Like many people in this and every age, I am a person who is deeply fascinated by matters of politics. This sort of interest does not spring from any belief in my fitness at or desire to achieve any sort of political ambition under the sun in this present age, but rather from a recognition that politics is important and it is therefore worthwhile to know about important things. Among my interests relating to politics is trying to understand the results of international elections, an interest that is all the more great because it can be a challenge to understand what certain elections mean, without any illusions that any electoral result is necessarily legitimate nor is it permanent. As it happens, yesterday there were three international elections, and each of them offered their own interesting conclusions, and I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about them from the point of view of someone who sees in current events the raw material of history, without the benefit of hindsight to make sense of it all.
Let us begin with the most obscure of these elections, the legislative elections in French Polynesia. French Polynesia, which includes Tahiti and other nearby Pacific island chains, is an autonomous territory of France, one of their colonial territories that has neither been granted its independence nor incorporated into their state as is the case with other French overseas departments that I have visited or would like to visit in the future. Yesterday, for the first time ever, a pro-independent political party in French Polynesia won a majority of the seats in their legislature, largely thanks to the comparative collapse of two pro-autonomy but anti-independence parties in terms of the vote. From what I have been able to see, the apportionment of seats in French Polynesia strongly benefits those parties which are able to earn a plurality or majority in the various electoral districts of the region, giving those parties bonus seats on top of the ones gained via a proportion of the votes within districts. The question of relevance, though, must be asked. Does the election of pro-independence parties in French Polynesia suggest that the people of those islands, in the aftermath of the Covid disaster, desire to separate from France? If so, how would independence be achieved? Are there mechanisms present within the relationship between French Polynesia and metropolitan France that would allow for a referendum to demonstrate the desire of the people of the area for independence, and would such a referendum be binding on France to grant independence, should it be voted by a suitable majority, in a timely and orderly fashion? These are questions I wonder when I see such an electoral result, but it is by no means an easy thing to find such answers from those who might have the answers to such questions.
Similar to the elections in French Polynesia, there were also national elections yesterday in the small, landlocked South American nation of Paraguay. Although I have yet to visit the country itself, its history has long been of interest to me. The electoral results in Paraguay are far more equivocal than those in French Polynesia, and the political system there appears designed to lead to less than decisive results. Indeed, at least from what I was able to read, there was a split electoral decision that likely will lead to a certain amount of political instability for the next five years. While a plurality of the votes went for the conservative Colorado Party, which appears to be in general the most popular political party within Paraguay, the results were not overwhelmingly in favor of that party. While they won the presidency and the lower house, the result in the upper house was split in such a fashion that the Colorado Party received just short of a majority of the seats, leading to a scattering of seats among rival center and leftist parties that formed an electoral coalition against it that has a slight majority of seats in the upper chamber. Given such a result, it is unclear what sort of electoral mandate exists for laws to be passed within the country’s legislative branch, although it must be admitted that fewer laws are likely to be better laws, and that a flurry of laws passed is usually a very bad thing, so it may not be for the worst that there is likely to be little consensus between the two parts of the legislative branch or between the legislative and executive branches as a whole about the direction that the people of Paraguay want the nation to go in.
A third election took place in Uzbekistan, and in stark contrast to the other two elections, this one has the stench of managed and illegitimate voting about it. As is common in nations with weak democratic norms, those who are in power in such areas chafe under the constitutional restrictions that were placed in more idealistic periods of the past that require term limits and that protect minorities, and so such constitutional safeguards are often eliminated by power-hungry elites who want to rule for life without being forced to stop running for office and let someone else share in the spoils of office. At least from the perspective where I stand, Uzbekistan’s constitutional referendum appears to be the sort of rubber-stamp vote from the people that gives the apparent approval of whatever is wanted by the current leader, with a large enough amount of votes–in this case more than 90%–that it appears to be a decisive choice of the people rather than a reflection of the decisive interest of elites and especially autocratic rulers in increasing their own power and eroding constitutional safeguards meant to restrict their freedom of action.
How is it that we view elections? There are some people who think of politics as only being democratic in nature, who fail to recognize that there are politics wherever power or authority of any kind is held, gained, lost, used, or resisted. Even to the extent that a given election represents the supposed will of the people, those elections that erode the protections given to minorities are dangerous in that they promote electoral tyrannies of the majority that fail to respect those who happen to lack political power at the present time. To the extent that elections have few consequences, none of them permanent or necessarily lasting, politics need not be particularly stressful, since electoral defeat is not viewed as permanent and since the exploitation of power by the victors is limited. Where stakes are lower, politics need not be a stressful endeavor. It is not the tenor of the present evil age to restrain the use of political power by those who hold it, though, and this makes politics more stressful since victory is viewed as more important to enact worthwhile legislation and prevent one’s enemies from acting to destroy our well-being and even threaten our national or personal survival than ever. This can only be a bad thing, for it makes every political decision and every political campaign a crisis and a matter of life and death.