The Human Truth Foundation


By Vexen Crabtree 2022

#democracy #elections #good_governance #referendums #voting

The most visible feature of democracy, its primary symbol, is the election. A government maintains its very legitimacy 'through success in regular and competitive elections'1, and these are the way in which a nation decides if it wants its current leaders to continue in power, or if the reigns should be passed to others2. This system encourages elected officials to try to govern well, for fear of future electoral outcomes3. Those with power and influence have the capability to spread misinformation, and often have, to the extent that it disrupts elections and deprives the electorate of accurate information. It is the duty of democratic governments to facilitate fair elections, and this is a serious enough issue that a process of peer-review must be enacted, wherein independent international bodies check on elections as they occur, to ensure that they are duly proper.4

1. Elections Need Protecting

#democracy #elections

Book CoverConsider the right to a government chosen by periodic and genuine elections carried out with universal and equal suffrage (Universal Declaration, Article 21[3]). The principal duty correlative to this right is the obligation of the state to stage and to administer elections that are free, fair, and open (to all candidates and all voters). Other actors - e.g., poll watchers or international election monitors - may be incorporated into the process to strengthen its integrity. The state must vigilantly protect all citizens from private efforts to coercively discourage or prevent them from participating. For the most part, though, the state's basic obligation is to run - that is, to provide - clean elections.

"Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice"
Jack Donnelly (2013)5

It is all-too-easy for the government in power to abuse mass media outlets and the press in order to push a one-sided account of their own actions, and therefore distort the democratic process. Likewise, it is too easy for powerful corporations and individuals to have undue influence. Therefore, there must be rules and regulations during electoral campaigns to protect the system6, including ensuring that information is available to the electorate and that funding is equalized fairly. Breaking these rules is profoundly serious business, and should result in offenders being barred from office.

2. Elections Alone Don't Make Liberal Democracy

#democracy #elections #good_governance #Pakistan #UN #USA

Elections on their own do not generate a democratic system of good governance. The people can choose to replace the government and have little other direct power2, meaning that, sometimes the choice in the ballot box can be simply between one illiberal gang of autocrats and another, or worse, there can be no choice at all. The people must demand and guard the electoral process, and this can only happen if public education and learning allows the masses, and the politicians, to recognize what liberal democracy is, and to run the watches that keep it healthy. Otherwise, the rich and powerful can trample over elections with misinformation and well-funded public-relations campaigns that go beyond mere effectiveness into lies and deceit. If those people go unchallenged, elections themselves do not make things better.

Elections do not result in democracy without the supporting mechanisms of liberal democracy.

Book CoverSimply telling (or forcing) a country to hold elections doesn't work and can often cause a delay in reforms, as existing power bases and ethnic divisions gain electoral legitimacy, and therefore do not accept the need to change themselves. This is why the USA and UN and other have large foreign-aid budgets that go towards programmes that aren't simply welfare: building judiciaries, politically-independent institutions and effecting slow cultural change requires a steady and stable flow of funds.

"The Future of Freedom" by Fareed Zakaria (2003)4

Merely holding elections is not enough; many countries in Africa have held elections, but governance has been so poor that elections cause no magical improvement in the fates of the poor7. They merely consolidate power into already-powerful cohorts, who remodel themselves as 'parties' and 'politicians'. Democracy without constitutional liberalism is pointless. It's still 'cracy' (rule) without the 'demos' (people)

Many illiberal democracies - almost all in Central Asia, for example - have quickly and firmly turned into dictatorships. [...] Outside of Europe, illiberal democracy has not proved to be an effective path to liberal democracy.

"The Future of Freedom" by Fareed Zakaria (2003)8

In 1999, Pakistan had its fourth coup, wherein the military overthrew the elected government. This restored its average of one coup per decade; rather than cause mass despair, it was wildly popular. The previous elected government, led by Benazir Bhutto and then by Sharif, "abused their office for personal gain, packed the courts with political cronies, fired local governments, allowed Islamic fundamentalists to enact draconian laws, and plundered the state coffers". It was illiberal democracy; elections themselves were inadequate to constrain elected officials to good behaviour.

Elections can also be so disruptive to a nation that isn't accustomed to a regular transfer of power, that violent shockwaves and negative reactions can be great enough to call into the question the very project of democracy. Despite this, there is a positive longer-term trend: talk of elections increases public expectation of wise behaviour from politicians. They make people want better government, because, they have the theoretical ability to take part, even though at first the impact is damaging.

Whilst elections are often a major source of instability in the early years of a transition to democracy, over time they appear to create a rising expectation that they should be free, fair and held routinely. It therefore appears likely that many African countries will achieve genuinely democratic systems by 2045.

"Africa Out to 2045" by DCDC (2016)9

3. Elections are Only Legitimate if the Populace Has Access to Reasonably Unbiased Information

#elections #good_governance #public_debate #public_sphere

People must have open access to the information that informs the political process, to the reports that government read, to independent evaluations of government plans, to economic and social data, to governmental financial expenditures, to policy statements and to a wide range of other information. This information flow needs to be constant, and to include data on what their representatives have supported (via votes or otherwise) or opposed in government.

A central theme of the United Nations' Human Development Report (2022) is that poor-quality information is damaging the ability of populations to factually debate political and social issues. "The free flow of information is fundamental to [governance] processes. Accurate information allows people to develop well-informed policy preferences, hold those in power accountable and participate meaningfully in... debate"10.

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4. How to Govern Well - the Features of Liberal Democracy

For elections to be meaningful, liberal democracy has to be maintained by supporting mechanisms.