The rich (post) electoral autumn that housed the already held election campaigns in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan and will house the planned ones in Moldova, Georgia and the United States, let out a serious crisis of public’s confidence in the institution of elections
The foundation of modern representative democracy and a cornerstone of social contract between the political elite and the population is the mechanism of fair and competitive elections. Its work disruption, both due to inefficiency and due to the influence from the center, in most cases provokes popular protest and chaos. It is no difference at what stage excesses occur since voters tend to defend their choice in all available ways. For example, the resistance in Russian Khabarovsk has been lasting for three months, although central authorities intervened in the electoral procedures of the region post factum, when the elected governor Sergey Furgal was arrested and replaced by a Moscow’s protégé.
The August 9th presidential elections in Belarus, revealed another vulnerability of the system and that is the ability to use the administrative resource and rig voting results. Taking into account Belarusians’ fatigue from Alexander Lukashenko’s permanent authoritarian rule, the CEC ignoring real republic votes distribution predictably provoked popular anger and protracted protest activity. Lukashenko found himself in a chess zugzwang as he was forced to act according to the election results he has drawn himself when dialogue with the opposition is practically ruled out, and all protesters are declared being The Fifth Column and Motherland Enemies. Popular demonstrations could have been avoided, or at least made controlled, had the CEC announced the election results a broad strata of the population could believe in.
Judging by how quickly the opposition in Kyrgyzstan succeeded to overthrow the government and announce re-elections, the parliamentary campaign was carried out there with serious violations and ended allegedly with a victory and the majority for the two pro-government parties; that was something the incumbent president and his entourage are now trying to hide. In such conditions, when a disgruntled minority can achieve a “replay” within 24 hours, the very concept of democratic elections is being undermined since it should precisely ensure politics’ formation taking into account the opinion of the majority. However, the Kyrgyz reality showed that confrontation between the clans – north and south ones, determines politics to a greater extent than the will of people.
In this sense, the prospects for a fateful presidential election in Moldova are dim. Igor Dodon openly reflects about postponing them since the rampant COVID-19, which is an objective threat to public health on election day. Moreover, the election process is unlikely to be packed into one round. The right-wing opposition has in advance placed several markers that will make it possible to declare the illegitimacy of the electoral process. Among them are Transdniestrian voters, diaspora voices, the Moldovan metropolitan interference and accusations of using administrative levers, since members of territorial election commissions (teachers, educators and other state employees) could be viewed as Igor Dodon’s nuclear electorate.
It is characteristic that the right-wing candidates’ statements get revoiced by representatives of the international community – both from the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the US Department of State, as well as diplomats accredited in Chisinau. As if they know and plan something. There is a persistent feeling that this time presidency fate will be decided not during the November elections but on the streets of Chisinau. Yesterday Igor Dodon’s statements about the outerly brought in Maidan indirectly indicate that the presidency and the PSRM are also considering similar scenarios. Since it is simply impossible to analyze the situation in Moldova and not take into account the “geopolitical support of the external player” today.
Meanwhile, the institution of elections is going through difficult times not only in the post-Soviet space but in countries of exemplary democracy as well. The most striking example is the United States, where presidential elections will also take place on November 3.
The American electoral system is hopelessly outdated and has long been heavily criticized both domestically and abroad. The fact that only two candidates actually run for the presidency not only does limit the democratic range for citizens but also leads to the 2020 situation, when people are actually forced to choose the lesser of two evils. The thing is that both applicants are not able to fully satisfy citizens’ preferences, do not have a crystal clear reputation, do not conduct a high-quality election campaign, and are simply so old that commentators even have doubts about their health and legal capacity in the next four years.
Another reason for scandals might be early voting, including by mail. Given the pandemic, it is predicted that over half of US voters will be able to vote in advance using mail and electronic communications. This arrangement makes votes counting unprecedented delaying the relevant results announcement. Based on opinion polls, the situation is aggravated by the fact that the majority of early voters are Joseph Biden’s supporters and vice versa – those who come to the polls tend supporting Donald Trump. Voting results with a time lag may radically change and provoke confrontation. Trump is already actively criticizing the mail-order vote, even hinting at the possibility of non-recognition.
The cumbersome and practically unparalleled electoral system is the traditional reason for criticism since already twice in the 21st century it brought to power the Republican candidates who received the minority of votes. This is how George W. Bush won his first presidential election and Donald Trump Jr. himself. This atavism has little in common with advanced democratic practices but reforming the system has been repeatedly postponed.
Additionally, elections’ legitimacy is undermined by the specifics of Democrats’ electoral campaign, coupled with constant statements of foreign interference. The accusations follow against Russian hackers who nearly (allegedly) brought Donald Trump to power. One must admit, the American elections do indeed involve stories from a wide variety of countries. COVID-19 virus originating in China; interests of Joe Biden’s son in Ukraine; a breakthrough in the settlement of relations between Serbia and Kosovo; strengthening American friendship with Israel and moving a number of embassies to Jerusalem: the American pre-election context is evident everywhere. And it is not always clear which side is the subject or object of influence. Thus, the statement of the Taliban that Donald Trump is the best president of the United States is very consonant with the attempt to influence elections in the interests of the Democratic candidate.
Thus, modern reality demonstrates that elections can be denied, can be stolen, can be held anew or not held at all. It is enough giving a few good reasons and enlist the support of the street or outside players. The institution of elections is properly objectively discredited today and not only within young democracies countries but as well in states considered being the stronghold of democratic values. The way political November in Moldova is to take place under such conditions leaves the world to wander. And it is not without fear.
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