On democracy and free elections

Democracy cannot exist only as a slogan.  Is constituent elements, and the entirety of the process must be considered in demands for “democracy,” and in efforts to bring stable democratic conditions to obtain.

Ghanaian former UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan offers an important piece today in Financial Times reflecting on the rudiments of democracy in the context of 19 upcoming, African presidential elections and the current destabilization of Ivory Coast.


Kofi Anan

Too often “democracy” functions as a slogan, lacking sufficient reflection on its constituent elements.  Anan does well to provide in simple terms a holistic range of requisites and qualities for democracy to work.  These include:

Democratic accountability, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Elections are, of course, the indispensable root of democracy. But to be credible, we need to see high standards before, during, and after votes are cast. Opposition parties must be free to organise and campaign without fear. There must, as far as possible, be a level playing field among candidates. On polling day, voters must feel safe and trust the secrecy and integrity of the ballot. And when the votes have been counted the result must be accepted, no matter how disappointed the defeated candidates feel.

This list, especially key dimensions of the pre and post-election processes are very important, and often missed when dreaming if democracy.

He goes on to cite the tragedy brewing in Ivory Coast that derives from violating the simple requisite to acknowledge legitimate election results:

Too often, these conditions are not met. The worsening crisis in Ivory Coast is a prime example of abuse and its consequences. November’s election was judged well-run by domestic and international observers. Alassane Ouattara was declared a clear winner. But the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refuses to step down.

Anan develops these implications more extensively in the entire article. Gbagbo’s villainy portends an extensive threat to the hopes and future of all of Africa in the coming months.


1 comment to On democracy and free elections

  • Gordon Anderson

    I think we must understand that “democracy” is a tricky word. Democracies as Aristotle defined them equated with mob rule and not rule of law. When you have rule of law based on a constitutional process you have representative democracy, not mob rule. The “will of the people” must be constrained by principles that prevent the entire population from destroying itself by veering out of the bounds of a sustainable society. Free elections do not generally create these necessary structures to protect a people from themselves.

    Immanuel Kant said that representative democracy actually works better with a smaller government. I believe he is correct:

    “The democratic mode of government makes [representation] impossible, since everyone wishes to be master. Therefore, we can say: the smaller the personnel of the government (the smaller the number of rulers), the greater is their representation and the more nearly the constitution approaches to the possibility of republicanism; thus the constitution may be expected by gradual reform finally to raise itself to republicanism.”—Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace

    Just wanting democracy or self-rule is not enough, one must learn the lessons of history about what types of constitutions and structures work. Since the United States has gradually been destroying the system the founding fathers gave, it is highly unlikely that the US government itself is capable of helping Tunisia and others set up a workable system of government. However, some individual Americans that understand the system, but are not party to the corruption, might be able to help.

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