We live in times shaped by the conviction that periodic ‘free and fair’ elections are the heart and soul of democracy. Since 1945, when only a dozen parliamentary democracies were left on our planet, elections have come to be seen widely as the best way of forming good governments, sometimes even as a ‘timeless’ and non-negotiable feature of political life. Yet all’s not well in the house of elections; public fractiousness and political dissent are brewing. There are signs of rising citizen disaffection with mainstream ‘catch-all’ parties accused of failing to be all good things to all voters. Support for populist parties is rising. Experiments with ‘anti-political’, direct-action social networks are flourishing. In some quarters, voting is judged a worthless waste of time, money and energy.
Do elections with integrity have a future? Do they still matter and, if so, is their rejuvenation, against formidable odds, now among the vital political imperatives of our age? Or are elections slowly losing their grip on democracy? Are they perhaps in terminal decline? Is the universal belief in the universality of ‘free and fair’ elections a mid-20th-century delusion, a worn-out dogma now urgently in need of replacement by fresh visions and new democratic innovations fit for our times?
Residents of Wukan in China’s southern Guangdong province vote in village elections on March 3, 2012. Residents of the small village in southern China went to the polls in a leadership election being hailed as a milestone for those demanding more say in the running of the one-party state.
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images