When I think of bureaucrats, I tend to envision boring, pear-shaped people who sit at desks thinking up new rules to annoy me. Personally, I prefer to hang out with more dynamic people, such as action heroes. They’re simply more fun. Unless you are in Nigeria, and trying to exercise your right to vote.
Elections, of course, are not easy to organize anywhere. None of the approximately 500 ways to approach them is perfect. All are unfair to somebody. In Alberta, for instance, there are about 150,000 people living in the countryside whose votes are worth five times more than mine.
Some elections are also irritating. In France (and lots of other countries), voters must endure at least two rounds of elimination votes before they choose between two frontrunners. The deal-making between rounds is sufficient to shatter any politician’s integrity — unless, like the right-wing French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, you have a sizeable lead and steel guts. (Of course, we’ll have to wait for a year or two after Sarkozy is elected to find out what other parts of him are made of stern stuff: Brains of granite? Heart of stone?)
In Nigeria, though, they might prefer irritating to deadly. Here’s a country that needs less action and more thought. Less bravado and reaction, and more attention to the rules. In other words, more bureaucrats. Over 200 people died in violent episodes leading up to the recent election, and apparently for nothing: The results are widely reported to be completely illegitimate due to ballot box stuffing, ballots and boxes not showing up on time, or not at all, and some regions where there was no effort to administer an election at all.
Seven different watchdog groups witnessed the election and all reported inadequacies serious enough to discredit Umaru Yar’Adua, the former chemistry teacher who is now president. Nobody knows much about this guy other than that his family has been in politics for years, that he is Muslim, and that he used to be a Marxist. That ought to annoy the Americans and thrill the Chinese, and make for some good fun for newshounds like me. Just how much fun he’ll be for Nigerians remains to be seen.
Regardless, Yar’Adua’s presidency is already in trouble: The European Union, with 150 observers monitoring Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections, has described the polls as “a fraud” and “a charade.” To preserve his leadership and stem further violence, Yar’Adua may have no choice but to find himself some pear-shaped pencil-pushers to organize another election as soon as possible and hope that less patient, more action-oriented citizens do not meanwhile embark on an unofficial “elimination” round. Which would no doubt extend the violence ad infinitum.
So I say thankyou bureaucrats, you pallid little cubicle rats you. You may not be exciting. But you may be the best buddies democracy has.