Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2018
Volume 29
Issue 2
Page Numbers 184-187
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Liberia

In the December 26 runoff, opposition candidate and former professional soccer player George Weah of the Coalition for Democratic Change was elected president with 61.5 percent of the vote, defeating Vice-President Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party, who won 38.5 percent. The second-round vote followed the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a petition charging electoral fraud that third-place candidate Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party had lodged. On January 22, Weah took the oath of office at a ceremony in Monrovia, marking the country’s first peaceful transfer of power since 1944. Excerpts from Weah’s address appear below:

Today, we Liberians have reached an important milestone in the never-ending journey for freedom, justice, and democracy; a search that has remained central to our history as a nation.

Many of those who founded this country left the pain and shame of slavery to establish a society where all would be free and equal. But that vision of freedom, equality, and democracy has not yet been fully realized.

That human longing for true and lasting freedom has revealed itself in many ways since Liberia’s founding. Sometimes the drive has been divisive and confrontational; and too often violent, bloody, and deadly, as it was in the fourteen years of civil conflict, when the absence of equality and unity led us down the path of destroying our own country.

Notwithstanding the harshness and immeasurable cost of the lesson, we have learned that equality and freedom are never just a final destination that a people or a nation reaches. These are fundamental human rights that our people deserve and that must be held up and measured against our actions, our policies, our laws, and our purpose as those elected to serve the people. . . .

This Inaugural Ceremony signals more than a peaceful transition from one democratic administration to another. It is also a transition [End Page 184] from one generation of Liberian leadership to a new generation. It is indeed a confirmation that democracy exists in Liberia, and that it is here to stay.

We have arrived at this transition neither by violence, nor by force of arms. Not a single life was lost in the process. Blood should never be the price tag for democracy. Rather, this transition was achieved by the free and democratic will of the Liberian people, guaranteed by the rule of law.

This Inaugural gathering also celebrates an important precedent: that we Liberians can, and will, rely on established institutions and the rule of law to resolve our political disagreements. This demonstrates the maturity of our institutions and that we as a people have learned valuable lessons from our brutal history. . . .

We should all strive to put aside our differences and join hands in the task of nation building. We must learn how to celebrate our diversity without drawing lines of division in our new Liberia. We belong to Liberia first before we belong to our inherited tribes. . . . We must not allow political loyalties to prevent us from collaborating in the national interest. We must respect each other and act as neighbors, regardless of religious, social, and economic differences. . . . United, we are certain to succeed as a nation. Divided, we are certain to fail.

Iran

Starting in December 2017, antigovernment demonstrations fanned across Iran in the greatest show of public opposition since the 2009 postelection protests. On February 12, one day after the thirty-ninth anniversary of the Islamic revolution, fifteen activists and intellectuals within Iran and from the Iranian diaspora released an open letter calling for a referendum on Iran’s theocratic government. Prominent signatories include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, human-rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and imprisoned human-rights activist Narges Mohammadi. (For more on Iran, see the review essay by Ladan Boroumand on pp. 173–77 above.) The full letter appears below:

Four decades have passed since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, a government whose obsession with Islamization has left little room for republican ideals. In these four decades, not only has our people’s suffering gone unabated, but the establishment of a dual life, in which demanding pious pretense bears little relation to true inner needs, has caused untold personal crises and suffering. The ignorance and incompetence of government officials and institutional corruption have left them incapable of solving the daily problems of our people. Discrimination and astronomical theft of public resources have aggravated the sense of injustice. The content of so many unjust laws is the source of discrimination and the [End Page 185] cause of violence. Instead of implementing even such defective laws, the judiciary is reduced to the executor of the political wishes of those who hold the reins of power.

So many women, lawyers, journalists, teachers, students, workers, and political and social activists have been harassed, arrested, convicted of serious crimes, and sent to prison, solely for criticizing officials, enlightening public opinion, inviting the rulers to respect separation of religion from government, or demanding women’s relief from the mandatory veil.

The sum of the experiences of the last forty years shows the impossibility of reforming the Islamic Republic, since by hiding behind divine concepts, instrumental use of religion through deception, lack of transparency, ignoring public opinion, subversion of laws and violation of human rights principles, institutional violation of freedom and the fundamental rights of the nation, total incapability of resolving political, economic, social and cultural crises, and obstructing means of legal supervision and peaceful reform, the regime has become the principal obstacle to the progress and salvation of the Iranian nation.

It is the opinion of the undersigned that the way to solve these fundamental problems is a peaceful transition from the Islamic Republic to a secular parliamentary democracy based on free popular franchise, complete respect for human rights, and the lifting of all institutionalized discrimination, especially complete equality for women, ethnic groups, religions, and all matters of cultural, social, political, and economic choice.

Relying on the rights of nations to self-determination, we the under-signed demand a referendum, under the supervision of the United Nations, so that the Iranian nation can choose its form of government, thereby discharging its responsibility for its future and alleviating the current crises through collective and effective effort.

Australia

On January 30, the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security heard testimony from Clive Hamilton, a China analyst and author ofSilent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia. In late 2017, publisher Allen & Unwin decided to hold back publication of Hamilton’s book, citing “potential threats to the book and the company from possible action by Beijing.” (For more on China’s influence operations in Australia, see the essay by John Fitzgerald on pp. 59–67 above.) Excerpts from Hamilton’s testimony appear below:

We in Australia face a severe threat to our freedoms and independence as a nation. The submission [by Clive Hamilton and Alex Joske] details a highly sophisticated campaign being waged by the Chinese Communist Party to influence and infiltrate Australia’s institutions, from parliaments and universities to the media, the business community, [End Page 186] and cultural organisations. Its ultimate objective is to shift Australia away from our alliance with the United States, and to turn Australia into a nation that complies with Beijing’s wishes. Based on the best international analysis, our submission shows that the Chinese Communist Party has an elaborate structure of agencies designed to implement its strategy. These Party agencies have a network of linkages into organisations and individuals in Australia, and it’s through those that Beijing exercises its influence.

Over the last ten or fifteen years, intensive efforts have been put into trying to ensure that all significant ethnic-Chinese associations in Australia, including Chinese-language media, adopt a pro-Beijing political position, and that campaign has been highly successful. At the centre of the network we describe is the United Front Work Department. . . .

When focused on the Chinese-Australian community, the United Front Work Department’s related work involves intimidation and coercion, as well as persuasion. As a result of this, a large proportion of the Chinese-Australian community lives with a constant low-level fear. These Australian citizens are being deprived of their democratic right to participate freely in the public life of the nation. . . .

In more recent years, Beijing has shifted the focus of the United Front Work Department to mainstream Australia, cultivating friends and supporters across the range of institutions. . . . The package of foreign interference legislation introduced by the Turnbull government is indispensable in my view if we are to begin pushing back against the PRC’s clandestine influence operations. Without it, we’re largely defenceless. . . .

The bills under consideration may need to be amended to protect [the] rights of free speech whilst also achieving their aims. However, I think most of the submissions miss the essential point of the proposed laws, and that is that the legislation is designed to protect our freedoms and to safeguard democratic rights that are under threat in Australia from the incursions of an authoritarian foreign power. . . . Much of the Australian public, many of those making submissions, don’t fully understand why this legislation is now before the Parliament, and that’s because they don’t understand the gravity of the threat we face. . . .

The book I have written—still to be published—lays out the case much more comprehensively. . . . There’s been strong interest [in the book] from three publishers, all of whom have pulled out because of concerns about retribution from Beijing. . . . It’s an extremely thoroughly documented and scholarly book. There are 1,200 footnotes. I’ve tried to follow every academic practice possible to make it as foolproof as it can be. Publishers are extremely keen to publish it. They can see that this is a book the Australian public should read and that . . . will sell in sufficient numbers to make it worthwhile commercially, but they won’t publish it. . . . If an academic in Australia cannot publish a book critical of the Chinese Communist Party, where is free speech in this country? [End Page 187]
Copyright © 2018 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press