It's democracy, a la America
NEW YORK -- Relenting to heavy political pressure both domestically and internationally, the longtime authoritarian ruler of a south-east Asian country reluctantly decided to hold nation-wide elections. But in a move, characteristic of most developing nations at that time, he rigged the elections in his favour.

A cartoon published in a newspaper caricatured his response to a complaint of massive voter fraud. "I promised to hold elections," the president was quoted as saying, "but I never said anything about counting the votes."

We have two elections that are coming up soon where US-installed puppet governments -- both in Afghanistan and Iraq -- are trying to prove they will soon have Western-style democratic nations.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he is determined to hold elections later this month despite the fact that he cannot even get out of his security-laden stronghold to campaign for votes. But then who's counting the votes?

Karzai is so heavily guarded by US mercenaries and barricaded by barbed wire -- and heavy artillery -- that he remains totally isolated from his own people. When he flew out of his fortress last month to meet his political supporters in an outlying province, someone fired a missile at his helicopter.

The missile missed its mark, and both Karzai and his helicopter were rushed back to Kabul. Neither refused to land on terra firma. So much for electioneering and campaign swings.

The Bush administration, which installed Karzai in power, wants to prove that it can turn Afghanistan into a multi-party democracy in a country still being ravaged by warlords.

But anyone with knowledge of contemporary history knows that nobody has succeeded in bringing Afghans under disguised military occupation -- not the British, not the Soviets. The Americans are heading for a lesson in history.

The situation in Iraq is equally pathetic. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, another American quisling, was in Washington DC last week telling US Senators and Congressmen that Iraq would be a free and democratic nation after country-wide elections in January next year.

Allawi is bunkered in the heavily fortified, US-controlled "Green Zone" inside the capital of Baghdad. According to a New York Times report last month, the Americans have even installed a device that is capable of monitoring the body heat of anyone approaching Allawi thereby thwarting suicide bombers, the hallmark of the ongoing Iraqi insurgency. Allawi seems more isolated than Karzai.

When Allawi addressed a joint session of the US Congress last week, someone discovered that some of the phrases he used were similar to those used earlier by President George W. Bush. The speculation is that both speeches were written by the same person. Allawi just delivered what the Americans had written for him.

He came to the White House to proclaim that he would hold countrywide elections in Iraq as scheduled, despite the disenfranchisement of hundreds and thousands of Iraqis in provinces where polls cannot be held because of violence.

"I stand here today as the prime minister of a country emerging finally from dark ages of violence, aggression, corruption and greed,'' he told Congressmen.

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked last week how Iraq could hold free and fair elections if entire provinces are shut out of the electoral process, he rambled along: "Let's say you tried to have an election, and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but in some places you couldn't go because the violence was too great. Well, that's so be it. Nothing's perfect in life. It's better than not having an election -- you bet!"

So Rumsfeld's argument is that even if hundreds and thousands of voters are deprived of voting, the elections are still legitimate because nothing's perfect in this world -- and specifically if the election suits the interests of the United States.

If any other country in Asia, Africa or Latin American holds such an "imperfect" election, the US would surely have raised hell -- or even threatened to cut World Bank loans.

Coming from Rumsfeld, this is no surprise, because some Americans think that that vote count in the state of Florida for the US presidential elections in 2000 (in which Bush was declared the winner) was in itself a fraud-- and far from perfect.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post last week, former US President Jimmy Carter says that even today Florida lacks "some basic international requirements for a fair (US presidential) election" in November this year.

The ex-president, who heads the Carter Centre in Georgia which has monitored over 50 national elections worldwide, thinks that Florida's polling agents are "highly partisan."

Obviously, such a situation may not ensure "fair and free elections" in the US in November. If so, should Afghanistan and Iraq be far behind?

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