll definitely help in the region.
Last but not least, I just want to say that, when people go for democracy, they won’t be doing it because they like us so much or because they think the United States is such a great system. They’ll be doing it because democracy itself is a system of government that they find appealing.
WILSON: All right. Noah Feldman, thank you very much.
FELDMAN: Thank you for having me.
Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EDT.
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