Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: Free and Fair Elections

Back sooner than expected, our roving reporter, Steve Finch, has another story to be filed under “that’s something that would really benefit humanity.”

openDemocracy (ASA)Putin on Banner

SANTA MONICA, CA — The YZ Prize Foundation has announced a second interesting initiative to help the world to move toward stability. Unlike the YZ Prize for Peace, this one strikes straight at their vision of government: free and fair elections.

In light of the blatantly rigged elections in Russia last week, and the just-resolved election mess in Kenya, the Foundation has pledged that they will dedicate a significant amount of money for elections that are externally verified to have been completely free and fair.

“Obviously, we were spurred on by what had happened in Kenya,” said the chairman. The recently brokered peace deal between the opposition leader Raila Odinga and the sitting President Mwai Kibaki did satisfy the Foundation, but they were deeply saddened that the December election–which most outside observers agreed was rigged–touched off violence and chaos that left at least 1000 dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, and tarnished the reputation of what had been one of the jewels of Africa.

And though the YZ Prize Foundation was glad to see little violence over Russia’s election, they were distressed by the implications. “It looked to us,” the chairman said, “as though the will of the people was clearly subverted. It looks to us like outright authoritarianism and we can’t stand by and let such shams continue.”

The plan is relatively simple, the Foundation has offered about $100 million that would be split between the sitting executive (either a president or prime minister) and his country if the elections are declared to be free and fair. Anticipating some vexing questions, the chairman offered this tidbit on eligibility: “Surely, we can’t afford to hand out $100 million for every clean election. Stable, open, accountable democracies are thankfully numerous, and so we were forced to make restrictions. To qualify for this prize, the country has to have a history of fixed elections, to be seen to be at great risk for such fixing, or to be a new democracy.”

The Foundation has formed a committee that will decide before every election whether or not the country qualifies. The chairman was forthright that forming and maintaining this committee would be difficult but said that there is “no other way.”

Contacted for comment, Steven Jones at the Center for Democracy said that he thought the prize was a good idea, though he has some concerns. “Though I don’t think this is likely to cause more rigging in the interest of winning the prize money in the future, as some have suggested, I do think there are risks. The most prominent of these is the possibility that once they know they don’t qualify, they’ll go ahead and rig it.”

The Foundations has, however, been prompt in responding to this issue. They’ve since decided that the eligibility decision will be made and announced after the elections have been held. Releasing the statement, “We’re hoping to address the very valid criticism of Mr. Jones and others. It’s in everyone’s interest that the prize remains a possibility for all countries until all elections everywhere are deemed free, open, and fair.”

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politics, world

A Good Week For International Change

IrotzabalFidel Castro

If there are four big pieces of international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these. And if there were for big pieces of good international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these:

  1. The Kofi Annan-led mediation team seems to be getting close to a real resolution to the months-long violence in Kenya that has left over one thousand dead.
  2. Kosovo, a former province of Serbia under United Nations control for nearly a decade, declared independence. Little–though sadly not none–violence or meaningful disruption followed this long-feared move.
  3. In a largely symbolic but long anticipated move, Fidel Castro has announced that he will officially resign his posts of president and commander-in-chief of Cuba.
  4. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appear willing and able to accept the results of Monday’s election, preventing the type of chaos that was unleashed in Kenya when Mr. Mbeki refused to accept the legitimate results of the election in his country.

Surely this list isn’t all sunshine and daisies. There’s still a long road toward peace and stability that Kenya must travel before it regains some of the stability and sheen it had less than a year ago. Kosovo still has a large Serbian population in it which will likely continue to cause disruption. That will also be exacerbated by Serbia’s unwilling to accept the legality of the fracture. While Fidel’s Castro role in Cuba’s day-to-day activities has clearly diminished, it’s hard to see Cuba becoming a free and open country while he’s still alive and his brother retains power. Though Pakistan’s begun the transition back to civilian governance, it’s still a mess of country with large ungovernable portions. The legislative future is still far from smooth while the newly-elected parliment is to be checked by a president it doesn’t like but can’t impeach.

Indeed, too, there are large problems in many other places around the world. Civil wars still rage, the rule of law is still a dream in far too many countries, totalitarian leaders still have meaningful influence in far too much of the world.

But seen from a distance–the only way I know how to see international affairs–this has been a good week. Certainly we’d need many good weeks like this to see a meaningful trend toward openness, democracy, and prosperity sweeping over the world. Probably we’d really need something closer to many years like this week for us to reach something like satisfaction about the way the world is now.

But we should be glad for what we’ve gotten this week. Too rarely does so much good news come without a break of the bad, the terrible, or the catastrophic. Though I have no idea what tomorrow will bring these countries and all the others in desperate need of change, I’m thankful for what progress we’ve had so far.

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politics

About Super Tuesday

Josh ThompsonSuper Tuesday Voters

Let’s recap: A lot of people in a lot of states participated in presidential nominating contests yesterday. Though no one expected Huckabee to win anything, he did. And no one expected that McCain would be derailed; he was not. No one expected that the Democratic race would have a decisive conclusion; it does not. Ms. Clinton won more large states–as was expected–while Mr. Obama won more total states. What that means for conventional wisdom, delegate counts, and the public at large is still unclear.

And now let’s stop talking about it. And talk about how, again, I want to reconsider my support of this whole process. Well, not really. This time I still like the process. I like that average people are choosing these candidates and not merely a few party elites. I like that these candidates are becoming better understood by the people they so desire to lead. It’s not a bad process.

But I’m really really wondering what else we’re missing as we do all this. How much more attention would Kenya be getting if we didn’t worry so much about this game? How much more attention would be given to Tadic’s reelection in Serbia? How much more attention would have been paid to the skirmishes for Chad’s capital of N’Djamena?

How much more would we worry about President Bush’s proposed budget for 2009? Or about the efficacy of the stimulus package that Congress is putting to a vote? Or that the attorney general still refuses to say anything meaningful about waterboarding or torture?

The answer seems to be, upon reflection, not much. Those international stories are surely too obscure to get much attention in American media even on the slowest day of the year. And the domestic news is being ignored because the country has lost almost all confidence in–and perhaps more importantly, concern about–President Bush and all that he may or may not be attempting to do in his final year.

So perhaps it’s not so bad, the way that we’re flooded with campaign coverage. Surely some worthwhile things that would otherwise get coverage go missing while the media works to satiate our seeming unending hunger for presidential punditry, however oversimplified, overdramatic, or just plain weird.

But this country is in the process of making an important decision, and it’s not so bad that media outlets are trying to help us make the right one. We will, after all, let this person run our country for the next four years. Perhaps it’s not so bad making sure they are everywhere we look before we make that choice.

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USA, world

Kenya and International Impotence

DEMOSHMwai Kibaki

The world recently celebrated a rather unceremonious “monthiversary.” Kenya–which up until a month ago was often described as the brightest spot in East Africa, if not the whole continent–is still in chaos. See some of the haunting reports and photographs of The Vigilante Journalist if you doubt that fact.

A month ago Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki (at right), “won” reelection. After this incredibly questionable result was announced, “tribal” violence “erupted.” Estimates are that by now at least 800 have been killed and 300,000 displaced. Though many forces–best known in America are presidential candidate Barack Obama and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan–have attempted to reach some accord between President Kibaki and the oppositions leader Raila Odinga, none have succeeded, or even produced much externally-visible progress.

If one pairs this sad story with the continued mess of Darfur, you’ve got a good base for a pessimistic soup which proves that the international community is unable or unwilling to help create lasting peace on the continent. Even worse, you could find proof that Africans themselves are incapable of living in peace.

But I wouldn’t say that. Nor would I interject the ever-growing messes of Somalia, Zimbabwe, and the ever-simmering border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea as proof that East Africa’s the bad side of the continent. Or that nothing can change.

We could reasonably say that all of this makes a strong case for a reconsideration of priorities at the United Nations and other international bodies. That it also shows signs that Africa’s still growing and maturing, and though it may sound (or even be) patronizing, the current problems on the continent are necessary growing pains for young nation states with limited resources.

Before that though, I must admit something. On nearly every topic I’ve written about thus far and will write about through the rest of this piece I know enough to appear–to most–to know what I’m talking about but not enough to actually know what I’m talking about. It’s an admittedly dangerous fact that means I should probably be barred from talking about it at all. Alas, I’m not.

And so I can tell you that though we could make this to look like a strong case for the United States to disengage from the impotent United Nations, it’s not. And that I remain hopeful that though progress in Africa and elsewhere is slow and all UN actions are encumbered by the veto power of self-serving states like China, Russia, and the United States I think the organization shows progress.

Surely the Bush presidency and the farce that was made of international law in invading Iraq was bad. Surely it is troubling that both Russia and China are willing and able to stand up against even the most well-intended efforts to intervene for human rights.

But in the broad stroke of history, progress is unquestionably toward greater openness, greater rule of law, and greater democracy. Surely there are a number of painful steps left–many ugly and troubling steps–before the world arrives at the place I’d like it to be. But as long as and as strong as I can, I’ll hope that someday soon the world will be more like the hope for Kenya from last December, and less like the pessimism engendered by the Kenya of this January.

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