Monday, April 23, 2007

Election Day

Three elections of note this weekend: one unfolding disaster, one ominous sign of ‘rupture’ to come, and one odd but fascinating educational exercise.

It’s impossible to calculate, of course, just how bad the unfolding electoral disaster in Nigeria will get, but things pretty clearly aren’t going well. The event seems to have been troubled from the beginning, with the ruling party almost openly rigging regional elections in some part of the country, and the presidential election being weighted with such suspicion that it’s hard to imagine any result being viewed as legitimate.

It’s beginning to look decidedly worse than the relatively successful elections a little while back in DR Congo, where post-conflict elections occurred under massive international supervision. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, is a major oil exporter, is already fractiously divided along ethnic and religious lines, and is already subject to regional insurgencies. This is not a situation than anyone can afford to see go badly.

And then there’s France. This was a three way race going in, now reduced by electoral procedure to two candidates. The forthcoming runoff election will cast a socialist against a conservative, and the latter looks set to win. An centrist candidate, Francois Bayrou, has been eliminated (along with a field of extremists and also-rans), and the remaining contest looks simple enough—conservative Nicolas Sarkozy will handily defeat socialist Segolene Royal.

This is something Bayrou might have prevented had he made it to the next round, but then it’s not at all clear that Royal or Bayrou had any clear idea of how they would have led the country. The choice seems to have been between Sarkozy’s fairly radical reform programme, complete with ominous ethnic-cultural overtones surrounding immigration policy, or the other two, with few specific ideas at all. All agree that France needs some significant changes. It is not at all clear that Sarkozy’s vision is required.

The third election, about which much less has been reported, is occurring in the tiny Himalayan monarchy of Bhutan. This isn’t really an election at all—it’s a dry run. A year ahead of the first elections in the country’s history, mock elections are being held, complete with high school students standing in as candidates, and election monitors from neighbouring India. That democracy is on offer here at all is remarkable in itself (if only Nepal were lucky enough to have a monarch so enlightened). That it’s being tested so judiciously is impressive indeed.

The results may not matter, and the population will only learn so much, insofar as they won’t have to live with the consequences of their votes. Still, it’s significantly more heartening to watch than the failure of a much larger new democracy, or the ominous stagnation of one of the world’s oldest. Bhutan’s voters and administrators may not be the only ones in need of a little education.

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