While the exact makeup of the Iraq parliament elected December 15 will not be known for some time, the balloting itself is being hailed as a triumph for democratic principles and free government because of the high voter turnout (80 percent perhaps) and the relatively peaceful process. On another front of the American-led war against terrorism, Afghanistan's first nationally elected assembly in 30 years met on Monday, December 19.
While eyes have been focused on the Middle East, the past few weeks have seen the battle over the spread of democracy joined in Asia and Latin American as well. Unfortunately, the news has not all been good. The idea that freedom and democracy are universally accepted ideals whose triumph is inevitable is being challenged by counter-ideologies backed increasingly with armed force and a measure of popular support. There are many movements around the world that envision a proper society as being based on different, allegedly higher values than those presented by the United States.
Take, for example, China. Speaking in Kyoto, Japan, November 15, President George W. Bush posed an unacceptable challenge to the Communist regime in Beijing. He praised the growth of freedom and democracy along the Pacific Rim. He listed Taiwan with Japan and South Korea as examples of progress, saying "by embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society." Mainland China, however, was among those states which he said had not made equivalent progress. "As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well" said the U.S. President, expressing a dream that is seen as a nightmare in Beijing.
Taiwan confirmed the president's trust by holding nation-wide elections December 3 for county, city and township offices. Vigorous campaigns were waged by the Pan-Blue and Pan-Green coalitions. The Pan-Blue coalition is led by the Kuomintang (KMT), the Nationalist Party of the late Chiang Kai-shek who established the Republic of China on Taiwan. It controls a slim majority in the national legislature. The Pan-Green coalition is led by the Democratic Progressive Party of President Chen Shui-bian. I attended the final rallies of both parties in Taipei the night before the vote. Tens of thousands of party activists cheered, blasted air horns and waved flags in a very festive atmosphere. The Communist dictatorship in Beijing– which constantly threatens to invade the island it considers a "renegade province," would find it every difficult to absorb the vibrant Taiwanese society in which democracy has taken root.
Beijing is having trouble enough trying to bring the former British colony of Hong Kong to heel. On the days after Taiwan voted, Hong Kong had its third huge demonstration in two years demanding the right to elect their own chief executive and local Legislature Council. Organizers claimed the turnout was 250,000 people. The British introduced the first steps towards democracy in 1985, allowing some council members to be elected. The Legislative Council is still, however, controlled by a majority appointed by Beijing, as is the chief executive. In the proposed 2007 election some progress will be made, as elected and appointed seats will each number 35; but the executive will still be appointed. Beijing is of no mind to see true democracy installed in Hong Kong any more than it wants to see its doctrines expanded into China proper.
On October 20, the same day Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was lecturing students at the Central Party School in Beijing on the value of free speech and an open society, the Chinese regime issued a white paper entitled "The Building of Political Democracy." It was a justification of continued autocratic rule. "Democratic government is the Chinese Communist party governing on behalf of the people" is how the paper defined terms. The paper's emphasis on efficient administration, stability and the curbing of corruption reflects a Confucian concept of good government that is deemed superior to the turmoil of multi-party electoral strife. "China's socialist political democracy has vivid Chinese characteristics" including a "democratic dictatorship."
American troops are in daily combat with an enemy that espouses a similar anti-democratic doctrine in Iraq. Al-Qaeda warlord Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has declared, "a bitter war against democracy and all those who seek to enact it." "Democracy is also based on the right to choose your religion," he said, making it "against the rule of God." He said if freedom of expression is allowed "even cursing God. This means that there is nothing sacred in democracy." He said Islam requires the rule of God and not the rule of "the majority or the people."Islamic clerics must protect the people from politicians who might enact laws that contradict the Koran.
Such a system exists in Iran. In June's election, the Guardian Council, a body of 12 Muslim clerics and religious jurists, excluded from the ballot all women and all candidates critical of the current regime. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appoints six members of the Guardian Council and the other six are nominated by the Judiciary. The Guardians can also veto legislation. Their job is to make sure that democracy does not allow the people to stray from the fundamental principles of Islamic society and faith. The result of such orchestrated elections was the coming to power of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who denies the Nazi Holocaust took place, believes Israel should be "wiped off the map" and wants nuclear weapons.
The duty of the Guardians is similar to that outlined by the French radical philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. "We always want what is advantageous to us but we do not always discern it" wrote Rousseau in The Social Contract, published in 1762. The individual members of society thus may not know what is the "General Will." He believed that an outside body is needed to ensure that the General Will is carried out. This body must be impartial– above or outside politics, because democracy would not necessarily result in a government that was in line with the common good.
The claim that Communist parties are the "vanguard" of the people and the only true source of authority has its roots in Rousseau. It can be heard in Latin America in the pronouncements of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. Though Chavez was elected president, his rule has been very turbulent due to his disregard for the constitutional democratic process. He champions instead what he calls Bolivarian Socialism. In his ideology, elections, parties, Congress and the courts embody a false form of democracy, and thus cannot determine policy. The only legitimate authority is a national leader who knows what the people really need and can mobilize their efforts for the common good.
Chavez has relied on a National Electoral Council to manipulate the voting process in ways that destroyed the credibility of the outcome. In the December 4 election only 25 percent of eligible voters went to the polls after leading opposition parties boycotted the ballot, saying they could not trust the results and would not give the ballot their legitimacy by participating. In what then amounted to an uncontested vote, pro-Chavez candidates won all the 167 seats in the National Assembly, as well as 12 Latin American Parliament seats, and five in the Andean Parliament. The new deputies plan to pass legislation that will keep Chavez in office until 2030, according to National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro, who said on December 6, "The main contribution of this new assembly will be to consolidate the revolution."
At the Summit of the Americas in November, President Bush talked of the value of constitutional democracy and a checks-and-balance system in a way clearly critical of Chavez. Though Washington has hailed the spread of formal democracy in Latin America, the political trend has been in the direction of left-wing movements inspired (and often supported) by Chavez and his Communist mentor Fidel Castro.
An example is Evo Morales, who won a majority of the vote for president in a three-man race in the December 18 election in Bolivia. He finished far ahead of second place candidate Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga, a U.S.-educated former president. As head of the Movement Towards Socialism party, he has vowed "to be a nightmare for the government of the United States." He is also a coca farmer who has promised to end the U.S.-backed campaign to stamp out production of the leaf that is used to make cocaine— and whose profits often finance radical politics in the region. At the Summit of the Americas he took part in anti-U.S. demonstrations organized by Chavez, and has often spoken highly of Castro.
The rampant corruption of many of the mainstream political parties in Latin America has given credence to the claim that the alleged American model of democracy does not advance the General Will or the common good. Other Latin countries with elected governments with strong anti-American themes are Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
China has close political and economic ties to Iran, Venezuela and Brazil. These states all have a common strategic interest is resisting America's "imperialist" push for domestic political reform along liberal lines. With similar regimes and movements elsewhere, they form a bloc eager to see America fail. As Washington flounders in partisan bickering, they believe their approach to government will better enable them to use their growing strength.
Many countries have parties and factions with very different ideas as to what constitutes proper domestic policies and foreign alignments, based on religion or ideology. Elections are thus part of the perennial global struggle for power and freedom. It is not enough to merely champion democracy in the abstract or as a formula divorced from content or outcome. American statesman must prepare to wage political warfare as they would a military campaign to advance ideas and parties compatible with American values and security.
William Hawkins is Senior Fellow for National Security Policy at the U.S. Business and Industry Council in Washington, DC.
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