21.11.2005
Democracy by Remote Control
№4 2005 October/December
Vladimir Frolov

Vladimir Frolov — Author «The Moscow Times»



 

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.