Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2013
Volume 24
Issue 4
Page Numbers 181-84
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation

Russia

In the September 8 Moscow mayoral election, anticorruption fighter Alexei Navalny surprised observers by winning 27 percent of the vote, nearly forcing incumbent Sergei Sobyanin into a runoff. On July 18, Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison on politically motivated charges of embezzlement, but after thousands protested at the Kremlin, he was released on bail, allowing him to contest the election. The night after the election, he spoke to his followers in Bolotnaya Square. Lightly edited excerpts of his remarks, originally published by the Interpreter, a special project of the Institute of Modern Russia, appear below. The full text of Navalny’s speech may be found at http://www.interpretermag.com/alexei-navalny-speaks.

I am speaking for the second time at a rally which is devoted to falsifications in elections. The first time was 5 December 2011. Then it was a rally of desperate observers. That really was a rally of desperation. We realized that we would achieve nothing but we still came out to demonstrate. Now I have tried to understand whether this is a rally of victory or defeat. …

We have all along wanted to speak at a rally of victory. We are all very tired of the fact that in the last 13–15 years, we kept losing. I am glad to appear with you today at a meeting of victory. Thank you. …

I am standing now at a rally where I can simply state: A large opposition has been born in Russia. A real, large political movement has been born in Russia, which represents the interests of the majority, which can go to the elections with a constructive program, and is prepared to win these elections. And we are that political movement. … We will be the leading political force in Russia which will fight United Russia. We know that only we can beat it, and we will definitely win.

Politics has finally been born in Russia in these elections. An opposition has been born. We know exactly what to do and we know exactly how to do it. … They won’t register all our parties; they will give us [End Page 180] trouble over [permissions for] rallies; they will give us troubles with trials. We realize that. But now we also know exactly how to fight this. At last we have found the correct format for [our] work. At last, we know what to do. … We must go to rallies like we are going to work. And we have to treat our opposition activism as a job. …

I urge you to trust me because I know what to do next. Once at one of the rallies I shouted that I’m an Internet hamster, and I will gnaw through the throats of those beasts. You’ll agree that I have gnawed those throats a bit with your help. I know exactly what to do next. I know that the toad on the pipeline is afraid, it’s jumping because its feet are getting hot, and it’s we who have done it and it’s we who will do more.

We know how to convert the political machine which we have created in these elections into a steamship which will crush United Russia and all the crooks and thieves which United Russia has stuffed into all the offices of power. Our campaign headquarters has not ceased to work. We will work in Moscow tomorrow and the day after, until the second round, in a year, in two years in Moscow, in St. Petersburg, in Yekaterinburg, and in all the cities of the country. And we will propose … information work, organizational work, Internet work everywhere. Everywhere we will find like-minded people. … Thank you so much. We will definitely win. Let the toad on the pipeline hear and be afraid.

Ghana

In Ghana’s 7 December 2012 presidential election, John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) narrowly avoided a runoff with 50.7 percent of the vote. Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), who finished second, alleged fraud and, along with two other members of his party, filed a legal challenge to the results. The Supreme Court hearing lasted 48 days and was broadcast live on television. On August 29, the Court dismissed the allegations, legally confirming Mahama’s victory. That day, Akufo-Addo issued a statement accepting the verdict. Excerpts appear below:

I have called President John Dramani Mahama and I have now congratulated him on being elected the fourth president of the Fourth Republic of our country. The Supreme Court of our nation has spoken and the result of the December 2012 presidential election has been confirmed as having been won by the candidate of the NDC, President Mahama.

As I said earlier, whilst I disagree with the Court’s decision, I accept it. I accept that what the Court says brings finality to the election dispute. We shall not be asking for a review of the verdict so we can all move on in the interest of our nation. Everything in my bones, in my upbringing, and in what I have done with my life thus far makes it imperative that I accept a decision made by the highest court of the land, [End Page 181] however much I dislike or disagree with it. I am saddened by the verdict and I know that many of our supporters are saddened too. However, for the sake and love of our country, we must embark on a path that builds, rather than destroys, to deal with our disappointment.

I appeal to all members and supporters of our party, the NPP, in particular to accept the verdict of the court. Even in our disappointment we can take pride in the way we have conducted ourselves. Even in our disappointment we can take pride that the NPP has again led the way in deepening Ghana’s democracy. To quote one of the Supreme Court judges, “After this case, elections in Ghana will not be the same.” In other words, we might not have been given the ruling we sought, but thanks to our efforts, we can hopefully look forward to an improved electoral process in our country. …

In Ghana’s 56-year history, this is the first time a presidential-election petition of this kind has been filed and pursued through the courts. The whole world has watched us in wonder and admiration. Our reaction to this judgment will be watched keenly in Africa and beyond and will set a precedent for generations to follow. It is now up to all of us Ghanaians to put the dispute behind us and come together to iron out our differences, ease the tensions among us, and come together to build our country. … To my party, the NPP, I say we have a lot to be proud of; there are more than three years left in this political cycle to be a worthy opposition, and also position ourselves for the battle of 2016. Today, let us wish our president well and thank the Almighty for His mercies to our nation.

That night, Mahama delivered a televised address. Below are excerpts:

Today is an important moment in the life of our nation. Over the course of the past eight months, we have witnessed the evolution of the democratic process this nation utilizes to fulfill our mission of creating a free and just society. … The political maturity with which we have received the verdict announced today by the Supreme Court coupled with our ever-present patriotism will ensure that Ghana is the ultimate winner, not any one individual or political party. …

The challenge that was issued to the Supreme Court and the discussions, debates, and even disagreements that it has inspired can only strengthen our institutions. In a democracy, fair, compassionate, and decisive leadership must operate within a framework that is fully functional. Strong institutions are the bedrock of strong nations. …

For the first time on our continent, there are more democracies than dictatorships, more free and fair elections than coups d’état. We must support our African brothers and sisters who have yet to enjoy the due process we have seen today, and the freedoms we cherish here in Ghana. We must pursue a day when democratic governance and independent judiciaries are the norm all across Africa, not the exception. [End Page 182]

China

On July 16, human-rights activist Xu Zhiyong, who had been under house arrest since April, was incarcerated, allegedly for planning a mass gathering. Xu has recently been active in the New Citizens’ Movement, an initiative to compel officials to publicly disclose their wealth. A video recording of Xu in prison wearing handcuffs, reportedly filmed on August 1 by Xu’s lawyer, has since emerged in which he made the following remarks:

I call on everyone to be a citizen, a forthright citizen who exercises his civil rights guaranteed under the constitution and fulfills a citizen’s civic duty, promotes educational equality so that children of migrants may take college-entrance exams at locations other than their hometowns, and calls for disclosure of officials’ assets. In this absurd era, these are the actions behind the three charges against me. Someone has to pay a price for social progress—I am willing to bear all the costs for freedom, social justice, love, and faith.

However defeated and absurd this society is, this country needs courageous citizens to stand up, to keep faith, and to take rights, responsibilities, and dreams seriously. I am proud to put the word “citizen” in front of my name. I hope everyone will do the same—to put the word “citizen” in front of your name. As long as we unite and strive together to take the rights of citizens seriously, take citizenship seriously, and jointly promote democracy, rule of law, equality, and justice in our country, we will be able to build a beautiful China of freedom, social justice, and love.

Xu’s close friend, lawyer and human-rights activist Teng Biao, recently published an essay dedicated to him entitled “Confessions of a Reactionary.” Excerpts, translated by China Change, appear below:

First, they came to me speaking softly: “Look, you have knowledge, fame, and opportunities. Why mix with those people? You will enjoy many benefits if you side with the Party.” I didn’t listen. I continued. Then came the warnings: “It’s very dangerous if you continue. Take our advice, you’ll have a full belly. There will be consequences for giving trouble to the government.” … I didn’t listen. I kept going. Then they began to dress me down. They confiscated my passport. … I didn’t listen. I kept going. Then they disbarred me. … Then they closed down my blogs. … Some of the people who knew me wouldn’t dare to dine with me or even call me anymore. I didn’t care. …

I would be placed under house arrest by the domestic-security police, or taken to travel in their company as they attempted patiently to give me their political persuasions. … On a black night, with a black hood, handcuffed, [End Page 183] in a black car, thugs kidnapped me and threw me in a black jail, this time adding fists and face slapping. No communications with the outside world, no sleeping, no receiving information, no freedom to stretch my arms or legs. During the seventy days in detention, I wore handcuffs 24 hours a day for 36 days, I was forced to stay in one position, facing a wall, for 18 hours for 57 days. Physically and mentally tortured, I began to write statements of repentance. …

They had known all along, it turned out, the thing that I feared under the surface of bravery. … I feared for the people I love. Once my wife and daughter were hurt and faced with more threats, I was immediately caught in a dilemma: “Are you a responsible man or not?” In an irresponsible system, for a person wanting to be responsible, family responsibilities and social responsibilities are in direct conflict with one another. If you end up in prison, you will not be able to take care of your family; but to walk this path that I do, you will inevitably end up in jail or alternatives to jail. Away from this path, you may fulfill your family obligations, but you not only have to abandon your ideals; your children will continue to live in the same irresponsible system, and they too in the future will face the choice between family obligations and social responsibilities. …

All right, I would continue doing things but not get myself in jail. … But the problem is that you-know-who organization observes no clear rules and follows no particular patterns when it comes to arresting people. … Tactics you consider safe are not necessarily safe. Shi Tao was handed a ten-year sentence for an email, Yang Chunlin a six-year sentence for a slogan, and Wang Yi one-year reeducation-through-labor for a five-character tweet. On the other hand, there were people who had made waves nonstop without being thrown in jail. For example, before 2008, Dr. Liu Xiaobo had written knife-sharp articles … and done many bad and provocative things, but he was fine. But being spared today doesn’t mean you will be spared tomorrow, and in the end, he did himself in. …

In terms of society as a whole, to trade freedom for safety, one will likely get neither in the end. But individuals do become safer when they don’t cause trouble for the government. The question then is to where can you step back? When you feel it’s not safe enough to step one step back, you will need to step two steps back; still feeling unsafe, you step further back. … You feel safe then. But if everyone is stepping back, the criteria by which they arrest people will change accordingly: Even if everyone protests in muffled voices, they will still find the loudest. If they couldn’t find it, they would fabricate one. …

The criteria depend on the overall level of the potential offenders. The extent of political tolerance on the other hand is expanded by the acts of those who have been imprisoned. This is precisely the twist and the trap of this system, and it also seems to be the destiny of democracy fighters and human-rights defenders in China: One loses freedom for loving freedom; one fights for freedom by losing it. … [End Page 184]