Or, Maybe Not. Let's Look
One of the claims often emanating from the US about the superiority of Western democracy relates to the 'freedom' in one way or another of the political election process, usually summed up as 'free, fair and open' elections.
How many of us have ever seriously thought about these issues, actually examined and debated them? I suspect very few of us have done so. Unfortunately, it is usually the most vocal, the most emotional and even violent, defenders of "democracy" who have done the least on this matter.
Let's briefly examine the claim and the underlying reality. How much of this promulgation stems from propaganda and ideology that is reflected in mindless chants, and how much is grounded the way the world of politics really works?
What is a 'free' election? One that you don't pay for? One where you vote in your spare time, as in "I'm free on Saturday"? Or maybe, "I am free!", as in "I can do anything I want"?
The expression is so broad that it has no meaning. The intent would seem to refer to a lack of restrictions on either the nomination or voting processes, but if this is the intent then we should specify that.
The propaganda wordsmiths have morphed the meaning of a simple term in a particular context to encompass a universe of meanings in multiple contexts. "Freedom" has been co-opted by propaganda and jingoism, sanctified, given an entirely undeserved theological connotation and an unjustifiably broad 'motherhood' meaning that serves only to prevent intelligent discourse.
More specifically, it serves to disable our ability to focus, and therefore our ability to examine what lies beneath.
In this context, a 'free' election might mean one with unrestricted suffrage - everybody can vote. Or, it might mean a voting process unencumbered by excessive supervision or a bullying surveillance, or possibly the absence of actual or implied threats against those voting. It might also mean an honest process of counting those votes.
But when this phrase is simply thrown out as an ideal, we have no idea what it means. And of course, it's impossible to deny in the abstract that 'free' is somehow a good thing. But that leads us nowhere.
The propaganda value in this usage is that we are bullied into accepting a term without being given a working definition.
Western democracies do generally have universal suffrage, and secret ballot systems that mitigate against surveillance or retaliation. However, at least in the US, there is no statutory requirement that votes be fairly counted, or indeed counted at all.
What is a 'fair' election? One where nobody cheated? In what way? There must be thousands of ways to 'cheat' in an election - most of which are constantly in use in these same Western elections we are told are so 'fair'.
The stuffing of ballot-boxes with fake votes is one common method that was often used in the past, but there have been many others.
Today's US fascination with online voting and virtual ballot boxes is a new method almost designed for dishonesty, with more than one US election having already been 'unfairly' lost due to deliberate manipulation.
But the US government persists in increasing deployment despite the fact that the American designers of the system (as well as many knowledgeable IT experts) insist it is wide open to undetectable external infiltration and abuse.
Moreover, there is no legislative requirement in the US that all votes be properly counted, or even counted at all. And indeed, given the technological mechanisms used in US elections today, it is not remotely possible to count and confirm all votes.
American ignorance on these facts appears widespread and, oddly, the US media exhibit a strong preference to remain silent.
Canada is today (mid-2012) in the midst of yet another election scandal, where members of the Conservative party conspired to send recorded phone messages to apparently tens of thousands of voters of the Liberal party, informing them that the time and place of their voting had been changed.
It had not been, but the intent was to send all these Liberal voters to the wrong place with insufficient time to return to the correct place, and therefore to be unable to vote.
Some will claim these events are rare, but they are not so rare. Mostly, and inexplicably, they are not widely reported.
There is a widespread matter of what is called 'gerrymandering', a process of establishing artificial geographical perimeters of voting districts to either force all opposing votes into only one area - and therefore concentrate all opposition votes into the election of only one representative, or to divide the the opposing voters so widely that they represent no political force.
This process has become so common in the US that it is now accepted as legal, but in fact is a travesty - a crime against everything that 'fair' democracy purports to be. It is simply one more, and very obvious, way of cheating.
When a politician is elected based on promises he has no intention of keeping, is his election 'fair'?
When a candidate with no credentials for a government position implies to voters that he is fully competent to perform the duties of that position, and is elected on the basis of that misrepresentation, is his election fair?
In both of the above cases, a person has been elected to a high government position by lying to the voters. If that isn't an "unfair" election, I don't know what would be.
And so this doesn't escape notice, it is accepted without question in all Western democracies that politicians routinely lie about their intentions. This is so true that we are surprised to occasionally discover that a politician did not lie, and actually meant what he said.
So we have candidates consistently misrepresenting their abilities and almost universally lying to us about their intentions, but these elections are widely accepted as being "fair". On what basis exactly?
Fairness would usually be defined as equality of advantage. Everyone, or everything, is equal in some important way. No one is given an advantage that is exclusive to them, so that each person has an equal chance.
In terms of political parties, "fair" should mean a lack of structural advantage to any one party, so that each has an equal chance for election based solely on merit. But every democratic government and every Western political party do their best to frustrate this in any way that won't result in a prison sentence.
So far as the Western election process is concerned, this is interpreted to mean 'one man, one vote', and in this sense at least, many would claim that elections are fair.
But this is not so simple as it seems, and the authorities and parties in much of the US regularly create serious impediments to the voting abilities of some classes of voters, often by requiring identification forms they are unlikely to possess. In the US, there are many ways to exclude those who are unlikely to vote for your party.
For political parties, fundraising is crucial because election campaigns have become almost prohibitively expensive. But if I raise my campaign funds from individuals at $10 each, while you have access to corporate contributions at $10,000 each, is that "fair"?
It should not be in dispute that elected officials owe their allegiance to all persons in their constituency, and not only those who actually voted for them. But in real life, that does not happen in Western democracies - at least not very often.
It is an axiom that elected officials will act to benefit those who voted for them, at the expense of those who didn't - except where these acts might accidentally benefit everyone. Is that "fair"? I don't see how we could answer in the affirmative.
But the above point is moot, because elected officials in fact owe their allegiance to those who supplied the financing for their campaigns. Yes, votes are important, but it is the campaign money that makes the votes possible. There are almost no cases of a badly underfunded campaign being successful, and we have many examples of money overwhelming the electorate.
This reduces all elected officials to a position of indebtedness to those who financed them. And since these financiers are not primarily the public who voted either for or against, but rather the large corporations and private interest groups, our elected officials are beholden not to the electorate, not to the public at large, not to "the good of the nation", but to a very small subset of corporate financiers who expect to be rewarded for their 'investment'.
And rewarded they are. One of George Bush's first acts in office was to implement countless billions in tax cuts for the corporate owners who organised and financed his election. Democracy in action. Is this "fair"? Certainly not to the people or the nation.
So what we really have, in all Western democracies, is candidates who will almost without exception do what is best for the money that brought them the (undeserved) power they now have.
With events, attitudes and circumstances like these being common and generally accepted occurrences, on what narrow basis of definition do we Westerners maintain our pretense of 'fair' elections?
I suppose an open election would be one that is not closed, but that doesn't tell us much.
We can argue that elections in Western democracies are 'open' in the sense that they are 'transparent'. Are you beginning to despise that word as much as I do?
The only way in which the Western election system - especially that of the US - is "open", is in the media coverage, which means all the talking heads will babble ad nauseum usque ad vomitum, until everyone has had their fill of it and no more ads can be sold. But then, that's what we do for any team sport.
Still, we are told that all the election process is 'in the open', in the full light of day, with all knowledge available to everyone. This is what we are told, and what the simple-minded among us prefer to believe, but it's really not true.
The amount of political scheming done in back rooms, the number of compromises made to obtain delegates, the dark deals made, the financing arranged, the secret commitments made, are all known to exist but are seldom discussed in polite company.
Campaigning is by necessity done in the open, as is the final voting process, but much else is firmly closed, and financing is often a dark secret where much cheating occurs.
Does anyone in a Western democracy really understand the process by which a Party selects its delegates or candidates? Does anyone know the criteria applied? If one electoral district has many hopeful candidates, does anybody outside the Party Executive really know how or why one candidate was favored over all the others?
In fact, we cannot know, because these things are done by the Party executive behind closed doors. In truth, most candidates are selected on the basis of their ability to attract financing for both themselves and the Party, and for their telegenic and other superficial attractions that will assist their ability to appeal to the ignorant masses. That's not nice, but it's true.
It should not be ignored here that it is generally of no consequence - to either the party or, apparently, to the voters - that a candidate lacks any credentials for these important government positions. And, in true democratic spirit, the parties are quite "open" about this.
One thing that occurs in most Western democratic elections is the receipt of a kind of helpful "assistance" from outside the country - most commonly from the US - just to ensure that voters make 'the right choice'. This help is never given in the 'open'.
If you're an American, you won't want to believe your government would do this, and if you're from any other Western country you won't want to accept that your country is so weak or gullible as to let another nation affect your elections. I'm sorry to tell you that it happens every time. Moreover, it isn't even much of a secret.
The US government has batteries of people whose job it is to ensure that voters in all countries select a government that will be most amenable to protecting and promoting the US 'national interest'.
This includes the contribution of campaign financing to pro-US candidates and parties, paying reporters and columnists to write articles favorable to such US-preferred candidates, and of course the ubiquitous trashing of people the US doesn't want elected.
Again, I know you don't want to believe this happens in your country, like Canada, the UK, Germany or Australia, and especially Hong Kong - but it does. Anyone who has worked on the election campaign of a candidate primed for a ministerial position, or has had experience within a Party headquarters will know the truth of this.
Here is an extract from an article section titled, "Covert Propaganda as Part of US Foreign Policy". Full Article Here.
Readers need to know the American Government's basic approach to the world, and to understand the full extent of cunning and deviousness underlying much of it. There is little honor in American foreign policy.
Classic examples (of interference) include providing funding to a favored party, supporting agents to influence political affairs in another nation, engaging in psychological warfare, disseminating disinformation about a disfavored party, or deceiving a disfavored party.
Specific (covert and surreptitious) actions include:
Funding opposition journalists or newspapers that present negative images of a disfavored party in power
Paying intelligence agents or party members to make public statements favorable to U.S. interests
Providing financial support to opposition civil society groups and helping them set up international networks
Advancing conditions for economic disruption in disfavored countries
Bolstering leaders favorable to the US who could plausibly fill a power vacuum once the party in power is ousted
Funneling money to a favored party through legal or illegal means
Instigating a fight or discord between two adversarial, disfavored parties
Influencing an election
As Westerners, are we still so very sure that we want to boast about our "Open" election system? I am reproducing for you below my response to a reader who stated the following:
"The openness of the American system certainly makes it much more attractive than other, less democratic methods for selecting a leader."
Yes, indeed. The "openness of the American system" is what the US wants so badly to have in China. The reason is that this open system is open to meddling, interference, and all manner of external influence.
The US cannot influence China's present form of government: China is "closed" in the worst possible sense, at least from the US point of view. In China, the US cannot buy votes; it cannot finance the political campaign of the candidate who will do its bidding and bring China into subservience.
In China, the CIA cannot pay Chinese newspapers to print articles favorable to the US political point of view. You can appreciate what a handicap that is. How can you convince people to overthrow their government when you have no access to the media?
In China, the CIA "sock puppets" cannot easily organise a "Jasmine Revolution" because Twitter and Facebook are blocked.
Yes, the US very much wants China to "open up" further. But I doubt many in China would agree with the assertion that the American System is "much more attractive".
And, for a moment, let's be serious. If "opening up" the government system were good for China, would the US want it?
Editor's Note: However, the US government, through the CIA, controls the China Digital Times and other media in Hong Kong, with a related part being David Bandurski's vicious "China Media Project", so the US can (and does) disrupt and inflame Hong Kong's elections. The same is true with Taiwan.
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