Letter: Eternal quest for democracy

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The Independent Online
Sir: Emeka Anyaoku's defence of the Commonwealth's role in Kenya and in elections generally ('We did not fail Kenya, we must not fail democracy', 1 February) states the capacity and limitations of international election-observing effectively and starkly.

In every election, the final verdict as to the acceptability has to rest with the electors themselves. An international team, however numerous and professional, can and must indicate areas where the electoral process was defective and give its expert opinion of the quality and legitimacy of the election as a whole. But it would be wholly illegitimate for such a delegation to go on to suggest what action the people of the country in question should do when the team has upped and left. After all, as Angola demonstrates only too vividly, the consequences of refusing to accept election results are somewhat lethal.

Those who have 'won' an election and acted in accordance with their perception of the results are, by definition, unlikely willingly to call for fresh elections. In such cases, the 'losers' thus have only an unpleasant choice between critical acceptance of the result or insurrection. Experience does show, however, that ongoing pressure from international observers does have an ameliorating effect on subsequent democratic processes.

Experience in this society over many years increasingly suggests that the fairness of elections depends far more on the political culture in which they take place than what happens on polling day. Government dominance of the administrative machine and the manipulation of the media over the weeks and months before an election tends to have a greater influence than the fiddles that may take place on a well-monitored polling day.

No election anywhere is perfect but some are, of course, more flawed than others. The search for democracy is as much an eternal quest in Britain as it is in Kenya and elsewhere.

Yours faithfully,



Electoral Reform Society

London, SE1

2 February