- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 19, 2000

Democracy demands patience and humility. With our own electoral turmoil raging, it is easy to forget that other

countries, democracies much more fragile than ours, are struggling patiently with daunting election processes. On Election Night in the United States, I returned from oil-rich Azerbaijan, where I learned once again that democracy is an exercise in patience. It is a lesson that Americans are absorbing as we await the results of our presidential election.

But observers in two foreign elections that took place last week are aware that Florida is not the only epicenter of electoral earthquakes. Two countries that the Clinton administration deems top priorities, Azerbaijan (which may have more oil than the North Sea) and Bosnia (still politically tense), held confusing, complicated elections. Yet both demonstrate democracy's lesson of the singing dog: It is not how well or how loud the dog sings but the fact it sings at all.

Americans, despite 200 years of democracy, seem to be learning this lesson anew.

As in our election, too-close familial relations and the democratic process made for strange bedfellows in Azerbaijan, where an ailing president worked diligently to elect his son to the parliament. President, and former KGB general, Heydar Aliyev hopes his son Ilham (who happens to head the Azeri state oil company) will pivot from his new position to succeed him as president. Democratic? Not exactly, but not so unfamiliar given the scions of political families in our own elections.

What was disturbing in Azerbaijan were the ubiquitous portraits of the Aliyev family that hang over the country like modernized Lenins. There was Mr. Aliyev holding a telephone as he smiled for the camera. There was Mr. Aliyev with an expensive pen in his hand (reminding all that he signed the oil pipeline agreement referred to as the "deal of the century"). There was Mr. Aliyev, along with his son, both with oil smeared on their faces in an ancient Azeri tradition, after participating in an oil-production ceremony.

Yet in a similarity to our U.S. election, the voting process went smoothly until the count, when chaos broke loose in counting centers across the nation.

The main election watchdog, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, deemed the poll "completely flawed in the counting process," a bitter pill to swallow for a country promoting itself for investment.

The OSCE had its hands full this week with election monitoring. Bosnia held elections on Nov. 11 in a process that would have spun heads in Florida.

This nation was torn into two after the war: the Muslim Federation and the Serb Republic. Each held elections for its own assemblies, as well as for the joint national assembly. Bosnia uses elections like this to knit different ethnic countries together and to overcome the legacy of ethnic killing.

So, just four days after our U.S. presidential election, one of the world's most intricate elections took place in Bosnia, and complex voting mirrored the country's unwieldy political structure. This was the sixth major election held there since 1998. There is a fatigue from so many elections in so short a time frame. But these people are patient. Long journeys, polling station lines and a counting process that often extends to daybreak are trademarks of the Bosnian election process. Electors may not be excited about their choices in postwar Bosnia, but still vote with a determination to change their country nearly five years after the Dayton peace agreement.

Democracy is the catchword of foreign policy in the new century. As we move toward a global economy, nascent democracies vote in an attempt to escape economic rigidity, red tape and corruption to meet the challenges of a global economy.

Observing foreign elections, whether in Baku or Banja Luka, makes us realize that each vote is a privilege and an honor that should not be squandered at the counting station. Young electoral democracies look to the United States for leadership on this front. In these anxious days after our election, let's hope we can find the proper solution with the patience and humility that are hallmarks of democracies around the world.

Kathleen Houlihan is assistant director of the Washington program of the the Council on Foreign Relations.

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