Two very different countries held free and fair elections last week. There were surprises in both instances, as there often are when democracy is unleashed, but in neither case were there major allegations of fraud, voting irregularities, widespread violence — at least till after the vote — or electoral dirty tricks.
The principal issue in both elections was the corruption of the old regime.
By a curious coincidence, each of these corrupt regimes has been defeated by a party on the right of the political spectrum, with ties to conservative religious groups.
In another notable coincidence, both newly elected political parties are considered by many — though for very different reasons — to be pretty scary guys.
The two new governments aren’t planning any joint celebration that we know of, although it does appear that if Hamas will renounce everything it stands for, the new government of Canada may recognize its right to exist.
“For a nation to be truly democratic,” Stephen Harper told a press conference on Thursday, “that nation must renounce any use of terrorism.”
Here of course the PM-elect speaks of suicide-bomb terrorism. Terrorism by jet fighter, cluster bomb, and helicopter is negotiable.
It’s a function of wealthy and powerful nations that they abhor the horrible military methods of poor powerless peoples, but are less shocked by the far greater carnage caused by countries more like themselves.
Like other world leaders, Harper finds himself impaled on a paradox in Palestine.
It’s hard to preach the holy name of democracy out of one side of your mouth and reject a clear win at the polls out of the other.
It must be especially delicate for Harper to call a government undemocratic that was swept to power by an overwhelming majority, while he himself was nudged in by a grudging minority.
Hamas has honoured a cease-fire with Israel for the past 11 months, and has offered to extend that cease-fire. Prior to that they most commonly attacked Israel in retaliation for targeted assassinations in Gaza, which have also stopped.
But to extend a cease-fire is one thing, and to renounce armed struggle is quite another. There is no act of war that Hamas can commit with its current resources that the world would not designate terrorism.
Should the Palestinians renounce war? Of course they should, as should we all, but it’s hardly practical at this moment in history for any nation to lay down its arms, even if those arms are as seriously outclassed as Hamas’s home-made bombs against Israel’s F-18 fighter jets. A people so locked in military struggle against a superior force as the Palestinians are all the more unlikely to disarm unilaterally.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar hasn’t made any comment yet on the Canadian election. He has spoken about his own plans, and as befits a big winner, they’re quite a bit grander than anything Harper has come up with so far.
He told reporters on Thursday “We are going to change every aspect, as regards the economy, as regards industry, as regards agriculture, as regards social aid, as regards health, administration, education.”
It sounds like a busy schedule. Not one that allows a lot of time for plotting terrorist attacks. It’s possible that getting elected may be the transformation of Hamas. Others have made the transition from ruthless resistance fighter to peacetime leader, and the business of governing is sure to redirect some attention toward paying the bills and away from armed struggle.
Here in Canada the leader of the defeated party did the honourable thing, and relinquished power without complaint. The people had expressed their will, and Paul Martin had little choice but to start packing up his personal effects and prepare to vacate the prime ministerial mansion. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has been less cooperative, which may help to account for the burning tires and the gunplay in the streets of Gaza.
The real difference between the elections in Palestine and those in Canada is that in Canada we have democracy, whereas in Palestine they have only elections. Without the rule of law, the protection of minority rights, the establishment of stable institutions, and the ability to control the nation’s borders, elections are a sham.
Canada has bought the big lie of the Bush presidency, that peace can be achieved by the export of American power in the form of fake democracies. This system operates on the principal of grossly manipulated elections to produce collaborationist governments.
There is no case in history, of an occupied people freely electing a quisling administration. Failures like Palestine occur when the vote is not sufficiently rigged, and the people choose the rulers they trust best.