Friday, January 14, 2005


Azmi Bishara on Palestinian Elections

Azmi Bishara does a good job of looking at what exactly is the value of the recent Palestinian presidential elections in an opinion piece in al-Ahram. In a broad look at what "democracy" has meant and is coming to mean (a worthwhile investigation, given our current President's emphasis on it), Bishara writes, "electoral campaigns are an exercise in distorting the will of the people."
There is influence, pressure, money, lies, fraud and deception, all used in various ways to manipulate the electorate.... Deliberate tampering with the polls through such means as removing names or adding fictional names to voter registration lists, altering or forging ballots, or falsifying the tallying of votes, are thus rendered unnecessary. Tampering tends to be the recourse of underdeveloped political forces or rulers that are weak or unable to afford the luxury of costly campaigns. But an election that is free of the first set of ills is a rare bird indeed. One has the strong impression that the recent elections in Ukraine marked a victory of the first set of ills over the second.

But is there any real difference between the two? The first set does just as much to falsify the popular will as the second, and apply in varying degrees to all electoral processes, beginning with the tailoring of the process itself and passing through methods of financing it, the purchasing of votes through direct payments or through promises of jobs or services, control over access to the media, false pledges made and lies and insinuations spread against rival candidates. It happens everywhere, even in the most established democracies. And then of course there is the more recent problem - US intervention in elections abroad, through ambassadors and other envoys, aid and finance agencies, and democracy approval ratings.
Essentially, though, I think Bishara does distinguish between the two. The difference, Bishara says, is that in the first scenario (with honest polls and dirty campaigns) at least the candidates and parties are forced to make an effort to appeal to the people:
the elections were a political process and those participating were compelled to outline their political views and objectives and to state their apprehensions, leaving the ultimate say to the voter, regardless of the powerful regional and international factors at play.
And he extends some very pointed criticism at Palestinian political parties who have abdicated their duties as political parties; that is, maintaining a relationship with the people on the streets, constituents.
Political parties cannot survive on their past laurels or on declaring responsibility for a resistance operation from time to time. If they have a policy or a programme to which they subscribe they must lay this before the public. Yet, today, we find that some political parties no longer bother to produce a newspaper, let alone convene popular rallies or other forms of grassroots mobilisation. It would appear that the problem resides in the absence of political party life in the simplest sense.
In the end, Bishara is adamant that the Palestinians, despite the flaws in the elections, should not walk away from the process with nothing gained. True, there is a certain futility in electing a president with no authority over a territory with no sovereignty. There is a certain sense of apathy that comes from an election in which less than half the eligible population participated and in which the second largest political party fielded no candidate. In which there was little doubt about the candidate prefered by the United States and Israel, in which the second most popular candidate sits inside an Israeli prison and whose in again-out again campaign status was handled far from the realm of the popular will. But as a tool that can be used to build a civil society, can be harnessed to involve the people in politics (is this not the true definition of democracy?), the elections can help to play a part, to encourage democracy, participation, and eventually the hopes that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be arranged in a manner that is acceptable to the people, and not just to the winners of elections.

yet today we find some political parties no longer bother to publish a paper... isn't that an amazing criticism? Wouldn't it be great if the Dems here actually bothered to publish a paper, regularly??

Aunt Deb
YES! i thought the same thing. it's very interesting to see how little we demand of our political parties in the united states.

and i really mean that i think it's interesting, and not lame or stupid or any of those things. i think it's interesting that azmi bishara is challenging what it is that we understand "democracy" to be. and that there are so few voices that are doing that. and why the united states, which seems so proud of "democracy" and "liberty" and all these other buzzwords, sees so little interest in challenging what these words mean and the various ways in which they manifest themselves.

so good for azmi bishara. and where's my newspaper?
So many blogs and only 10 numbers to rate them. I'll have to give you a 9 because you have a quailty topic.

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