By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK (IDN) — A head of state, who presided over an authoritarian regime in Southeast Asia, was once asked about rigged elections in his country.
“I promised I will give you the right to vote,” he was quoted as saying, perhaps half-jokingly “But I did not say anything about counting those votes.”
When the Biden administration hosts two virtual Summits on Democracy, most of the world’s authoritarian and family run countries, whose elections, if any, were largely fraudulent, have been barred from the meetings scheduled to take place December 9-10.
The US has invited 110 of the 193 UN member states for the two summits that will focus on “challenges and opportunities facing democracies and provide a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad,” according to the US State Department.
The non-invitees include some of America’s strongest political and military allies in the Middle East and Africa, including Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates (UAE)—who are also some of the most prolific markets for US weapons.
Amongst Middle Eastern allies, Iraq and Israel are on the invitee list. But Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is on the blacklist.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is out, so is Russia, two permanent members of the UN Security Council. But in a resounding political slap to PRC, the Republic of China (Taiwan) has been invited to the summit.
In South Asia, the non-invitees include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka but India and Pakistan have been invited. In Southeast Asia, Singapore, a close US ally in the region, is not on the list of participants.
Also blacklisted are the military regimes in Myanmar and Sudan.
US President Joe Biden said last February: “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.”
Since day one, according to the State Department, the Biden-Harris Administration has made clear that renewing democracy in the United States and around the world is essential to meeting the unprecedented challenges of our time.
The summit is expected to focus on “challenges and opportunities facing democracies and will provide a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.”
For the United States, “the summit will offer an opportunity to listen, learn, and engage with a diverse range of actors whose support and commitment is critical for global democratic renewal.”
It will also showcase one of democracy’s unique strengths: the ability to acknowledge its imperfections and confront them openly and transparently, so that we may, as the United States Constitution puts it, “form a more perfect union,” the State Department said.
In advance of the first summit, the US has consulted with experts from government, multilateral organizations, philanthropies, civil society, and the private sector to solicit bold, practicable ideas around three key themes:
Defending against authoritarianism; addressing and fighting corruption; and promoting respect for human rights.
At the summit, world leaders will be encouraged to announce specific actions and commitments to meaningful internal reforms and international initiatives that advance the Summit’s goals.
These pledges will include domestic and international initiatives that counter authoritarianism, combat corruption, and promote respect for human rights.
Civil society will be represented on panels and in townhalls as a part of the official program. Their inclusion is based on a variety of factors including geographic representation, political context, and subject matter expertise.
The virtual Summit is to be followed, in roughly a year’s time, by an in-person Summit.
Meanwhile, the United Nations, which is one of the strongest advocates of multiparty democracy, once made an unsuccessful attempt to bar military leaders from addressing the world body.
In 2004, when the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the present African Union (AU), barred coup leaders from participating in African summits, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of Ghana singled it out as a future model to punish military dictators worldwide.
Annan went one step further and said he was hopeful that one day the General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the Organization, would follow in the footsteps of the OAU and bar leaders of military governments from addressing the General Assembly.
Annan’s proposal was a historic first. But it never came to pass in an institution where member states, not the Secretary-General, exercise the highest levels of political power.
The outspoken Annan also said that “billions of dollars of public funds continue to be stashed away by some African leaders—even while roads are crumbling, health systems are failing, school children have neither books nor desks nor teachers, and phones do not work.”
He also lashed out at African leaders who overthrow democratic regimes to grab power by military means.
Meanwhile, some of the military leaders who addressed the UN included Fidel Castro of Cuba, Col Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, Amadou Toure of Mali (who assumed power following a coup in 1991 but later served as a democratically elected President), and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana (who seized power in 1979, executed former heads of state but later served as a civilian president voted into power in democratic elections).
As the International Herald Tribune reported, Rawlings was “Africa’s first former military leader to allow the voters to choose his successor in a multi-party election”.
In October 2020, the New York Times reported that at least 10 African civilian leaders refused to step down from power and instead changed their constitutions to serve a third or fourth term—or serve for life.
These leaders included Presidents of Guinea (running for a third term), Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ghana and Seychelles, among others.
The only country where the incumbent was stepping down was Niger. Condemning all military coups, the Times quoted Umaro Sissoco Embalo, the president of Guinea-Bissau, as saying: “Third terms also count as coups”.
Meanwhile, the invited Summit participants, some of whose democratic credentials are in doubt, include: Albania, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica. Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador. Estonia, European Union, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel and Italy.
Also invited are Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kosovo, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Zambia. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 November 2021]
This article by Thalif Deen includes extracts from his newly-released book on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That.” Published by Amazon, the book is mostly a satire peppered with scores of anecdotes– both serious and hilarious. The link to Amazon via the author’s website follows: https://www.rodericgrigson.com/no-comment-by-thalif-deen/
Image credit: OECD Development Matters Blog
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