There are elections, and elections in name only, as well as gray elections in between.
Take Hong Kong for example. In a recent poll only one out of 1,500 committee members chosen was an independent. The rest were beholden to the Communist party of China. What are the odds? Well, they are pretty good totalitarian odds.
Then we have the iridium-platinum democratic model deposited at Sèvres, a Parisian suburb. Wait a minute; that exists mainly in theory, as do most ideals. Nonetheless, we can tell when the system approximates the ideal, even if imperfectly.
For example, Israel endured a series of elections over the past 12 years. In many of them, Benjamin Netanyahu barely squeaked through, but he did nevertheless. Finally, in the last poll the opposition barely managed to defeat him.
Bibi alleged fraud. Americans know something about that. Nonetheless both here and in Israel the elections were ruled democratic.
Sometimes we enjoy the comfort of a landslide. It is plain and clear who really won, like Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1984. But often the outcome seems not as clearcut, in particular in multi-party systems.
For example, this year alone Bulgaria is a scene of three elections. The last two Bulgarian contests at the ballot box have been unconclusive. The political forces have emerged from them more fragmented and polarized than ever with right and left populists in the ascendancy. Thus, there will be another election in November.
Germany’s also gearing up for a national election. Some predict that the dominant Christian Democrats are going to lose big. Angela Merkel’s unpopularity fuels the talk of allegedly imminent defeat. We shall see, but Merkel is stepping down so, perhaps, the CDU will suffer less than expected and, though hardly likely, it may even weather the storm.
Be that as it may, the Left is certainly feeling its oats. Pundits predict “a radical shift to the left.” Annaleana Baerbock of the Alliance 90/The Greens calls for even tougher environmental regulations. Others threaten to withdraw from, or at least downplay, the Atlantic alliance. There is customary mudslinging: a leading Social Democrat contender has been accused of money laundering.
In Hungary, meanwhile, united opposition primaries took place a week or so ago in 775 localities and also online. Everyone from the neo-Trotskyites and Greens through progressives and libertines to liberals and radical nationalist (Jobbik) participated.
They were only united in the hatred of the sitting prime minister Viktor Orban and his ruling FIDESZ.
The pro-government voices mocked the united front because the opposition internet system crashed, so they could not tally the votes properly. If they are so inept, how can they aspire to rule? On the other sides there were insinuations of an Orban-led cyber attack.
Last but not least, we have the recent Russian elections. Russia’s post-Communist system straddles the fence between free West and totalitarian China. President Vladimir Putin cannot boast of the Communist party and state leader Xi Jinping’s 99.99% victory results.
The Kremlin’s United Russia won, of course, but by a more plausible margin. The official results were 324 out of 450 seats in the Duma for the government party. Incidentally, among the elected pro-Putin deputies, we have Maria Butina, an infamous agent of influence earlier imprisoned in America.
There were irregularities before and during the polling. Plainly put, Putin fixed the election.
For one, Moscow disqualified its most prominent opposition figures. Alex Navalny is in the Gulag and his main followers are blacklisted. They could not run.
Additionally, the government blocked the opposition websites. Also, Russian’s main internet regulatory agency, the Roskomnadzor, ordered Google and Apple to get rid of an app called Navalny from their offerings. They meekly complied.
This further disorganized the opposition’s ability to communicate and coordinate.
Moreover, the elections lasted three days, ostensibly because of the pandemic, giving the Kremlin enough time to massage the results. The reports of ballot stuffing abounded.
In selected regions, 10 million votes were cast over the internet, and there are questions about its integrity. The “Donbas republics,” or secessionist regions in Ukraine, voted in the Russian elections for the first time, reportedly for the United Russia.
I know we have our problems in the U.S., but we can fix them nonviolently, through the ballot box or the courts. I wish such possibility existed for either China and Russia. Sadly, it is not quite feasible.
We should count our blessings.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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