Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Free, Democratic Elections in the Middle East

The Weekly Standard ran a news story on its website a week ago titled Democracy in Yemen. In it, Abigail Lavin reports that Yemen had free, democratic elections in September. The sitting President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, won. He won with 77.2 % of the vote. This is important. Mrs Lavin reports that most “elections” in the Middle East result in the sitting head of state receiving approximately 90% or better of the votes. This is usually because the elections aren’t true elections. In Saddam run Iraq, a voter could place their vote for anyone they wanted. Of course, if the voter didn’t vote for Saddam, they could be shot, raped, or worse. In Yemen, President Saleh opened the election to opposition parties and more than 20% of the voters felt safe voting for someone else.

A few days ago I posted a blog about a book called The Case for Democracy. The author of that book argues that how a nation treats dissent within its borders is an indicator of how democratic that nation really is. While Yemen still has a long way to go, allowing people to vote for a rival political party is a huge step.

Mr. Sharansky argues in The Case for Democracy that the United States must tie the spread of democracy to its foreign policy. Yemen lost its eligibility for incentives from the US because it was perceived to be failing in certain “…political, economic, and social issues.” Holding democratic elections is a step in the right direction. As democracy starts to take hold in the Middle East, the world becomes a safer place. Democracies don’t go to war with each other.

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