Fraud, intimidation, and violence have traditionally been rare in Western elections, while unfortunately many other countries who don’t have quite the same heritage have been disproportionately affected. For just a few examples from the recent past: in the 2018 Bangladesh elections - violence, deaths, and a heavy army and police presence; in Kinshasa, Zaire in the same year - riots and mayhem; in the 2019 Indonesian elections - at least seven dead and 200 wounded; in early 2019 - a coup in Gabon to “restore democracy” (although as one mainstream media outlet wryly observed “no African coup ever ends in democracy”). And so on. Plus the fraud.
2020 has finished with election dramas and reports of election scams in the USA still hanging in the air. While claims of “rigging”, easy enough to say but difficult to prove, may be just pre- or post-election sparring, some organisations obviously consider recent claims to be worth working hard to debunk.
But why have large-scale irregularities not been the norm?
In his 1940 article, “The Lion and the Unicorn”, George Orwell, still at that time a well-meaning socialist, noted the dislike of power-mongering, bribery, militarism, and corruption among the English: “You do not arrive at the polling booth to find men with revolvers telling you which way to vote, nor are the votes miscounted, nor is there any direct bribery.” (p.22). This remains true of English speaking countries plus some others. New Zealand has been voted the least corrupt country in the world for 2020, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index. In 2019, we were first equal with Denmark as the least corrupt, with other Northern European countries and Singapore close behind. It’s something to be proud of and to diligently try to preserve.
Since the dust has yet to settle on the recent US elections, I reserve further comment, except regarding the frequent statements I hear along the lines of “democracy has won”, “the people have won”, “the largest democracy in the world”, etc. It’s heard often enough in New Zealand too - about being a “democracy”. Sometimes stated to be the “best worst system of government”, the truth is that pure democracy can end up being a dictatorship by the 51% or any large group which manages to get into power, obviously in some places including fraud or violence if they deem it necessary. What is there to check it here or in the USA? Though we label the democratic process “representative democracy”, New Zealand is defined not as a such but as a constitutional monarchy using democratic means—albeit flawed under MMP depending on your opinion. And the USA is a constitutional republic, constrained by its constitution.
The website https://www.constituteproject.org helps us get an understanding of any country’s constitutional history. New Zealand’s is uncodified, a mix of written and unwritten sources, harking back to those “rights and privileges” mentioned in the third article (as I have written about before) of the Treaty of Waitangi. From the top to the bottom of New Zealand, every person has traditionally been privileged in this way, whether they knew it or not. As Sir Āpirana Ngata said, “Every hour of the night while you are asleep there are one hundred laws looking after you”. That doesn’t mean that having more laws is better, but they include those rights and privileges which any government can attempt to revoke. Some documents, such as the Bill of Rights, not being “entrenched” in a codified constitutional document like that of the U.S., could theoretically be altered or overridden by a Parliamentary majority – a legitimate reason to be watchful. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
When any socialist government holds the reins, the people, the voters, need to be constantly on the alert for breaches of traditional freedoms in favour of radical socialist and globalist policies. Democracy is never enough on its own, as there must be a final source of authority. For the USA, their constitution remains a valuable written document to which everyone there can defer as a fixed point of reference. For us, it is those “rights and privileges”.
One concerning example of the testing of the boundaries of those rights, privileges and freedoms is the recent persistent attempts by our government to deregister Family First as a charity. The Court of Appeal’s response to the High Court decision referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in defence of the right to freedom of expression (although it goes further back than that.) The government is now allowed to take Family First to the Supreme Court to appeal the Court of Appeal decision.
“Take away a nation’s heritage and they are more easily persuaded”!
We have the challenge in 2021 of helping to ensure that the totalitarian impulse will never fully take root in New Zealand and that truth will ultimately prevail. Perhaps then the best thing we could do towards restoring that safeguard is to start rediscovering our heritage.
Guy Steward is a teacher, musician, and writer.