The Iraqi election's tomorrow; expats are already voting in early voting around the world. However, it's hard for me to talk about this in a coherent way, given that the coverage is about the latest bombing or shootings in Iraq; here's the most recent example.
You're heard about get-out-the-vote efforts in the US; political wonks used the phrase so often in the election that it started to just go by the acronym GOTV. What we've got in Iraq is kill-off-the-vote, or KOTV. That's why trying to judge this election on American standards is going to be very hard.
American liberals will complain about "vote suppression" when Republicans insist on checking voter IDs in minority neighborhoods. Real vote suppression is bombing polling places and killing off candidates, which is what the hard cases are trying to do in Iraq, especially in the Sunni areas.
The long-term game is whether Joe Bob Sunni will think the Iraqi government fairly represents him. The hard-cases are going to try and get him and the opinion makers around the world to think otherwise.
The first way that they'll do that is to suppress turnout in Sunni areas. Before you start questioning the civic virtues of Joe Bob Sunni, ask yourself if you'd be willing to go out and vote if they was a significant chance of dying while doing so. Since electoral slates are national, if Sunni turnout is low, the non-Sunni parties will have a bigger vote and a bigger percentage of the government. Then, the hard cases, having succeeded in increasing the Shia share, will complain that the Shia are unfairly dominating.
The second way that the hard cases will win is if the Shia take advantage of their extra majority to unfairly dominate. What might wind up happening is that the increased Shia majority might lead them to do things that will upset Sunnis, either by sending more government spending into non-Sunni areas or by being insensitive to Sunni customs. A more evenly-represented government might have to have greater Sunni cooperation in government and might tend to tick off Sunnis less as a result.
The trick for the new Iraqi government is to run things in a generically Islamic way that doesn't play favorites among sects. I don't know what a generic Christian government would look like, let alone a generic Islamic one, but the new Iraqi government would have to be understanding of Islamic customs and culture in order to govern well. To go beyond that generic level would get sectarian and likely tick off the Sunnis.
One down side of democracy is that the majority might want the bad guys to win; for instance, Hamas got two-thirds of the seats in local Gaza elections this week. However, it doesn't seem like there's a majority taste for an Iranian-style mullahocracy in Iraq. What might be hashed out is some sort of general moral tone that loosely similar to what people call "Judeo-Christan" values in the US; a Ten Commandments Lite civil religion that no one loves but most everyone respects.
The one veteran functional Islamic democracy is Turkey (Indonesia is young and both they and Malaysia are kinda dysfunctional), but their democracy is anchored on a fairly militantly secular constitution that suppresses quite a bit of Islamic expression. I don't think that's a workable model for Iraq today. What they need is something akin to the US before Earl Warren, where a generic Judeo-Christian (heavy on the Christian, yes) vibe was allow to seep into the law.
What that might look like is that Iraqi law will be Sharia-flavored but won't be Sharia, since each branch of Islam has their own take. Secular purists won't like the Sharia Lite, but it might be a way to make democracy and Islam compatible. There'll need to be some distance between mosque and state as we have here, but to separate morality and state is hard to do if a majority want a moral government. Hence, some Islamic version of civil religion will have to be cobbled together.
As we look on at that process, we'll wind up having to ask ourselves how the heck we do that at home. A lot easier said than done.