Continuing on from Part 1, I will continue to explore whether counties get the government they deserve and how elections can help improve transparency.
Russia’s fair election
“Putin won Russia’s March 4 elections with a resounding 63 per cent. Though the vote has been dogged by fraud claims, most recognise that he would have nonetheless won a fair election.” Financial Times May 13
In the many parts of the worlds there is still a respect of the big man culture. And although more and more open challenging and discussion is taking place in Russia it seems that the majority still look up to Putin as powerful figurehead; therefore, is it any surprise that he flaunts international standards regarding holding a free and fair election – quod erat demonstrandum: people get the government they deserve.
But of course that doesn’t included everyone in a nation, and there are many in Russia who are putting up a brave fight for more fair and transparent government. And I personally believe that Putin is aware that the days of his autocratic style of government are numbered and that over the next eight years he will slowly be putting in place the mechanisms and laws for a more liberal just democratic nation. After all he has no interest in someone like him being a replacement.
In fact, from a long-term perspective, Putin (despite some odd idiosyncrasies) could prove to be a very smart and tactical politician: for a long time Medvedev has been saying many positive things from an international point of view, but the perception is that he has been a puppet leader with no real power. But considering Russia’s history it would be unlikely that a “nice” guy like Medvedev would have been able to bring in the require modernization without the backing of a hardball sponsor like Putin. Putin has not being trying to silence Medvedev and this could be so that when Putin comes to stand down, after having reinforced the rule of law, he can promote Medvedev as a man of integrity how has not changed his tune. Putin then wins personal security and historical plaudits from reforming Russia for the good.
If you want some evidence of this hypothesis then check out this recent lead article by in the Financial Times; and this one written by Putin himself.
A Russian friend once told me that in her youth it was not considered outrageous to give a bottle of whiskey to jump the doctor’s queue – I hope that this is no longer the case but when I visited Moscow a couple of years ago and talked with people who had lived there many years (including a Finnish diplomat) there was definitely a sense of “might is right” and if you have the money you can get your way – there was evidence of this just driving around the city observing planning policy.
Whilst in Moscow I read an newspaper article I read at the about a Russian oligarch who was out raged by the planning refusal somewhere on the east coast of America for his mansion with 17 toilets. Admittedly he did have a sense of humor about it (you must need one in Russia) by saying that they didn’t understand that when you’ve grown up with no toilets you want to go to the other extreme, and that the house was so big he didn’t want his guests getting caught short. But the point is that there is a connection to what everyday people are willing to tolerate and want goes on at the top.
As you travel round the world you release that people are pretty much the same; as the folk singer M Ward says “We all share the same concerns, loves and hatreds” but there is no denying how cultural influence effects how we deal with these concerns.
One only has to look to Russia’s neighbour Finland to see an almost opposite situation: trust between Finns is a given and if you break it you are gradually shunned out. Political transgressions that would not even appear on an Italian political radar result in high-level resignations. And therefore it is not surprising that Finland has been at the top level of Transparency International’s charts for many years. This amount of trust is a national asset that is often over looked when assessing national resources: the evidence between national transparency and personal wealth is undeniable, just check out this chart if you have any doubts:
The logic is simple: more trust, more efficient business transactions, more business, more wealth for all. (Holding up political candidates to their election pledges is one of the aims of our Shadow Election project)
But some countries, rather than punishing fraud, verge on celebrating it. If what I am about to say would have come from me it could be easy to dismiss it as racist, however, I am referencing a Cameroonian tennis friend who explained that in Cameroon, and also in his opinion Nigeria, there is a very old village view that if you get tricked then more fool you, and the trickster is the clever one for out smarting you. And at the village level this could all be seen as a bit of fun one up man-ship; however, as the stakes get higher this becomes very damaging.
He explained that in a Cameroonian business negotiation you can waste half your energies trying to work out how the other guy is trying to trick you. This is clearly inefficient and discouraging to business activity: resulting in less wealth and more poverty.
I lived in Nigeria for over ten years and somebody who had lived and worked his whole life in various African countries expressed the view that at least Nigerians are honest about their dishonesty, where as in Kenya it is much harder since some people are corrupt but others very sincere – so you can’t tell where you stand and can more easily offend people when being rigorous with checks.
In Africa, as in Russia, there is also a damaging adherence to the big man culture in Africa. I have lived at least a third of my life in the vast continent and witnessed how otherwise upright expatriates can easily slip into the casual corruptions of daily graft: a crate of beer here to speed up the delaying tactics of a police road block; a small bribe there to avoid a traffic fine, and so on. You are partially coerced into it, for example, I was once stopped in Addis Ababa for making a forbidden U-turn at the crossing point of a main road. I truly had not seen the sign that I later noticed was half submerged in bushes, however, I was surprised how long the policeman was taking to explain the situation to me. Despite my protests he eventually and clearly reluctantly took out the ticket papers. While he was filling out the papers my Ethiopian passenger asked why I spent so much time talking when the policeman was clearly giving me plenty of time to produce the expected “gratuity”; now it turned out I would be paying out many, many times more – more fool me. And I did indeed feel a bit like the fool.
It is easy to take the moral high ground but it is also easy to understand how these underpaid civil servants can convince themselves that these personal payments are perks of the job necessary to keep their families out of dire straights. But when does a national culture rally against such attitudes to the point where more productive steps can be taken to raise the national income to the point where the governments can, from the greater tax revenue generated from more business and thorough transparent efficient tax collection, start paying civil servants decent wages.
Elections can help promote people with good ideas on how the law can be improved; however, as C.K. Prahalad pointed out in his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, good laws are not enough: ““The capacity to facilitate commercial transactions through a system of laws fairly enforced is critical to the development of the private sector.”
Richard von Kaufmann is part of the Shadow Election team, and he has a driving passion to encourage people to adopt more transparent practices in all areas of public life from business processes to election systems: since secrecy shuns accountability, breeds arrogance, prohibits dialogue, breaks down trust, and corrodes decision-making.