EVENTS in Kenya and Pakistan are hardly harbingers of a happy new year. In different ways the democratic process bequeathed by Britain when these two colonies got their independence has broken down. In Pakistan, independent since 1947, democracy has always been a fragile flower, blossoming for a few years but then withering under military rule. By contrast, since its independence in 1963 Kenya has seemed a democratic success story, with only a single failed coup and periodic elections that may have reflected tribal rather than political allegiances but nonetheless enabled the country's economy to flourish despite constant allegations of corruption and kept the army in its barracks.
In a sense, therefore, the ballot-rigging in Kenya's elections last week may be a more serious matter than the breakdown of law and order in Pakistan. Kenya appeared to be on the right democratic path, with only relatively minor diversions, while Pakistan has veered between corrupt civil government and military dictatorship for most of its sixty years' existence. Kenya's elections, with the prospect of the first change of an incumbent president in its history, seemed likely at last to validate the belief that Western-style democracy could function in Africa. The denial of this expectation by President Kibaki's crude manipulation of the polling has had two results: the violence and unrest among Kenyans who believe that their democratic choice has been frustrated and the frantic efforts of the international community to find a way of calming the situation in Kenya without appearing to interfere in the country's internal affairs.
Intervention must be based on the emerging international consensus that the presidential poll was rigged to save Mwai Kibaki from defeat and deny Rail Odinga, the leader of the opposition, victory. The contrast between the parliamentary election results in which a majority of President Kibaki's ministers lost their seats and his own narrow victory after a delay of three days in the counting told its own story, as did his action in closing down live television reporting of the outcome. At the time of writing the situation in Pakistan remains unclear with the decision about whether the scheduled election on January 8 will take place still awaited. However, the likelihood of free and fair elections in the present volatile circumstances is poor. Western-style democracy is not defended when the leadership of the country's biggest party is determined by the last will and testament of its assassinated leader and shared by her 19-year-old student son and her husband who has faced charges of corruption in three countries. The negative conclusion to be drawn from the cases of Kenya and Pakistan is that commitment to democracy is conditional on the desired result being obtained by those already in power. This is hardly surprising given the appalling example set by the United States, Britain and the European Union over the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections two years ago.
Their reaction was to conspire to neuter the Hamas government by cutting off economic and even humanitarian aid when the better course would have been to engage Hamas' leaders in negotiations over their hostility to Israel. The EU monitors in Kenya have said that the election there did not meet international standards. Which standards are these? Those applied recently in Palestine or, perhaps, those that secured George W Bush the presidency of the United States eight years ago?