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Democracy and Elections

Ukrainian politicians have special talent for surprising the international community. First are the results. More eyebrow-raising is special way of organising them. This time Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, held back at the end of October, started quite well. But while the voting process itself has been described as fair by most international observers, the political campaign and the actual counting of the votes – no doubt the most important part of the democratic election process — has been characterized by the abuse of power, the excessive role of money, extraordinary events such as power cuts in the polling stations, fights between representatives of the parties, accusations of fraud and scandals in denying observers access to polling stations.

This week, Mark Thompson, former Director General of the BBC, gave a series of three lectures as part of his Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Rhetoric and the Art of Public Persuasion, in honour of Philip Gould. These lectures were all centred around the theme of how the language and tone of public debate has changed in recent years in ways that have been detrimental to the cause of public understanding and has created a ‘cloud of unknowing’ within the wider public regarding matters of civic policy.

Before joining the first cohort of students at the Blavatnik School of Government, I worked as a journalist for state-owned China Central Television, the biggest media outlet in China. Before that I spent four years working as a reporter and anchor for the Beijing Television Station, the local outlet for China’s capital city, also owned and operated by the government. Based on this, if I’m asked, about a single measure would strengthen democracy in my home country, I would firstly respond that you have to have more than one measure to reach that goal. However, if I can only choose one, I would definitely vote for free speech and an independent media.

“What single measure would help to strengthen democracy in your country? Would an improvement in electoral integrity help?” Share with us what you think.

On the first of October, 2012, Georgia held parliamentary elections. In Western capitals and analytical circles, it was widely believed that Mikheil Saakashvili’s ruling United National Movement (UNM) would be returned to power. Most polling on political rankings supported this expectation. Some analysts had suggested that the highly unequal impact of Georgia’s impressive growth record was generating significant social discontent, undermining the ruling party’s position. Deepening inequality, sporadically high inflation, persistently high unemployment, and deepening poverty might translate into opposition votes. These people were dismissed as misinformed or deluded cranks, me included.

On Monday David Cameron and Alex Salmond signed an agreement allowing the Scottish government to hold a referendum on independence. The Scotland independence referendum will be the latest in an ever growing list of referendums held in the UK that began in earnest with the Blair government.

Libya’s outgoing Prime Minister, Adurrahim al-Keib, stated recently that “we are seeing the birth of a new Libya that is as beautiful as the waves of the sea.” Yet, given the enormous task of building a new democracy from scratch — and the equally immense economic, ethnic and political problems plaguing the new state — those waves belie turbulent currents.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama not only have different blueprints for America. They also have different blueprints for their campaigns for President of the United States of America. Look for example at the four key elements of message (PR), money (fundraising), media (advertising), and mobilization (field operations/get-out-the-vote). The Obama re-election effort is, arguably to an even greater extent than David Plouffe has already acknowledged the 2008 campaign was, modeled on George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign: In terms of message, the goal is to paint Romney (then John Kerry) early as a man of questionable character unfit for the presidency, present Obama (Bush) as a man of principle who you may not like but who is doing what he believes is …