Democratic elections, the Uzbekistani way

How has Britain condemned this tyrant after his fraudulent election? By arming him
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British politicians could learn from the election that's taken place in Ukraine. First, the old president fiddled it so they had it all over again, now his opponent may have fiddled the latest one so the old president's refusing to go. And it turns out the opposition leader was a suave dude until half way through the election when he was poisoned. That's how to get people interested in politics.

It's as if the whole thing was written by the scriptwriters from Casualty. Next, as Yuschenko is about to accept office, the old president will sneak up behind him and say, "There's something you should know - I'm having your twins." Yuschenko will be so startled he'll drop his victory cigar and cause such a huge fire that Chernobyl blows up again, then we'll have to wait until next week to see how it all gets back to normal.

The wonderful part of the story is the choice of murder weapon. It's so antiquated it's almost cute. A jury would return a verdict of "Guilty, but it's so nice to see poison back we recommended community service."

It's even more endearing that they failed, as if they franchised the job out to the wily coyote. Maybe every time Yuschenko makes a speech, he'll walk off to meet the press and a giant anvil will land where he was standing. It's quite comforting that a country with nuclear weapons is so incompetent about killing even one person. If every country which had a nuclear capacity were as hopeless, the planet would have a better chance of making it through the next 50 years.

In this country, we'd be better suited to a more subtle poisoning style, and use the plot of a 16th-century tragedy. For his party political broadcast, Blair could whisper into the camera, "Middle England doth fret my victory, in time, could bring the wretched Brown unto the throne. To thee I say behold yonder poison? Three droplets plopped in good faith upon the Gallic cur's fare should bring summary to his Old Labour schemes." Certainly he could try it with the Liberals. Who'd believe Charles Kennedy if, after falling over and throwing up, he pleaded, "But I've been poisoned"?

The episode can appear as another example of why other countries must learn from the democratic West, who backed the poisoned candidate against the vote-rigger. But another election took place this week, in Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov left less to chance than the Ukrainian president. To start with, the only parties allowed to stand were those who support him; the four parties who oppose him were ruled to have made themselves ineligible by making mistakes on their application forms. That was unlucky enough, but official observers, despite witnessing hardly anybody voting, noted that the turnout was declared to be 85 per cent.

What a modern approach. Here we muck about trying to boost turnout with electronic polls and postal ballots that remove the need to visit a polling station. But he's eradicated apathy by enabling you to vote without even voting. And no one can complain there isn't a secret ballot. Because it's so secret you don't even know that you've voted yourself.

This was still more democratic than the previous election, during which President Karimov's challenger declared he'd voted for Karimov himself. That's the sort of consensus politics we should be encouraging, a politician prepared to change his mind having listened to the arguments.

One of the arguments he might have listened to was when Karimov, speaking of one opposition group, said, "I'm prepared to rip off the heads of 200 of them. If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head."

Maybe that's why we're being so nice to him - Blair's planning to bring him here as a replacement for Blunkett. And you have to wonder at the specific figure. Maybe he had an adviser who said, "I think you should make it three hundred," and Karimov replied, "Well, that's just pandering to the right-wing law and order lobby."

Karimov is also known for his habit of boiling opponents alive. Which must be fairly convincing in a political discussion. If they have presidential debates like the ones in America, the opposition must put their case, then for his turn Karimov puts a huge kettle on and that pretty much wraps it up.

So how has Britain condemned this tyrant following his latest fraudulent election? By assuring him that they will continue to arm him, having already withdrawn the ambassador who dared to criticise his methods. See, when it comes to these monsters, you have to be prepared to act tough.

This may be worth remembering as the West plans elections in Iraq. Because for Western leaders, democracy isn't a principle, it's a tactic. For example, George Bush famously couldn't remember the name of the leader of Pakistan, mumbling "He's General, er, General someone." But to be fair to Bush, he remembered the most important bit. For as general, he'd overthrown an elected government, and like Karimov became a crucial ally in the war for democracy. And in Iraq, anyone will be entitled to stand as long as they accept that the US will stay in control. Maybe the team of international observers sent to ensure a fair election should be Islam Karimov, the poisoner of Kiev and General, er, someone.