The Right to a Choice 207


You may have to trust me on this, but the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is a terrific organisation that does remarkably good work, considering that it works for member states as diverse, and governments as severally ill-intentioned, as the United States, Russia, Uzbekistan and the UK.

When I was looking to leave the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I applied for a senior post at ODIHR and travelled to Warsaw for an interview. I believe my application was torpedoed by the FCO, who considered me far too committed to democracy and human rights to be allowed to work on the subject in a formal international body. There is a de facto – amd perhaps even an acknowledged – veto by member states on employment of their individual nationals in international institutions.

Yet somehow despite national governments ODIHR has managed to do its job credibly, and by and large OSCE election monitoring in particular has been very valuable, even where the result of the monitoring is not what some or even most member states on the OSCE Council want. All of Uzbekistan’s elections have been judged not free and fair, for example, with election monitoring missions generally not even being deployed on the grounds of assessment by ODIHR that the preconditions for free and fair elections simply do not exist.

Unfortunately ODIHR has no means to prevent member states from simply ignoring its reports, which they do, and the Heads of State whose election OSCE pronounced fraudulent immediately turn up as members of the OSCE council. But the rports themselves and the work behind them are good.

One important criterion for a free and fair election is that there should be a real choice offered to voters between genuine political alternatives. You find this expressed several times in the ODIHR guidance for election observers:

Genuine elections presupposes that the electoral process will be conducted in an accountable
and transparent manner and will provide a real and informed choice for voters,

A genuine election is a political competition that takes place in an
environment characterized by confidence, transparency, and accountability and that provides
voters with an informed choice between distinct political alternatives.

In Uzbekistan, for example, everyone has the chance to go and vote and there are several alternative candidates to choose between, but they all support President Karimov and his policies. In fact, this provision on distinct political alternatives and genuine choice has been repeatedly used by ODIHR and OSCE against elections throughout the former Soviet Union.

So what do we make of the EU – all of whose members are members of the OSCE – insisting that the leaders of all Greek political parties must sign up to an agreement to supprot the dreadful cuts in public spending, in imminent elections? With severe financial menaces, they are demanding that the Greek people be denied any real choice in the upcoming election. The EU members are thus in the most brazen breach of their OSCE commitments and obligations. It is appalling hypocrisy.

I am not sure in practice what mechanisms exist in Greece to keep independent candidates off the ballot or deny them access to the media. But the institutional advantages enjoyed by the main parties are massive throughout Europe, and having all the main parties campaigning on the same economic policy – due to direct foreign political pressure – cannot be a free and fair election.

I hope that the example of Greece will further open people’s eyes to what has happened in the UK, where the massive and growing gap between rich and poor is enmeshed with complete corporate control of what are now three neo-con main parties, whose policy distinctions are absolutely tiny. They all support bank bailouts, quantitative easing, public spending cuts and aggressive neo-con wars. The differences of degree are extremely marginal.

I published an article on this in The Guardian before our last general election – the rather foolish headline was not mine. But I am quite proud of that article, and believe there is increased understanding and support for the view it expresses.


207 thoughts on “The Right to a Choice

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  • Passerby

    Craig,
    ,
    The sad fact remains, your contentions are the antithesis of our current system that adheres to mushroom principles; keep the punters in the dark and throw crap at them. We have no transparency of any kind concerning the political processes, starting with the selection processes of the parties, and ending in the opaque vote counts, in mid between: the puerile sound bite manifesto fed to the punters , mostly about paying less taxes.
    ,
    Further, given the miracles of the dead people still having a say by voting, as well as postal ballots getting fiddled on an industrial scale, adding the finishing touches, to the exercise of ticking a box on a bit of paper and then getting back to the same old, same old.
    ,
    ,
    With respect to the tragedy unfolding in Greece, the events have just taken a turn for the worse. After the UK initiated EU “Oil Embargo” on Iran, as of today Iran has stopped supplying six EU countries; Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Portugal. These countries have the zionist sponsors/supporters, and our own Werrity, Fox, Gould troika to thank for.

  • conjunction

    One of the main problems with western democracy, most especially in the USA, is the funding of the election process.
    .
    In order to have enough money to mount a credible challenge as a presidential candidate, a person needs to accept huge sums of money from vested interests.
    .
    Some kind of ringfenced independent funding system would have to be established to enable a real election.

  • Tom Welsh

    “Genuine elections presupposes that the electoral process will be conducted in an accountable and transparent manner and will provide a real and informed choice for voters,

    “A genuine election is a political competition that takes place in an
    environment characterized by confidence, transparency, and accountability and that provides
    voters with an informed choice between distinct political alternatives”.

    Very laudable. But are there ANY nations that currently hold such elections? In particular, how much genuine choice do British voters get? And how answerable are British politicians for the decisions they make while in power? (In the USA, of course, matters are even worse).

  • Mary

    I am sick of hearing the phrase ‘we all lived beyond our means’ referring to the present dire situation and that therefore we have to accept the cuts. I certainly did not live on borrowed money in the previous decade or live beyond my means. The bankers’ greed and fraud is never mentioned.

    I heard the phrase at lunchtime in a debate on Mervyn King’s latest views on the state of the economy and in particular on the rise in unemployment.
    http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/02/15/uk-britain-boe-king-idUKTRE81E0LA20120215

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Mr Murray,
    .
    Can you or anyone else advise Greeks how to maintain current spending withOUT increasing their debt?
    .
    Greek economy for the last 15 years has been somewhat like soviet economy but with slight difference being that huge social cost have been covered by borrowing rather than by taxation like in USSR where majority of revenues from economic activity were owned by state.
    .
    It is simple math. If you cannot live by means then you need to cut your spending. Why Germans need to contribute to Greek’s artificial economy? Is it fare?

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Mr Murray,
    You said: “They all support bank bailouts, quantitative easing, public spending cuts and aggressive neo-con wars. The differences of degree are extremely marginal.”
    .
    Britain has been an empire for over 300 years. Despite formally losing its colonies Britain had not lost control over them. Since the beginning for WWII Britain has made its choice of sucking up to the US. The other alternative would probably be sucking up to Stalin. Comparatively to the rest of Europe Britain had always been different in good and in bad. In Britain elites have always been distant from the rest and maintained relative control over economy and politics. In summary Britain has always been more conservative than the rest of Europe, and it is not necessarily bad considering that in Britain there have not been a case when Weimar Republic replaced by Nazi dictatorship. Sometimes having political forced with extreme differences is not necessary good.
    .
    But I agree with you that at present real power is in hands of financial elites those who make money out of air and this is true for most of western nations but traditionally of course for Britain and US.

  • Iain Orr

    Electoral battles are fought over differences between parties that are usually far less than the differences within parties. We need a satirist in words as effective as Martin Rowson often is in his cartoons. Oh! for a 21st century coprophagic Swift, whose Lilliputians got into a lengthy conflict with Blefuscu: the big-enders and the little-enders. The difference depends on which end of a boiled egg one must crack in order to eat it. [I’m a big ender and will laught scornfully at anyone crass enough to vote for a little end candidate].

  • Tom Welsh

    Recently I have been reading about British foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is astonishing how little some things have changed. For instance, in the 1870s there were three main political tendencies: the Liberals, who wanted a moral (ethical) foreign policy supporting the underdogs and deterring bullies; those, like Disraeli, who mimicked a moral foreign policy for purposes of their own (Realpolitik); and the traditional Conservatives, who simply wanted to live in peace, mind their own business, and not interfere in other people’s affairs.

  • Tom Welsh

    Sadly, the only one of those three that has vanished utterly is the third. Today’s Conservatives are all of the Disraeli persuasion. While reading about Disraeli’s foreign policy, it is sometimes necessary to remind oneself that it is not Blair who is the subject. The thought processes are uncannily similar, right down to the concern for appearance rather than substance and the complete uninterest in long term consequences.

  • Tom Welsh

    But alas, one could not insert a cigarette paper between Blair and Cameron in respect of their sincerity.

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Tom Welsh,
    .
    Can you name ONE Prime Minister in British history who you would call to be sincere? Sincere people are usually cast out of big politics even before they reach any sensible position. And this is true in both democracy or in dictatorship.
    .
    And also speaking of so called traditional conservatives in 19th century; it is easy to think about peace when they supported the idea of empire that enslaved half of the world’s population. The real issue with British politics is that elites have always achieved objectives in their agenda irrespectively of government colour.

  • DonnyDarko

    Very valid point Craig.
    the Greeks are being denied their Democratic birthright.
    Their Politicians are being bought and the EU want to deny the people an election because the traitors would be voted out.
    PASOK and Nea Demokratia have just pledged to do the Troika’s bidding. That’s the 2 main parties.The same parties that have agreed in Parliament to 4 Austerity programs which have pushed the average Greek below the bread line.The conflagration and anarchy is just beginning in Athens. When push comes to shove, Greeks say OXI (no).
    Athens will burn for a while.

  • Daniel

    To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, “we live in a single-ideological state in which virtually identical political parties compete for the reins of power”.

    This is the ‘two cheeks of the same arse’ syndrome often mentioned by George Galloway.

    There is no other way to describe it other than an elected dictatorship.

  • Mary

    OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Petros Efthymiou is wasting his time talking to the Israelis.
    .
    President Efthymiou urges peace, regional co-operation in official visit to Israel
    http://www.osce.org/pa/88196
    .
    The obligatory visit to Yad Vashem was made I note.
    .
    {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petros_Efthymiou}

  • Tom Welsh

    “There is no other way to describe it other than an elected dictatorship”.

    And in a dictatorship, elections don’t matter – just as in the USSR.

  • Lloyd

    Craig has a valid point, which is worth debating but Tom, this is not the USSR. If you lived there you would know that and actually if you didn’t live there you should know anyway. Mary, there is nothing wrong with a visit to the Holocaust Museum. There are many less worthy obligations. Uzbek, sincerity is not a political virtue, it is a private virtue, or a virtue of the religious sphere or the legal sphere. Machiavelli was the first to notice this in his letter to Savonaralo. We don’t demand of politicians that they are sincere, that would be to demand too much, except when they are under oath, but that is law. We demand that they are competent and we demand of our INSTITUTIONS that they are capable of rooting out the truth.

  • nuzothie

    There is obviously a trade-off between proposing a wide variety of solutions, and proposing solutions that work.

    For instance, in the case of Greece, it seems to be an arithmetic reality that something has to be done to balance the budget; I fear that many developed countries have similarly borrowed money from their children to artificially maintain the level of prosperity of the post-war economic boom, and mortgaged environmental stability from their grand-children to keep driving SUVs.

    We could honestly wish for our very opponents to have a right to express themselves, however ludicrous their ideas, and interpret the relative success of global-warming-negating, sabre-rattling, bigoted, borderline-racist homophobic candidates to the US Republican primaries as a sign of healthy debate. On the other hand, we will also hope for the general level of education in the population to provide voters with a minimal understanding of reality (for instance, understanding that Evolution is simply a fact of life, and that even if it were in doubt it would not be a matter of political debate); this will mechanically prune out the most outlandish positions from the political menu.

    I believe that this balance between variety and reason is not so straightforward. In some cases, I would understand that one would force a particular point to sink into the common world-view by restraining the spectrum of the debate; this is for instance the point of anti-hate-speech laws in France or Germany, which date back from a time when the political elite did not quite trust the people not to reunite with old demons. I do agree that these measures have probably outlived their usefulness, and I would quite support the idea of allowing racists to openly ridicule themselves, rather than offering them the benefit of the inuendo and the appearance of being persecuted for their opinions. But just because it is so in our days, does not exclude the theoretical usefulness of an elite herding the masses in a consensually agreed direction (sorry if that makes me sound like a marxist-leninist or a neo-conservative).

    Now, of course, the matter is quite different when the common denominator of the mainstream political class is an absurdity. The present struggle to maintain US hegemony in a world turning multi-polar, the indifference towards economic inequalities between countries and generations, the blindness to long-term ecology and energy matters, certainly count as such.

  • Mary

    No nothing wrong at all Lloyd but why compulsory for every visiting VIP? I am not denying the Holocaust just to make that clear.
    .
    Is a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior compulsory for VIPs coming to the UK? The memorial represents the military dead in WWI.
    .
    ‘The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 35 million. There were over 15 million deaths and 20 million wounded ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Entente Powers (also known as the Allies) lost about 6.0 million soldiers while the Central Powers lost about 4.0 million. About two-thirds of military deaths in World War I were in battle.’ Wikipedia WWI casualties
    .
    Have you ever read Norman Finkelstein’s book? – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/185984488X/normanfinkelst00/

  • writerman

    Lenders need borrowers, just, if not more, than borrowers need lenders.
    *
    The financial sector would be ‘useless’, ‘impotent’ ‘redundent’ ‘irrelevant’ if it didn’t have individuals, firms, companies, countries, standing in line to ‘borrow.’

    Greece is a tiny fraction of the EU’s total economy, supposedly only around 2%, so why the fuss? Well, Greece woul appear to be a kind of test case, one has, after all, got to start somewhere. If the Greek model works, then vital lessons are learned that can be applied in other parts of Europe at the appropriate time.

    But why, one wonders, did the banks, allow Greece to borrow so much for so long? It’s not as if the ‘perculiarities’ of the Greek economy were a secret. Greece was only a tiny part of a far larger financial bubble, which, arguably involves most of the economies of the western world. But like Iceland, it’s easier to bully Greece, than, for example, the United States, that just creates more debt when it needs to without having to ask anyone for permission, who dares to say ‘no’ to the United States about anything?

  • mike cobley

    Look at it this way – if the banks and investors and hedge funds and speculators had done what they did to Greece at the behest of another foreign power, another nation, that would be considered to be an act of war. The Greek government would then have been completely justified in seizing the commercial operations involved, arresting their managements and freezing all associated accounts and funds. Once the full ramifications of this deliberate attempt to destabilise the entire economy of Greece by A.N.Other country became clear, the Greek government could quite legitimately nationalise all the commercial entities residing on Greek soil, cancel the debts created to destabilise the nation, and jail all company employees found guilty of high misdemeanours (or the Greek equivalent).
    .

    Now, just because the same scenario has essentially been playing out only without the malefic influence of an outside agency (apparently), why should those same commercial entities be treated any differently?

  • DownWithThisSortOfThing

    Former Vice President of the European Central Bank Lucas Papademo, who was imposed on the Greeks as prime minister by the EU has criticised the recent civil unrest as being undemocratic. How I laughed.
    .
    It is my belief that all politicians are just taking the piss out of the public. And why not? Even when they get caught up to their necks in corruption, criminality and incompetence come the next election the electorate march off and vote for the exact same parties that have consistently supplied their nation with the most contemptible ‘public servants’. People picked randomly off the street could make better decisions than those self-serving parasites.

  • DownWithThisSortOfThing

    there is a Legion of ways to manipulate the price of gas. What I worry about most, is what methods I don’t know about.

    The current favorite seems to be threatening global oil supplies by entertaining an attack on Iran. This is great for the Fed because it keeps global demand for the dollar high even though demand for oil is low. The knock-on is that petrol/gas is high – a small price to pay for being able to create ‘money’, and more importantly the demand for it, from thin air.
    .
    Also, if the US economy doesn’t pick up they can attack Iran and double the oil price overnight, while they’re at it they can tell the Chinese to f*ck off as well because now they control all the worlds significant oil deposits and the road to the glittering treasures of the Caspian Basin lay ahead undefended, ripe for the plundering.

  • Fedup

    Chinese to f*ck off as well because now they control all the worlds significant oil deposits and the road to the glittering treasures of the Caspian Basin lay ahead undefended, ripe for the plundering.
    ,
    Only one slight problem with that hypothesis.
    ,
    Chinese alongside Russians will not sit back and take that, and there is every danger of WWIII.
    ,
    Syria is the test case, and so far Russians are winning in this game.

  • Ben Franklin

    “Only one slight problem with that hypothesis….”

    If the price of oil is the only game, imagine what they can make the ppb when WWIII begins.

  • Fedup

    If the price of oil is the only game,
    ,
    Nothing doing with the price of oil, the expansionist US setting up bases around China and Russia as well as planing regime change/attacks on these are the very real subsequent facts that will kick start WWIII, before events gets there.
    ,
    The infrastructure of US is in no shape to take any kind of a probable and potential retaliatory hit. The fragmented and inefficient health care in US cannot cope with a flue out break never mind any kind of mass casualty scenarios.
    ,

  • Ben Franklin

    “Nothing doing with the price of oil” More about ‘access’. I was being sarcastic, but then you knew that :>)

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