Voters went to the polls in two countries yesterday, and one of them shocked the hell out of me.
Let's start with the one that didn't surprise. That would be Russia. When they threw Gary Kasparov in jail for four days, you really learned all you needed to know about Putin's view on an open society.
When word broke that Putin had won yesterday's election, I began the countdown to election tampering allegations. If you had "under 24 hours later" in your office pool, congratulations.
These elections were basically a joke from the start. Even if government officials didn't rig the vote (and they probably did), the main opposition party was "disqualified" by the election commission, and the media, which is all either brazenly state owned or quietly state influenced, hadn't exactly been giving equal coverage to all sides.
That story originally contained a quote from Kasparov - who by the way, has to be the coolest dude in international politics - saying that Putin was "raping the democratic system." Maybe that's a little sensationalist, but it's also true. Putin is putting on a democratic dog and pony show that masks a defacto dictatorship. Elections are little more than a cheap ploy to add a veneer of respectability in the international community.
Probably Putin does have some popular support in Russia, but as Kasparov said when he came on Bill Maher's show, "How would you know?"
> So that's business as usual for these things. And it's the usual business I was expecting in Venezuela too. Didn't work out that way.
To recap: Chavez was holding a referendum vote that would have legitimized a constitutional amendment abolishing his term limit and basically making him a real, live communist dictator instead of a sort-of communist dictator. I expected him to win by the exact 10 points he was predicting, and I wasn't planning on believing a word of it. I'd have taken under 12 hours in the pool for complaints of tampering.
Instead, Chavez lost by one point... and took it calmly. This frankly astonishes me. Maybe Chavez isn't such a bad guy?
Of course Chavez is a pretty bad guy, prone to, say, shutting down media outlets that dislike him and making weaselly statements like "Whoever votes 'Yes' is voting for Chavez and whoever votes 'No' is voting for George W. Bush." Which is a statement so brazenly misleading, I'm surprised an American politician didn't say it. But at least he doesn't rig his elections. Or if he does, he sucks at it. These are good things to know.