Leadership contests in a remote Kurdish tribe have been thrown into disarray by the introduction of the ‘alternative goat’ system.
‘It used to be so simple,’ said Amed, a returning officer. ‘The elders of a village would each put their best goat forward into a race, and the winning owner would lead the village and represent it at tribal level for the next five years. This first past the post system had its imperfections, but at least it produced a clear winner.’
Critics of the old system said it meant that owners of slower goats, while in a majority overall, never got a look in. While the single transferable goat system was rejected for being complex and incomprehensible, the alternative goat system was chosen because it was relatively simple and incomprehensible.
‘The way it works is each owner prepares a list of who they’d like to win if they don’t win themselves,’ said Amed. ‘We run the race and time each goat. If one doesn’t go faster than all the others put together I end up spending half the night working out the result, but basically if no one puts the best goat as second choice then one of the weaker goats will probably win.
‘As if that’s not bad enough, you then get the sheep-owning majority saying they are oppressed by a goat-owning minority. It’s ruminantocracy gone mad.’
Even with first past the post, the last contest left no clear winner at the tribal level, so the Gruff goat and Woolly goat parties had to form a coalition to keep out the Nanny State goats. During the campaign the Woollies had offered reforms such as education for women, but given the chance to graze with the Gruffs they soon backtracked despite much bleating.
‘Still, it’s better than what I’ve been told about the Zimbabwean system,’ said Amed. ‘In theory, anyone there is free to enter a goat, but you routinely end up with a race between one live goat and several butchered ones. It’s cut and dried.’