It’s been a busy time lately for ballot counters. There have been important general elections in India, the Ukrainians have picked a new president, the EU has voted for a new parliament, and the Afghans have voted for a replacement for President Karzai. Here’s a quick round up of what happened.
Briefly, nationalism seems to be on the rise everywhere, and that is always, in my opinion, a bad thing. Nationalism is the evil twin of patriotism. The distinction? A patriot will say “God bless America,” while a nationalist will say “God bless America and no place else.”
In India, the world’s largest democracy selected Narendra Modi as its new prime minister. His Bharatiya Janata Party says on its own website “Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism presents the BJP’s conception of Indian nationhood. It must be noted that Hindutva is a nationalist, and not a religious or theocratic, concept.” The BJP may not use the term as I do; in fact, I am sure it doesn’t. But Hindu nationalism in a nation that has fought four wars with its Muslim neighbor Pakistan, and which has more than 100 million Muslim citizens in a total population of 1 billion, seems to be an approach of dubious value. Then, I believe in everyone getting along. To Mr. Modi’s credit, he invited Pakistan‘s leader Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony.
In Ukraine, the election for president was the first step toward resolving the civil strife brought on by Russian meddling and the ouster of a democratically elected president by street protests. The winner, Petro Poroshenko, is a billionaire who made his money selling chocolate. He denies he is an oligarch, but I find it hard to believe a man can become a billionaire solely by selling sweets to the 45.7 million people who live in Ukraine. Of course, his rivals for the job were crooks like former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who became a billionaire or thereabouts through natural gas investments. All of them were Ukrainian speakers, not Russian speakers. And Vitali Klitschko, the boxer turned political leader, dropped out of the presidential race in favor of Poroshenko, to be mayor of Kiev. In short, Ukraine has made sure that the Russian speakers have little access to power. I suppose that Putin speaks for them anyway.
In the EU, Germany and Italy were the main stays of responsibility. France and Britain appear to have taken leave of their senses. In France, the proto-fascist National Front won the most votes with about 25 percent, good enough for 25 seats in the European Parliament. The FN (Front National) has been an anti-immigrant and even racist party for decades. Now, it out-polls the other parties. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Independence Party, which has no members at Westminster, and no real machinery in Scotland, won the most votes in Britain, with 27 percent. The Conservatives and Labour Parties were a couple points short of that. The Liberal Democrats, the most pro-EU party in the nation, finished in single digits behind the Greens. Anti-immigrant feelings in Europe aren’t about to go away — there are 26 million unemployed in the EU, and immigrants are an easy target.
In Afghanistan, it appears that the successor to Hamid Karzai will have some trouble with legitimacy. The Afghanistan election commission just fired 5,338 staff members for electoral fraud. That’s about half of its staff. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah (the leader so great they named him twice?) allegedly won the most votes in the first round, with 44.9 percent. Ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani is alleged to have come second with 31.5 percent. They will be in a run-off as neither got 50 percent +1 in the first round. The second round in June 14. Stay tuned.
Of course, it can always be worse. After months of political unrest, civil strife and violence, the civilian government of Thailand found itself out of work last week. The army declared martial law on Tuesday and said it wasn’t mounting a coup d’etat. Then, on Thursday, it announced that it had pulled off a coup after all. The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, just announced he’s backing the coup leaders — well, it’s a cushy job, and he’d like to continue king-ing for a while yet. Many people have been called in by the military for discussions; apparently, arresting them outright is too much work. A quick read of history shows that the Thai military hasn’t won a war in ages (if ever); I doubt it will prove any better at governing. Armies usually suck at that. The solution is obvious: new elections. The problem is obvious, too: It was an elected government that was ousted by the army when the government couldn’t cope with protesters in the streets. New elections may not change a thing.
Churchill was right when he said that democracy was the worst form of government except for all the other ones. What he forgot to mention was just how bad it can be.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.