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The use of “international electoral observation” to legitimize elections: the Cuban case

Elections have become the mechanism by excellence to determine authorities in much of the world. Except for regimes such as the Islamic absolutist monarchies (such as Qatar, which held the World Cup), the vast majority of countries carry out elections from which their authorities emerge.

However, the fact that authorities emerge from an election does not mean these are democratic processes. The popularity of the elections has led even totalitarian regimes such as Cuba and North Korea to hold them, but with different motivations than those held under democratic systems. Under the latter, the Rule of Law prevails and the vote is a vehicle through which citizens anoint their authorities with legitimacy, reward good rulers or punish with alternation those who have not been up to the task for which they were elected, all this in a context of equal conditions and with independent and professional Electoral Management Bodies that must be held accountable for their performance. In elections held in autocratic countries, the candidate or list of candidates of the ruling elite or the most powerful faction of that elite is merely endorsed, rather than elected. In this case, elections are held to carry out internal purges (amn example of this is the expulsion of former Chinese president Hu Jintao at the last Congress of the Chinese Communist Party), and to seek legitimacy before external actors (governments, international organizations, etc.).

Thus, regardless of the type of regime, holding elections has become an obligation. One of the victories of democracy is that no ruler, authoritarian as he may be, feels comfortable being labeled a dictator. On the contrary, their teams of intellectuals create the most diverse qualifiers to elaborate conceptual stretches: to try to fit the actions of their leader into a broad and not very rigorous definition of democracy. The publishing of Xi Jinping’s white paper “China: a democracy that works”, or the services offered by Juan Carlos Monedero, Pablo Iglesias and other members of PODEMOS in Spain to the Chávez and Maduro governments to cover up their autocratic nature, are examples of manipulation of analytical categories to try to re-label authentic dictators as democrats.

And just as autocratic leaders turn to servile intellectuals to devise new concepts of democracy, they also turn to “election watchers” to legitimize their flawed electoral processes.

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