Election day in America reinforces our democratic values and reminds us that power resides in the hands of the people. Depending on your party preference and perspective, the meaning of this week’s regional U.S. elections vary (Disclosure: My wife, Eleni Kounalakis, just won a primary race for Lt. Governor of California). Yet, unlike elsewhere in the world, the legitimacy of the 2018 midterm primary races is not questioned. No one is seriously crying wolf.
In too many nations, however, the electoral process and democratic institutions are fractured and failing.
From Turkey to Russia, Venezuela to Iraq, recent foreign elections have harmed the spirit and promise of democratic participation by drowning out minority voices, enriching crony capitalists, and enshrining pseudo-royalty into more secure and permanent tenures.
Turkey has one final shot in the coming weeks to turn-out its ruling authoritarian. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan boldly steps onto the stages of mass political rallies throughout Turkey to foment patriotic passions and appeal to Turks visceral desire for regional dominance and historic destiny. Backstage, he continues his anti-democratic plots to imprison and impede the disloyal and beat-up his opponents.
With elections just around the corner and an opposition focused on the rising cost of living, Erdogan’s expected glide path to victory just hit some slight turbulence. But he won’t go down easily. Democracy is likely to become a faded dream after Turkey’s upcoming June 24 election — a vote held during an Erdogan-declared “state of emergency” that gives the president, police, and Erdogan loyalists unprecedented power to shut down opponents and lock up random citizens. Erdogan will most likely flaunt his power, fix the results and manufacture a win that makes him all-powerful and an even more aggressive regional player and danger to the entire Near East.
Iraq is still home to American troops and an expensive diversion from America’s own nation-building at home. Three weeks ago, an Iraq that has cost American taxpayers more than $2 trillion for war fighting and infrastructure development fell into the hands of anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, an Iran-friendly leader who keeps Tehran on speed dial. An Iraq led by a ballot-bolstered Sadr sits atop abundant oil patches that President Trump was planning on sucking up from the ground and taking. The prospects of tankers shipping cheap-to-free Iraqi crude stateside has taken another blow as Sadr uses the legitimacy of the ballot box to burn the nation’s Western allies and boost his party’s and personal political fortune. Further, Sadr’s inclination and political instincts may manifest by turning Iraqi democracy into one that allows for “one man, one vote, one time”.
Of course, Russia just finished coronating Vladimir Putin after his March 2018 election against dead and disqualified candidates gave him a commanding 77 percent victory, but was also a vote against real democracy. Congratulating him on this electoral outcome, as Trump did, was ill-conceived and helped give the Russian leader the greater global recognition and respect he needs to clamp down further on domestic dissent and democratic expression. Putin takes the win and sits pretty.
Venezuela just had a sham election, the results of which America is actively undermining. It might just work because the country is on the edge of desperation. Venezuela just “re-elected” Nicolas Maduro in an election two weeks ago, where Maduro was able to build his electoral support by directly buying votes from starving and malnourished voters. Maduro likely won’t be traveling out of the country much these days as a speculated military coup is stirring while the United States does its best to regionally isolate Caracas and the government of cash.
Democracy matters to me, which is why my family established two academic chairs on ancient Athenian ideals and democracy at Stanford and Georgetown. Elections matter, too, and the electoral system in the United States is one of the world’s gold standards. While not all of the electorate will be happy with Tuesday’s outcomes, they can be secure that these exercises in democracy at least bring about peaceful change, legitimately elected leadership, and the opportunity always to throw the bums out.