Can people choose Imam?
The Sunnis claim that the issue of successor of the Prophet is resolved by consultation (Shura) for Allah stated in Quran that their matter is resolved through Shura.
The claim that the very issue of leadership is to be resolved through consultation is unsupported. such claim is due to misunderstanding the meaning of consultation (Shura). Consultation is different than
voting/election, and for that very reason, it can not be used for the issue
of Caliphate. Let me explain why:
When a leader wants to decide on a matter, based on the Islamic regulations he may attempt to consult with a group of experts to get their opinion on that specific matter. But he finally decides HIMSELF. He does not take any vote. To prove my point, let us see the following verse:
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ لِنْتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنْتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانْفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ(آل عمران/159)
"... And consult with them (Shawirhum) in the matter, then
when thou (Prophet) decided, put thy trust in Allah" (Quran 3:159)
The above verse asks for the Shura, but Allah states "fa itha azamta..." means only Prophet takes the final decision. There is no voting at all. It is just the matter of getting the opinion. The final decision by the Prophet may be different than of the majority of people being consulted (because of "Maslaha" (discretion for the goodness) that the leader realizes and because the leader is supposed to be superior in knowledge, smarter, etc.).
One side remark here is that, due to his supreme knowledge, the Prophet (PBUH&HF) did not even need to get the opinion of any of his people. However, he did in some circumstances just to teach people the importance of consultation.
In the issue of consultation (Shura), the existence of a leader is already assumed who makes the final decision. This clearly proves that, in the issue of successorship, consultation is meaningless (unless it is done by the previous leader before his death). After the death of a leader, there exists no leader who could do consultation, unless such late leader had a deputy (or say vice-president) who could carry out this function. Usually such APPOINTED deputy is the most qualified person for the position of leadership, and even if he decides on somebody else to be the leader, such leader is still appointed by this previously-appointed deputy, and not by people!
Voting, however, is a totally different issue. In a democratic community, all people have a chance to elect the choice of their nominee. Such procedure has no support in Quran and Sunna for the issue of leadership of the whole Muslims, because Islam is based on theocracy (kingdom of Allah) and not democracy (government of people over people). In fact, Quran denounces the opinion of the majority of people (see 6:116, 5:49, 10:92, 30:8) since the vision of the majority of people is usually impaired due to their tendencies. Also, such popular election did not happen for the first three rulers who came after the Prophet (PBUH&HF), not even among the people of Medina.
Also, what if people choose an unqualified person who seems to be qualified in their eyes, like a hypocrite? How can such corrupt person becomes Ulul-Amr and his obedience becomes necessary? Certainly Allah and His Prophet know better who is more qualified to be successor of the Prophet (PBUH&HF).
Believe in Ulul-Amr
If Quran tells us to unconditionally obey a person, it means that we
should believe in him and in his authority over us voluntarily (with satisfaction). Note, however, that one should distinguish between "believing that we should obey Ulul-Amr" and "obeying Ulul-Amr". If one believes that he should obey Ulul-Amr, yet he sometimes disobeys Ulul-Amr, he is a sinner and a weak believer. However if one does NOT believe that he should obey Ulul-Amr, then such person is unbeliever since he does not believe in a part of the religion of Allah, which is explicitly mentioned in Quran.
In fact, both Shi'a and Sunni believe in Ulul-Amr since it is the clear text of Quran. However they differ in how to choose Ulul-Amr. According to the Shi'a, leadership of the whole Muslims is not a choice of people so that the leader could be elected by people or selected by a committee, and then is artificially made the Ulul-Amr whom Allah has ordered people to obey!
I also remember a claim by a Sunni brother who mentioned that this verse commands Muslims to obey people in authority (i.e., rulers) as long as they do not interfere with religion!
To answer this claim, we would like to stress that there is no restriction whatsoever given by Quran for obeying Ulul-Amr. In fact, in the above verse, Ulul-Amr have been given exactly the same authority over Muslims as that of Messenger, because both the Messenger and the Ulul-Amr have been jointly mentioned (Waw of Atf) under one word "Obey", which shows that the obedience of Ulul-Amr has the same standing as the obedience of the Messenger, and therefore Ulul-Amr is the head of religious affairs also. He is the one who can properly interpret Quranic verses (See 3:7 and 21:7) and is the most knowledgeable to the Sunna of the Prophet (PBUH&HF). Thus claiming that Ulul-Amr should not interfere with the religious affairs is absurd, for he is the most qualified individuals to do exactly such thing.