Even bad elections may beat none at all

While some worry that an “undemocratic party” will win Egypt’s parliamentary elections and others worry about violence and irregularities in presidential and parliamentary elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it appears that the voting in both countries Monday and Tuesday went off unexpectedly well.

That is a low bar.  There were lots of problems of course–names missing from voter rolls, missing, confusing and inaccurate ballots, campaigning too near polling places, paying for votes–but violence was relatively minor and people were clearly enjoying the opportunity to register their preferences.  We of course have to await the considered judgment of observers, and there are several more rounds to go, but it is looking as if this first phase of elections in Egypt will be credible.  DRC is less certain.  Four opposition presidential candidates have already rejected the results, but Kabila’s main opponent, Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, has not yet spoken.  He seems still to harbor hopes of winning.

If it happens, something like credible elections in these two countries would be excellent news, whoever wins.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt certainly advocates things I find distasteful, including applications of sharia that are blatant violations of human rights.  But that does not really make them undemocratic.  It wasn’t so long ago in the United States that politicians regularly advocated segregation, which we now recognize as a blatant human rights violation.  I shouldn’t even mention capital punishment.

DRC President Joseph Kabila, who is likely to win the first-past-the-post contest in DRC for a second term, is also not my kind of guy.  In office for 10 years, he has not managed to move DRC from its unenviable position at the very bottom of the development scale.  But what counts now is not the results but the process, which for the first time is being administered by the DRCers themselves.  If the population believes the election was even remotely acceptable, that would be a big step forward.

I’m not keen on elections as a way of solving problems.  Egypt will have just as many next week as it had last week, as will DRC.  But as a marker of change, and an opportunity for citizens to participate and express their preferences, elections have virtue.  Just look at Burma:  its grossly unfree and unfair elections in 2010 have opened the door to reforms that were unthinkable only a few years before.  Even bad elections may beat none at all.

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One thought on “Even bad elections may beat none at all”

  1. Didn’t it take South Korea quite a while to get the hang of democracy? Slow improvements over time – even with the occasional back-slide – mount up. (And didn’t it also take South Korea decades to gain admission to the UN?)

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