Beyond the News
Today, Friday 14th 2013 Iranians are going to choose their new president for the next 4 years and one word that has been mentioned several times to describe this poll is democracy. However, is an election a real democratic action?
Well, it would be great to use the words election and democracy interchangeably. Nevertheless, democracy depends on several other factors, mainly on the way how political leaders drive their nations after the elections. And in Iran this process seems to be even a bit more complicated than in other countries. For instance, women are not allowed to become a candidate and men must be Iranian-born Shiite to be considered by the Guardian Council as a potential one. However, letting people to have the last voice on this process is something to be respected.
In the last 25 years I have witnessed several elections worldwide and what I take away from these experiences is: the factors which make a country democratic go beyond the election itself. It is also about how the people in that nation participate in the government and help to build the society after the polls closed off. Let’s see some examples of it.
Back in 1985, in Brazil, the 20 years of dictatorship had finally come to an end. The first president of new Republic was elected by the Congress, but in 1988 with a new Constitution it was guaranteed to Brazilian citizens the right to vote. One year later the first election in 30 years was held and people went proudly to the ballots in order to choose the future president.
Now, in 2013 and 5 elections later, the vote does not have that much charisma in the Brazilian society anymore due to various scandals of corruption that spread out in the country for the last 2 decades. There are even some doubts raised by a minority part of the society in whether democracy still exists in Brazil. Nevertheless, one great moment when elections and democracy walked side by side in the country was seen in 2002, when the former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso handled over the power to the opposition leader Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva without leveraging any obstacles to the new president and his team, showing that the dictatorship period was really buried!
In 2007 I was in Australia to see a remarkable moment in its history when the Green Party leader Kevin Rudd became the country’s new prime minister. Australians showed at that moment all their anger and thirsty for change when chose the opposition party to lead the nation. However, all the scandals involving Giulia Gilliard – who in plain English kicked Mr. Rudd backside out of the power – impose some questions on how democratic an election can be. Mr. Rudd may have his “downs”, but he was elected by the people of Australia and should only be forced out of his position by those who put him there. This is democracy, or am I reading it wrong?
This year I witnessed once again the citizens of a country going to the ballots for the first time in history; it was in the Czech Republic. People in Prague were excited about it, but at the same time very skeptical. For the last 10 years the country went through serious scandals of corruption, what placed several question marks over people’s heads. Would any of those candidates really make a difference? Eventually, Miloš Zeman, a former member of communist party was elected beating other 8 competitors.
One interesting point about Czech Republic is that a candidate can run the elections without being member of a specific party; however, it is required for him/her to collect at least 50,000 signatures as a recognized popular approval of this candidacy as “independent”. This could open some doubts about transparency because signatures could be falsified and/or manipulated; however, I believe that this is a really democratic way to run an election. In other words, anyone who really has popular support can actually be a candidate.
It is going to be interesting to see the outcomes of this election in Iran today. However, it is hard to believe that an event where only candidates pre-selected by a higher council, which is formed by non-elected representatives, is really democratic. On the other hand, this is the system how the country is governed and only the people of Iran can be opposed to it. No other nation in the world, including United States, has the right to deny the eligibility of this election.
The outcomes could certainly affect everyone from inside and outside of Iran positively or negatively, but let a country to decide its future by following its internal laws and Constitution is the best way to make elections democratic.