4. März 2008
Elections are more than
just a well-administered election day
Elections are much more than just a challenge for the management capacities of a state power for new power. Elections are much more than a technocratic challenge or a special task for social engineering.
Elections are a long and multi-dimensional process of communication and interactions by citizens, groups, organisations, Parliamentarians and incumbents about experiences and expectations, interests and hopes around the question who may represent best the interests of the majority of the citizens as a President, Prime Minister, Governor or Parliamentarian.
In order to be democratic this process has to be inclusive. That means all citizens who care about their society and their future have to be able to express their point of views, there expectations and their evaluation of the past, the other competitors and the Power in action as well as they must have the right and the capacity to organise themselves in a way that they can also compete as candidates or parties for representative political posts at the top of the State, in the Government or in the Parliament.
In order to be free and fair, elections need rules. Every state enshrines these rules in its constitution and laws. Those European states who are like the Russian Federation, members of the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) stick to the principles these organisations have developed in the Copenhagen Criteria (Osce, 1990) and the Guidelines for free and fair elections (CoE, 2002) where you clearly see how a free and fair election process has to be understood and organised.
Freedom means in this political and electoral context much more than a limited choice between options you could not influence. Freedom means that citizens can organise themselves in order to act directly or indirectly, by voting for other groups and parties with similar interests and values, so that they know that life and the society they live in is not a destiny but a common project to be realised together. Fairness means that all those who compete in elections have similar chances to get to know their views and perspectives and propositions to the voters. Concretely this means especially an equal access to the Public sphere in order to be heard equally.
The soul of free and fair elections, so to say, is the discussion with other competitors and different opinions. The more people discuss, the more they can make up their mind and the more all participants may learn how to sarve best the majority of the Nation.
The most precious outcome of free and fair elections is political legitimacy to use the political power, the people, as the only source of legitimate power, was ready to lend the winner for a limited time. How legitimate a victory in a election process finally is recognised best by asking those who lost a election. When the elections have been free and fair those who lost should be able to accept their defeat. Perhaps this is too much to ask the day after, but after some time, you need to digest political errors and wrong assumptions, even those who lost in a free and fair election may come to the conclusion that they can accept the defeat – even more so because they know that in a democratic country they will have another fair chance to try again and do better next time.
Democracy has basic elements which are really universal. Because the core of a democracy, the dignity of the people, is a universal value, no matter where he or she lives, does not look for dignity and wants to have his or her dignity respected. The way you realise and enable this dignity of every human being, may be different and may reflect diverse cultures, traditions and geographical parameters.
Switzerland and Russia may be very different. But I am sure that most of the Swiss as well as most of the Russians want to be free and want to live in a democracy which respects their dignity in all parts of life and at all moments of it. This is true for all the people who live in the 47 countries of the CoE. That’s why the observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded their election observation yesterday with the sentence: «The results of the Presidential elections held on 2 march 2008 in the Russian Federation are a reflection of the will of the people whose democratic potential was, unfortunately, not tapped.»
Andreas Gross, political scientist
MP of Switzerland
Chairman of the socialdemocratic group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)
Chairman of the delegation of the PACE to observe the russian presidential elections of 2 march 2008