Ukraine: Democracy on trial?


The Ukrainian Parliament has declared the election invalid. The Ukrainian people are protesting by the millions. Much of the Western World is crying foul, while Vladimir Putin tries to enhance his power through corruption.

If millions of people protesting peacefully will result in an overturning of the result and a new, fair election, then that’s democracy in action and a shining example of democratic power. Right?

But Ukraine raises more questions than it answers. For one thing, what’s to say that protests against *fair* election wouldn’t ensue? If two million Kerry supporters had taken to the streets after Bush was re-elected this month, would that have resulted in new elections in the United States? Certainly, those people would have had plenty of support among the EU and a good part of the world. But does that give them the right to throw out those results? Of course we’re comparing a fair election and a fraudulent one… but who decides these things anyway?

It also raises questions about double-standards. Canada is mulling breaking political ties with the Ukraine if the fraudulent results stand. That’s an admirable stand for democracy… but what about Canada’s continuing ties with all sorts of dictatorships and despot-controlled countries? Why is a fraudulent election unacceptable to Canada, but a country with no election at all just fine with us?

None of this to suggest that what’s happening in Ukraine is any way okay. The will of the people should determine the leader of the country. And the massive wave of protests is bringing the West’s attention to Russia’s political manoeverings of late – long ignored at our peril, perhaps.

But that’s the thing about democracy. It’s imperfect by nature and needs to be continually challenged and fought for in order to flourish. The drive of the Ukrainian people to see their votes counted ought to mean something to the far too many of us who sometimes take ours for granted.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DaninVan 11.28.04 at 3:06 AM

Whoa! The protests are against the fraud, violence, and Russian interference NOT against the results per se. IF the election had been seen to be fair and aboveboard by the people and the International Observers, sure there would have been disappointed voters, there always are, but there wouldn’t be mass protests.


2 josh 11.28.04 at 2:16 PM

Good post, vents a lot of my own questions over this episode too.

BUT, the will of the people does not and should not determine leadership. That’s another way to say mob-rule is okay.
The ‘rules’ say that only a majority of voters determine who wins and loses. Not some whiners after the fact that claim corruption because their side lost by close margins (in the US, Israel, and elsewhere). Then you just undermine the whole democratic ideal of 50% plus one vote as the majority, right?


3 Francis N. 11.29.04 at 5:59 AM

If the majority of voters had been representative of the majority of people, I’d agree with you. But every international observer, ourselves included, has said otherwise. What the protestors have done thus far — drawing world attention, forcing a court decision (admittedly from a clearly biased court) and even parlimentary disallowance, all the while abhorring violence of any sort — is a fine example of victory against ballot-stuffing and practices that undermine democracy.

I’m not at all convinced that protests against fair elections would ensue. They didn’t in the US, not seriously. They never do here, despite the fact that many Canadians consider the whole system unfair. There is a world of difference between obviously corrupt elections in the Ukraine and the ones here. The impartiality, or at least the apperance of impartiality, of the West’s electoral systems is the key against mass protests, and I have yet to see real challenges (apart from 2000, which in my mind was a very wild exception) been made to the fairness of the electoral process.

What about Canada’s ties? For that matter, what about the US’s? Pakistan, anyone, or a little China? Canada very much has a moral role to play in signalling its support for those who use legitimate forms of protest against what they see as a democracy gone awry. It is less constructive for Canada to continue to lecture totalitarian states about why they need elections (that’s a reason often provided as to why pre-emptive invasion might be an answer) than to wade into obviously democratic issues. And as the US learned in the 1960’s in Cuba and the aborted coup d’etat, one needs a solid groundswell of support for democracy in a given country before any nation can actively signal its support for that movement. Canada supporting here and not there is not neccasrily a matter of principal, we have our own interests to think about as well.


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