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A Vote for Right and Wrong – Examining the Russian and Venezuelan Poll Results

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A Vote for Right and Wrong

Examining the Russian and Venezuelan Poll Results

Can democratic nations—or any government, for that matter—and their view on right and wrong bring solutions to the troubles plaguing humanity?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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Taking an uncharacteristically calm demeanor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ceded to defeat after the people voted against his 69 constitutional amendments, aimed at moving the country toward “21st-century socialism.” He said the election results showed the “maturation of democracy” in the nation, then thanked and congratulated all who voted against the referendum.

As votes were tallied, governments of the West expressed a near-unanimous, “Victory for democracy!”

On the same day across the globe, President Vladimir Putin said, “It’s a sign of public trust,” as he claimed victory for his United Russia party, which garnered a two-thirds majority in Russia’s parliamentary elections.

And with this landside victory, some would say, came a black mark on the face of democracy. Outside election observers and leaders of Western nations criticized the Russian election as being unfair and biased toward the United Russia party.

Meanwhile, results in Venezuela gave some a sense of hope that the nation would not turn into “another Cuba.”

Western nations long to see these budding democracies flourish—calling for them to model themselves after their own apparently successful governments. These governments were quick to cast their own “vote” on the results in both Russia and Venezuela, with a consensus of whether each is “good” or “bad” for democracy and the world.

Comments from Western leaders and news outlets answered in near-unison: One election was panned; the other held up as a golden example of democracy triumphing.

In these situations, the peoples of democratic nations answer emphatically whether the events are good or just—often without a second thought. These notions of right and wrong are branded in the minds of their citizens.

Yet, where do these notions of what is right and wrong originate—philosophy? Psychology? Religion? Emotions? Or, is it simply whatever seems right in a given case?

As the opinions poured in from around the world, can these democratic nations—or any government, for that matter—know for certain their “votes” on these situations are correct? Can the democratic view, on what is right and wrong, bring solutions to the troubles plaguing the nations of Russia and Venezuela?

Referendum on Venezuela’s Constitution

In his first defeat at the polls, President Chavez saw the amendments he proposed turned down. With the 51%-no, 49%-yes vote, Venezuela denied Mr. Chavez the ability to run for president indefinitely.

The referendum to Venezuela’s 1999 constitution also included an increase in the presidential term (from 6 to 7 years), a shortened work day (from 8 hours to 6), a lowered voting age (from 18 years to 16), and would have given average citizens power over how government funds are spent.

As of now, he will have to step down from the presidency in 2013.

The vote reveals a country torn between following Mr. Chavez into his self-styled socialism or moving back toward typical democracy.

Mr. Chavez said he will continue to push these reforms and move Venezuela toward socialism, saying, “I will not withdraw even one comma of this proposal, this proposal is still alive.”

Washington was pleased with the result in Venezuela, and its response mirrors the general feelings of the West. “The Venezuelan people rejected one-man rule,” said President George W. Bush, also calling it a “very strong vote for democracy.”

Parliamentary Elections in Russia

Just before the December 2007 parliamentary elections, in a nationwide televised address, President Putin urged everyone to vote for his United Russia party.

The nation answered with overwhelming support for United Russia—64.1% of the vote went to United Russia candidates. The party now controls 70% of the seats in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

The runner-up was the Communist Party, which only received 11.7% of the vote.

With new control of the State Duma and a firm backing by Russia’s citizens, many are unsure how United Russia, led by Mr. Putin, will proceed.

Mr. Putin’s presidency ends in the spring, but many are speculating that he will return as a prime minister, “national leader,” president of the State Duma, or that he will amend the constitution, allowing him to remain national president longer than the current eight year maximum, although the latter appears unlikely.

However, reports from numerous Russian citizens claim they were coerced into voting pro-United Russia. Many claim they were told to vote for United Russia or they would lose their jobs or enrollment at universities. The Guardian also reported cases of simple bribery—a United Russia vote for 500 rubles (about $20 USD).

Prior to the elections, when allegations of corruption and vote-rigging first appeared, Europe and the United States questioned the integrity of the election, citing use of “state-owned or influenced” media to promote Mr. Putin’s party. The West wanted Russia to investigate and allow foreigners to monitor the elections. This never happened.

As Mr. Putin basks in his party’s landslide victory, Europe and U.S. officials insist that the corruption allegations be thoroughly investigated. A Berlin official decried the elections as “not fair and not democratic.”

Again, a firm stance was taken. These elections were and continue to be criticized by Western nations.

Offering Democracy to the World

Newspaper headlines from Europe and North America paint how the West feels about these two poll results:

  • “Russian elections ‘a defeat for democracy’” (Swissinfo)

  • “Chavez defeat a win for democracy” (Newsday)

  • “Europe unites in criticism of Putin victory in Russian poll” (icWales)

  • “Putin Basks in Election Win Despite Broad Criticism” (The New York Times)

  • “Democracy is about letting people say ‘no’” (The Telegraph)

  • “The Thrill of Victory [Venezuela] and the Agony of Defeat [Russia]” (Publius Pundit)

As Russia and Venezuela are struggling to climb to a stable status and to be world players, the West looks on with scrutiny, using their own nations as the standard.

Certainly, Western nations want to see fair and just governments across the earth—that countries like Russia, Venezuela, Pakistan and Iraq can all obtain the freedoms Western citizens enjoy. In general, these reactions appear to be in the best interest for countries such as Venezuela and Russia.

But, even with the best of intentions, the nations of the West are struggling themselves, not able to solve their own problems. Corruption, lust for power, and dissension can be seen throughout their societies.

Despite this, these flawed systems continue to be used to answer issues of right and wrong. Even those who see these flaws reason, “It’s the best system we’ve got, we have no choice but to use it”—and with that the ideals of democracy are spread.

But, democracy comes down to the beliefs of the people. They decide what is right and just, and what is not. As society (comprised of individuals) changes so does law, morality, justice, etc.—creating an ever-evolving view as to what is right and wrong.

But how, after thousands of years of trial and error, has mankind not come closer to bringing peace and solving the world’s ills?

Cycles of History

Kingdoms, dictatorships, socialist states and entire civilizations—all based upon the principles of at least one individual—have all come and gone. They have been unable to find lasting peace and happiness, both as nations and at the individual level.

Throughout history and even today, mankind has thought it can solve problems through the use of government. Yet nations are constantly failing. Corruption, greed, violence all continue as they have for centuries. Yes, men’s governments can bring some peace—some happiness—but never entirely.

Is this simply the ebb and flow of history, that nations continue to rise and fall? In other words, are these problems simply part of the human condition?

Some feel man is intrinsically good. Others view him as an animal driven by instinct. Most feel that man is constantly moving toward a more civilized way of life—moving closer and closer to a complete understanding of true right and wrong.

However, throughout thousands of years, man has been unable to solve even one of these problems! Man has failed to bring about a way of life, or government, that details laws—right and wrong—to bring about true peace and happiness.

Apparently Unanswerable

The human mind is capable of producing many wonderful things. Its ingenuity and inventiveness are practically limitless. Yet it cannot solve the most basic of life’s greatest problems—poverty, ignorance, immorality, crime, war and misery.

Nations of the West use the democratic system to infer what is right and wrong; a system that is based on the capacity of the human mind. A system based upon human nature.

The ideals of individuals—no matter how “noble” or “just”—fail to produce a stable peace-bringing government.

Given this, one must conclude that—of and by himself—man cannot determine what is truly right or wrong.

The governments of the West cannot bring these answers, nor can the governments of Russia and Venezuela.

Human nature stands in the way. Thankfully, man’s nature will someday change, and with this change will come a newer—and far superior—system of government and way of life.

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