Democracy by Remote Control

21 november 2005

Vladimir Frolov - Author "The Moscow Times"

Resume: Elections in the CIS countries are turning from an instrument of the people’s will into a convenient pretext for outside multilateral interference. This new environment is aimed at creating international legal conditions for changing a regime by challenging election results, claiming as illegitimate the existing constitutional procedures and provoking an acute political crisis.


At no other time in history have election campaigns in the post-Soviet space attracted more attention than in the last few years. This is rather understandable since the majority of these countries have suffered political cataclysms, as well as the active involvement of outside forces. While the Western mass media broadly described Russia’s interference as a bid to realize its “imperial ambitions,” as well as to prevent the free expression of other peoples’ will, it pictured Western involvement in these contests as an indisputable good that contributes to the proliferation of freedom and democracy.


In this context, the article entitled The Orange Revolution by Timothy Garton Ash and Timothy Snyder, published in the New York Review of Books in April 2005, is quite characteristic. The authors bluntly claim: “Some ‘interventions’ by foreigners are justifiable, some are clearly not. There should be an open debate about the ground rules of external, mainly financial intervention to promote democracy…” The authors understand “justifiable interventions” to mean Western financial and organizational aid in election monitoring, training of opposition activists and conducting independent exit polls. Inadmissible methods of interference are considered to be the pre-election visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Ukraine, participation of Russian political technologists in the pre-election campaign (incidentally, not only on the side of Yanukovich) and funds, allegedly spent by Russia on Yanukovich’s campaign.


The authors’ ideas concerning external control of the election legitimacy and its results require careful examination. These are, after all, new instruments of Western policy that Russia will have to consider in the future. For example, their claim to legitimize an outside interference into the domestic affairs of a sovereign state falls under the heading of ‘limited sovereignty’ – a concept that has never been internationally recognized. Another concept involves the development of criteria for armed ‘humanitarian intervention’ – a policy that has become the pastime of a small group of Western political scientists and legal experts.


Today, Russia is facing a fundamentally new phenomenon in the post-Soviet space – one that is radically changing the role of election procedures in the formation of legitimate power. Elections in the CIS countries are turning from an instrument of the people’s will into a convenient pretext for outside multilateral interference. This new environment is aimed at creating international legal conditions for changing a regime by challenging election results, claiming as illegitimate the existing constitutional procedures and provoking an acute political crisis. As a rule, the crisis either turns into a “color” revolution, that is, an unconstitutional change of power through a coup that is automatically recognized by the “international community,” or else it leads to long-lasting political destabilization that is controlled from outside and which ultimately paralyzes the legally elected power.


The outside factor – represented by an integrated network of Western nongovernmental organizations; mass media (above all television), international observation organizations, such as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), OSCE and PACE; public opinion agencies and the political leadership of Western countries – now plays a crucial role in managing election results in the post-Soviet space. They have accomplished this role by claiming to know which elections are legitimate and which ones are not.  Thus, an election is legitimate and corresponding to international standards if the results satisfy these organizations in terms of the makeup of the winning forces. If, however, the probable winner does not suit their needs, they portray the election as illegitimate, not free and unjust. Paradoxical as it may seem, same teams of “observers” declare election results as illegitimate in some countries of the former Soviet Union and legitimate in others despite the almost mirror-like coincidence of claims (as was the case during the March parliamentary elections in Moldova that were conducted with considerable violations).


Thus, the issue of election legitimacy and its correspondence with international norms amounts to a pretext for taking away the legitimacy of the governing authorities, with the help of outside forces and the coordinated efforts of the opposition; it becomes a political and legal instrument for regime change. The winning party – should it be recognized by the international organizations as “unfair and unjust” – is declared illegitimate by international legal standards and thus “legally” becomes an object for tough outside pressure. The very threat of internationally recognizing election results as illegitimate – together with the subsequent crisis and regime change – becomes an effective instrument of influence in all post-Soviet countries, including Russia. (The OSCE and PACE supervisory structures attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Russia’s State Duma election results in December 2003, and again on the presidential election in March 2004.)


Starting with the presidential election in Armenia in the spring of 2003, international election observation organizations, together with the EU member states and the U.S., failed to recognize a single legitimate and democratic election campaign in the post-Soviet states. In 2003-2005, five election campaigns ended with massive protests; in three cases they led to the unconstitutional change of power (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan), while in two cases (Azerbaijan, Armenia) they resulted in a political destabilzation. In Belarus, the parliamentary elections and a referendum for prolonging the authorities of Alexander Lukashenko in October 2004 were recognized as “totally undemocratic and illegitimate.” Today, Washington and Brussels use this conclusion as a legal basis for publicly arguing the necessity for overthrowing the ruling regime in Belarus.


In all cases, these organizations delivered guilty verdicts against the elections of those regimes whose policies did not suit the U.S. and the EU, yet had the support of Russia. They also delivered similar verdicts against those countries where opposition to the West is strong. In those CIS countries where the geopolitical orientation of the ruling regime is acceptable for Washington and Brussels, and where there is no viable alternative to the ruling power, the criticism has been much more moderate. Moreover, there have been no “far-reaching” organizational conclusions (as regards, for example, the parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Moldova in 2004 and 2005).


The model of externally controlling election results through managing election legitimacy looks practically the same everywhere, with minor differences depending on the specifics of local political process, of course. The important components of this model are as follows.


Long before an election process begins, the Western mass media (as well as the opposition-controlled mass media of the given country) begin an intensive information campaign with the participation of leading Western experts and public opinion leaders (including former heads of state). This campaign aims to convince the world at large that the ruling regime of country “X” is undemocratic, corrupted and authoritarian, and that it intends to falsify the forthcoming election for the sake of keeping power. There can be no fair election under such a regime because “a corrupted regime will never win a fair election.”

In order to add legitimacy to their claims, the West must pressure the authorities of country “X,” threaten to seize the foreign assets and property of regime leaders and their family members, and refuse to issue them visas. More often than not, such actions receive legal support (one example is the bill forwarded by Dana Rohrabacher entitled Ukraine Democracy and Fair Elections Act of 2004, which provided for such sanctions should the outcome of Ukraine’s presidential election be recognized as undemocratic and unfair). Additionally, country “X” receives support in holding fair elections by financing the oppositional mass media and establishing non-governmental organizations for training election observers and opposition lawyers to make continuous complaints, as well as organize information campaigns in the mass media in order to “expose the facts of election falsification.”


Under the motto “There can be no fair election under the criminal regime,” the opposition conducts its own election campaign with the predetermined result: the election results were false, the ruling power officially designated itself the winner, while actually the opposition believes that victory belongs to it. This conclusion is further replicated at all levels and in all forms. Opposition lawyers file piles of suits with election commissions and courts dealing with the most insignificant contraventions of election norms (in fact, they engage in petty caviling). Information about “numerous violations” becomes proof of the “resultant mass falsification.”


Western NGOs begin to spread their “enlightening activity” in country “X.” International election observation organizations, above all, the ODIHR of the OSCE, start monitoring and fix “numerous violations in the election.”


It is crucially important to quickly announce the election results based on the exit polls, as these tend to lean heavily in favor of the opposition. The difference between this data and the preliminary results of the Central Election Committee in favor of power is used as a basis for appeals by the opposition to its supporters to crowd the streets and block government buildings (importantly, the technology of “crowding the streets” must be practiced in advance).


Then the most interesting thing happens. Missions of international observers (OSCE, PACE, Western NGOs) make official statements declaring the election undemocratic, unfair and contradictory to international norms. This serves as a basis for the U.S. authorities and EU leadership to declare that they do not recognize the voting results in country “X” and argue that it is thus necessary to hold a new “fair” election. This is the key point: non-recognition of the voting results by the world’s leading states turns country “X” and its power elite into international outcasts. The country’s constitutional power also becomes illegitimate; hence, its overthrow – perhaps even its violent overthrow – becomes justifiable.


At this point, powerful outside pressure exerts itself on the victorious authorities. It is also targeted at all forces in the country that support them – businesses, middle class, culture elites, i.e. those layers of society which are most sensitive to international isolation and which, at the same time, act as communicators with the electorate inside their own political systems. For example, according to reports of the Ukrainian and Western mass media, the decisive role in preventing Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma from the use of force against the opposition and making him agree with Western demands for a second election was due to his daughter Elena Franchuk and her husband, billionaire Victor Pynchuk.


In the autumn of 2004, the presidential election in Ukraine carried all of the modern pre-election procedures. An elaborate system of election monitoring, legal support, vote denial, complaint procedures and mass media involvement were mobilized for the first time as a single technological system to provide all of the resources for achieving one result: the recognition of the election as illegitimate. The country’s authorities were taken unawares and could not counter such an onslaught.


In 2005 and 2006, the Western mechanism of “controlling election legitimacy” will be perfected in time for the presidential election in Kazakhstan, parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan and anticipated parliamentary elections in Transdniestria. However, the main event is expected to be the election of the head of state in 2006 in Belarus where the system of preventive election de-legitimization should undergo a general rehearsal before “the main battle” in Russia in 2007 and 2008.


It is obvious that Russia and other countries of the CIS, which consider themselves really sovereign, cannot ignore the fact that Western structures have the available effective technology to control election results and, consequently, an opportunity to form the composition of the power per se. However, today Russia and its allies have no system of their own to legitimize the election procedures and results as a mechanism of sovereign and democratic self-defense.


Thus far, the only answer to the West’s challenge has been Vladimir Putin’s tough statement that Russia, as any state with self-respect, “will not allow the foreign financing of political activity of public organizations,” together with the call by deputy chief of the Kremlin administration Vladislav Surkov to build “a sovereign democracy” in Russia. However, this is not enough. Russia needs to master the Western tools of legitimizing the political processes in the post-Soviet space.

Last updated 21 november 2005, 19:15

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