Fallacy of Western Democracy Exposed
Posted: Friday, October 14, 2005
The Herald (Harare)
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October 14, 2005
By Caesar Zvayi
OFTEN a myth is peddled that the western world has resolved democracy in all its manifestations, be it popular democracy entailing the resolution of the national question and the concomitant bread and butter issues; or elite democracy that evokes smooth electoral processes.
This is why US President George W. Bush arrogantly dismissed the prospect of observers from the developing world for his country's presidential election last year saying the US does not need foreign observers as it is not a developing country.
Over the past five years, events in the north have shown that Bush's statement is a misplaced attempt to buttress the concept of western supremacy.
The month of September was not kind to Germany and the United States, two of the world's biggest economies.
In the US in particular, the world came to realise that democracy is a pipe dream especially among dark skinned African-Americans and Hispanic people.
This class of people was left at the mercy of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans because they either lacked the resources to finance their own escape or were ignored by State rescue teams that targeted white Americans.
After the September 18 elections in Germany, there was a three-week power vacuum as both the winner and the loser, were separated by one percentage point.
The then opposition leader Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party won 35,2 percent of the vote translating to 225 seats in the German parliament, a point ahead of former Chancellor, Gerard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SDP) which managed 34,4 percent translating to 222 seats.
Schroeder, who had clearly lost, claimed the Chancellorship arguing that he was more capable of forming a stable ruling majority than Merkel, because his SDP had made a strong showing on election day in spite of having trailed the CDU in opinion polls.
Schroeder accused Merkel of squandering a 20 percent lead to finish just one percent ahead of him.
A defiant Schroeder appeared on BBC refusing to accept defeat, raising his hands like a champion amid joyful scenes among his supporters.
"I feel myself confirmed in ensuring on behalf of our country that there is in the next four years a stable government under my leadership. I do not understand how the (Christian Democratic) Union, which started off so confidently and arrogantly, takes a claim to political leadership from a disastrous election result."
Schroeder told cheering supporters at his Social Democrat party headquarters, adding that he would only accept a grand coalition if he were the leader.
Merkel on the other hand rightly claimed victory saying the results showed that she had a mandate from the people,
"What is important now is to form a stable government for the people in Germany, and we quite clearly have the mandate to do that," Merkel told CNN.
However, Schroeder continued to refuse to concede defeat precipitating the so-called "Chancellor war" the western media has been feasting on without castigating Schroeder's lack of respect for the democratic process.
It had to take three weeks of endless meetings and Merkel's own magnanimity for "mighty" Schroeder to stand down on Monday, after seven years in power and 21 days of trying to subvert the democratic process.
Merkel had to agree to a grand coalition in which the defeated SDP will have the lion's share of cabinet posts taking the key ministries of foreign affairs, finance, labour and justice, as well as health, aid and co-operation, transport and environment.
Merkel's CDU settled for the economy, interior, defence, agriculture, education and family ministries.
The SDP and CDU are expected to hold party conventions to endorse the agreement next month, but the new parliament begins office on October 18, but is unlikely to vote on a Chancellor until the party meetings are concluded.
In the intervening period, the power hungry Schroeder will continue holding reins till a new Chancellor, most likely Merkel, is nominated by the legislature.
It is important to note that it is the winning party that had to make concessions, while Schroeder the vanquished made the demands.
Had this happened in Africa, let alone Zimbabwe, we would never hear the end of it, as it would be likened to hanging on to power, but we never got to read, hear or see such language in the way the western media described the Germany plebiscite.
The debacle was couched in euphemistic language that described it either as an "impasse, stalemate, deadlock or policy difference."
What has been riveting is the silence from the European Union and the United States, two power blocs that always make so much noise about elections in Zimbabwe or the developing world.
The EU did not even release a statement, though several European leaders commented individually but only to the extent of expressing a wish for a speedy resolution of the "impasse".
The problem can be traced to the German electoral system that elects, on a federal level, a legislature with two chambers; the 598 member Federal Diet (Bundestag) and the 69-member Federal Council (Bundesrat) that represents the governments of the states.
Two different systems are used to elect the Bundestag.
Of the 598 members, 299 are elected in single-seat constituencies according to a first-past-the-post system, while a further 299 members are allocated from state-wide party lists to achieve a proportional distribution in the legislature, conducted according to a system of proportional representation (the additional member system).
On election day, voters vote once for a constituency representative and a second time for a party, and the lists are used to make the party balances match the distribution of second votes.
This is the system that produced the stalemate after separating the two main parties by one percentage point.
But this is not the first time weird western electoral systems have produced embarrassing stalemates that have also exposed western double standards.
It also happened on November 7 2000, when two winners emerged from the US presidential election.
Democratic Party candidate, Al Gore beat Republican candidate and incumbent president George W. Bush by 500 000, Bush on the other hand won more Electoral College votes than Gore.
Neither candidate conceded defeat. It took a whole month of recounts and court challenges before the US Supreme Court, dominated by Republican Judges, ruled that Bush was the winner based on his 527 vote margin over Gore in Florida, that gave him 25 electoral college votes.
The US system thus chose to ignore the national decision of 101 million voters in favour of 538 electors who vote in the Electoral College system.
Bush's re-election last year was also marred by over 40 000 allegations of massive fraud, including forging vote totals, vote stealing, widespread voter intimidation, irregularities with the distribution of voting machines, mishandled absentee and provisional ballots, malfunctioning or inaccurate machines and/or apparent hacking and vote tampering.
But again on December 13 the US Electoral College vote gave Bush a 286-251 victory over Kerry, and the US Congress duly certified him on January 6 this year, effectively killing all pending court challenges.
British Prime Minister, Tony Blair's re-election last year was also characterised by irregularities that the right wing western media ignored.
The media instead chose to celebrate the fact that Blair had won a third term which they hailed as historic, when elsewhere in the world they would consider that holding on to power.
These are the allegations they pass regarding President Robert Mugabe's re-election in 2002, in spite of the fact that Zimbabwe uses one system of electing the head of state, the first-past-the-post system which saw the President beating the western favourite, Morgan Tsvangirai by over 400 000 votes.
Zimbabwe's elections have never produced a stalemate, as the ruling party has always emerged with a clear majority.
In election 2000 Zanu-PF had 48,83 percent of the vote whilst the main challenger the MDC had 46,03 percent.
In the 2002 presidential elections President Mugabe had 56,20 percent to Tsvangirai's 41.96 percent and in the March 31 poll, Zanu-PF walloped the MDC by 59.08 percent to 40,04 percent of the ballots cast.
It therefore comes as a surprise that western countries, including Germany and the United States, allege that Zimbabwean elections are flawed and have produced a crisis of legitimacy.
We hope they soon realise the wisdom of the adage that says, "those in glass houses should not throw stones."
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