By the sound of it, the international observers of Sunday's Ukrainian parliamentary elections did manage to catch the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovich getting up to some undemocratic naughtiness.
Their report, which the international media yesterday described as scathing, accused Yanukovich's Party of Regions of unfairly benefiting from excessive money from supporters, abuse of government resources to make it look good and heavily biased media coverage in its favour.
So it comes as no surprise that on the same day the party was claiming to have won the election and hung onto its parliamentary majority.
Last week during the lead-up to the Ukrainian vote, I have to tell you I was worried our Canadian observers of that vote wouldn't manage to notice a thing -- not because they weren't fine people, but because they didn't have the right expertise.
At least, I was concerned that if they were all like Linda Duncan -- the only one of the 500 or so Canadian observers that I happen to know -- we might not be sending the right sort people to ensure the former Soviet Republic's national elections were open and fair.
After all, the Member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona, the sole New Democrat MP elected in Alberta in the past two federal elections, is a thoroughly honorable and upright person who won and kept her seat in the face of this province's usual Tory onslaught solely by dint of hard constituency work and her famously energetic style of campaigning.
Before becoming a successful politician, Duncan had a reputation as a smart lawyer -- which certainly puts her in a good position to understand how dire the implications are when she worries about Ukraine, where, as she put it in a news release before departing for the city of Kyiv on Oct. 25, even before the election campaign there had been "backsliding of democracy and challenges with erosion of law."
Indeed, as Director of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, Duncan recently contributed to a report on the growing democratic deficit in Ukraine, a copy of which may be read here.
My worry was simply this: the kind of people who steal elections are by definition sneaks -- sort of like computer hackers. Indeed, nowadays a lot of them are computer hackers. They are never people like Linda Duncan, who is honest, upright and prepared to work hard to win. So, I wondered, had we sent exactly the wrong kind of people to solve the problem in Ukraine?
Indeed, wouldn't an honest politician and an upright lawyer be the easiest kind of person to fool when you send out your sneaks and electoral cat burglars, your robo-callers and push-pollsters, your ballot-box stuffers and vote suppressers? They might not even notice and end up endorsing an election result that in fact was pretty hinky!
I've thought for years this is why the Americans are forever asking Jimmy Carter, the former peanut farmer and Democratic president defeated after one term by Ronald Reagan, to make sure foreign elections are clean at the same time as they're assigning CIA operatives to corrupt the same vote Carter is checking up on.
The CIA steals the election and laughs up its collective sleeve back at HQ in Langley, Va., while Carter endorses the result and makes us believe it because he believes it so sincerely himself.
Well, that’s just me wearing my tinfoil hat, probably. And anyway, Carter doesn’t seem to have made it to Ukraine for Sunday's election. But still, on the theory that it takes a thief to catch a thief, I say we have many people in Canada who are highly qualified to track down electoral chicanery -- leastways if we could only identify who they all are.
I mean, just for starters, the whole Conservative Party of Canada campaign team is not exactly unfamiliar with the concepts of excessive money from supporters, misuse of public resources to make the government look good and heavily biased media coverage in its favour!
And what about the anonymous person who leaked that 22,000-name Alberta Progressive Conservative Party membership list to Environics back in October 2011, so that Environics could do an interesting poll of Tory party members' leadership voting intentions?
Or what about the robo-callers? Remember them? They were the nice young people who phoned you up if you happened to be a Liberal voter in certain closely fought Ontario ridings the night before the May 2011 federal election, the one in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally got his coveted majority, and advised you that your polling station had been moved to a vacant lot between a pawn shop and a tattoo parlour in a part of town where there weren't many streetlights.
Last we heard, both Elections Canada and the police were looking into those cases, but don’t expect any results any time soon, and anyway, the courts are now filling up with Conservative appointments, thank you very much, just in case there are ever any actual charges or legal challenges.
But if we could just find one of the people who came up with that scheme -- a seemingly impossible task, alas -- you'd think they’d be ideal at ferreting out the same sort of thing if Ukrainian telephone call-display units start showing the Moscow area code on calls from extremely rude people claiming to be from the Ukrainian equivalent of the Liberals or the NDP. (Isn't Ukraine the place where they had an Orange Revolution?)
And what if someone prorogues the Ukrainian Parliament to prevent an expression of the democratic will of the people? Wouldn’t it be better to have Prime Minister Harper or retiring Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty there to spot the signs of incipient undemocratic impulses? Or at least one of their advisors?
Or what if Yanukovich or one of his henchpersons decides to pass an omnibus budget bill with about 300 provisions that have nothing to do with the budget, or signs a 31-year surrender of national sovereignty with the Russians in the form of secret treaty than no Ukrainian gets to debate before it's sealed and delivered. Call it, say, the Russia-Ukraine Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement.
Once again, wouldn’t someone from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's office be better qualified for the observer's job than, say, Duncan?
You probably get where I'm heading with this by now. After all, there’s more than a little evidence there’s been some backsliding of democracy right here in Canada, not to mention some challenges with erosion of law.
But, given what was noticed over there in Ukraine, maybe some of the 500 Canadians Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent off with a pat on the back did have the right kind of know-how.
What I want to know is, the next time we have an election here in Canada, who are we gonna call? And please don't say Jimmy Carter!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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