A vote too soon? Photo © Corbis
The wisdom of elections in fragile places is questioned by those who fear they will exacerbate tensions and provoke the kind of violence we saw in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti last week. This poses a big question: whether to plough ahead regardless or to hold-off on elections until conditions are propitious.
While some conflict experts argue it would be better to wait, many citizens are keen to vote. It’s humbling to see the determination of people in fragile countries who put up with threats to their safety and long lines at polling booths, as well as fraud and intimidation.
Is this another example of hope triumphing over experience? Perhaps, but it also demonstrates people’s desire to have their voices heard and to influence the course of their lives. So we need to think hard before postponing plebiscites.
Electoral politics are always polarizing, no matter where. I remember watching CNN night after night in my hotel room in Almaty, Kazakhstan during the hanging chad saga that followed the US presidential elections in November 2000. Even at a distance of 10,000 kilometers, the negative energy was palpable. After weeks of wrangling, it took US citizens a while to unwind and accept the outcome.