Helping Fragile Democracies: Why monitors matter
Foreign observers and local citizen-watchers can make the difference between a fair election and a disaster.
No one batted an eyelid earlier this year when Turkmenistan's strongman, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, was “re-elected” with nearly 98% of the vote.
Why, one wonders, did he bother with an election at all?
Yet in a growing number of fragile new democracies, especially in Africa, where similarly absurd results were once common, elections have become genuine.
Since 1991 incumbent governments or leaders have been ousted at the ballot box at least 45 times, most recently in Nigeria, Ghana, the Gambia and Lesotho.
Nerves still jangle at election time, especially when the outcome is likely to be close, patronage and corruption are pervasive, and rigging and violence have blighted previous ballots.
A fraudulent election can tarnish a country's reputation, threaten its stability, and deter investment and aid.
Kenya, whose voters go to the polls on August 8th, is just such a case.
Violence after an election in 2007 left at least 1,300 dead and 700,000 displaced.
The country is the economic and strategic hub of east Africa, so a credible election this time matters not only to Kenyans but to many beyond their borders.
Foreign and local observers will be vital to ensuring a clean contest in such a “transitional democracy”.
In the bad old days no one (except the hapless citizens of the countries concerned) seemed to care much if elections were rigged, provided they were more or less peaceful.
International monitors would swan in a few days before the poll and—more negligently—fly out again a day or two after it, often declaring the election to have been “free and fair” because they had seen voters cast their ballots without violence.
No matter that fraud and bad blood often increase after polling day.