Political Relativism

For someone who is only focused on just one political system (for example, the United States), the values are determined with respect to history.  Are we better off than before?  Or are we worse off?

For someone who is interested in more than one political system, there is the additional comparison across systems.  Sometimes, this has the effect of making it impossible to regard an issue in one system to be important when considered in the light of other systems.

I will cite two recent examples of alleged electoral fraud, one in Hong Kong and the other in Venezuela.  The political relativism is not solely about my reactions, but it is peculiar just how other people have treated this.

The first example is about a case of improper registration in Hong Kong.  This is a brouhaha in Hong Kong because some people are citing this as definitive proof that China is usurping the September elections.

(The Standard)  Arrest in vote scam case.  By Cannix Yau.  June 5, 2004.

A supervisor at a Tseung Kwan O community centre, which is closely connected with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), has been arrested for making a false entry in an election-related document.

A police statement last night said the 40-year-old woman is being detained for inquiries.  Earlier the woman was assisting police regarding a possible voter-registration scam involving more than 100 cases.

Police officers from the regional crime unit of Kowloon East and Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, seized computers, fax machines and documents from Tseung Kwan O Women's Centre in Ming Tak Estate.

The police operation came after a woman, who only wanted to be identified as Ms Chan, complained to the Registration and Electoral Office, alleging that the centre had last month used her personal information, which she provided when enrolling for a painting course, without authorisation and forged her signature while attempting to register her as a voter.  It later transpired that the electoral office had transferred more than 100 suspect cases handled by the centre to police for investigation.

The centre's office is shared by DAB legislator Yeung Yiu-chung, and the centre is also connected with political group Civil Force, headed by another DAB legislator Lau Kong-wah. However, both Lau and Yeung have denied any knowledge of a scam.  ``Some of the cases are part of a smear campaign. We need to find out the truth,'' Yeung said.

The allegation of the possible scam follows recent reports that mainland officials have tried to put pressure on people in Hong Kong, and on Hong Kong businessmen who invest in the mainland, to vote for pro-Beijing parties. Claims have also been made that mainland officials demanded they use mobile phones with cameras to record their votes while they were in the polling booths.

I agree that any case of vote scam should be vigorously investigated and prosecuted.

The second example is about collection of signatures for the presidential recall referendum in Venezuela.  This has been going on for more than one year by now, and the results are finally now in.  I am going to summarize the basic statistics here.

In the light of the Hong Kong brouhaha, the Venezuelan situation is off the scale in terms of the smell of a vote scam.  This is not talking about one case of voter registration, which is not even a vote in an election.  We are talking about 143,930 signatures in the first round in which the named individuals did not match the electoral registry.  We are talking about 15,863 dead people showing up to repair their signatures.

Here come the reactions.

From SUMATE, they have nothing to say about the 143,930 discrepancy between the signatures and the electoral registry.  They have nothing to say about the 15,863 dead people repairing their signatures.  They are just elated that the referendum will take place.

From the National Endowment for Democracy, they have nothing to say about the 143,930 discrepancy between the signatures and the electoral registry.  They have nothing to say about the 15,863 dead people repairing their signatures.  They are just going to say that they are happy to see democracy winning in Venezuela.  They have nothing to say about the suspicion that their money had perhaps gone towards SUMATE purchasing a bad database from ChoicePoint to be used for fraudulent purposes.

From the United State Department, they have nothing to say about the 143,930 discrepancy between the signatures and the electoral registry.  They have nothing to say about the 15,863 dead people repairing their signatures.  State Department spokesman Adam Ereli commended what he said was the "civic spirit" displayed by the Venezuelan people during a signature confirmation exercise.

From the internaional observers coming from the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, they have nothing to say about the 143,930 discrepancy between the signatures and the electoral registry.  They have nothing to say about the 15,863 dead people repairing their signatures.  They have nothing to say about the fake ID operations.  Jimmy Carter said that he hoped that 'minor technical problems' would not hold up the announcement of the results.

I commend the people of Hong Kong for protecting the sanctity of their votes, although I will say that it is premature to point the finger at China.  I condemn the opposition in Venezuela, the US government and the international observers for ignoring the massive systemic violation of the sanctity of Venezuelan people's votes.  I am just hoping that I won't read a US State Department condemnation of the alleged vote scam in Hong Kong because I"ll really blow my top at the hypocrisy!

(Venezuelanalysis.com, added June 23, 2004)  Venezuela’s Electoral Council Says 50,000 Dead Remain on Voter Registration Lists.  By Gregory Wilpert.  June 23, 2004.

Electoral Council Board member Jorge Rodriguez said today that the national voter registration file will have to be carefully reviewed because it is estimated that as many as 50,000 dead Venezuelans are still on the list.

Rodriguez said, “I believe it is important for all actors that we go to the referendum with an electoral register that has been purified. In the data that we used for the month of May we are excluding 50,000 dead that are registered there.”

It is generally known that in past elections deceased voters were often intentionally left on the voter registration lists so as to enable other voters to vote a second time in the name of a dead citizen. Chavez supporters have argued that the mechanisms for perpetrating this type of fraud are still in place and are controlled by sympathizers of the former ruling parties, especially Acción Democratica (AD). The most recent instance this methods was supposedly used was during the recall referendum petition drive.

Earlier this month Rodriguez had said that the electoral council determined that 15,863 “Lazaruses,” people for which there are death certificates, had participated in the signature re-certification process. 11,256 signatures were substracted from the final count when it was discovered they belonged to people whose death hadn't been reported to the electoral council.

So as to further protect against fraud and double voting, Rodriguez said that the electoral council was in the process of investigating the feasibility of purchasing fingerprint reading machines, which would register each person’s vote and ensure that they did not vote again under a false name. Members of the opposition, however, have argued that such machines would be much too expensive for Venezuela.

Rodriguez also said that there was confusion over what the “in process” audits of the voting machines meant for the upcoming recall referendum. Many news outlets have reported that the electoral council would not allow any audits of the recall referendum vote. Rodriguez clarified that he was talking about “in-process” audits, which refers to audits that are taken during the polling hours, meaning that voting is stopped for a machine, it is opened, and the paper ballots are counted and compared with the computerized result until then.

In its regular meeting today, the electoral council said that members of Venezuela’s military would be permitted to vote in the August 15 recall referendum against President Chavez. Under Venezuela’s previous constitutions, the military was not allowed to vote. However, while the new constitution of 1999 does give them the right to vote, the electoral council said that the recall referendum petition was not a vote, but an act of political activism and so the military was not allowed to sign the petitions that requested recall referenda.