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Letting Poor People Vote Is Dangerous

Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in Sunday’s presidential election — not unlike the victories of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Adolf Hitler — once again raises doubt about the basic premise of democracy: that the people are capable of choosing their own leader. Unfortunately, only wealthy people are truly capable of electing their leaders in a responsible manner. Poor people elect politicians like Yanukovych or Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

When the Orange Revolution hit Ukraine five years ago, the people arose in a united wave and did not allow themselves to be deceived by the corrupt elite. That elite had reached an agreement with the criminals and oligarchs of Donetsk to make a minor criminal, who could not string two sentences together, the successor to former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.

Five years ago, the Ukrainian people gave President Viktor Yushchenko a mandate for reform, but he failed. The country remains highly corrupt. One example: Yushchenko himself allowed the murky scheme in which all Russian gas came into the country through the intermediary firm RosUkrEnergo.

Whenever a weak leader is incapable of managing the state, he starts looking for enemies and begins stoking nationalist passions. Yushchenko singled out Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as his enemy and engaged her in a heated polemic over the Holodomor.

Another strategy used by a weak leader boils down to: “If I can’t achieve a certain goal, then I’ll do everything possible so that my opponent doesn’t achieve it.” Yushchenko adopted this policy, calculating his every move to make life as difficult as possible for his successor — and, as a result, for the Ukrainian people as well.

A key step in Yushchenko’s deliberate campaign of destruction was his decision to sign a law raising salaries and pensions by 20 percent, thus increasing the budget deficit by $9 billion in a single stroke. Right now, Ukraine is bankrupt and survives only with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund. Although the IMF warned that it would cut off its support if Yushchenko signed the law, he signed it anyway at the end of his term, knowing that his successor would have to deal with the severe consequences.

Yushchenko’s term in office proves that the weaker the leader, the more the leader praises the “greatness” of the country. But Yushchenko’s failures do not compromise the idea of democracy; they only compromised his own reputation.

It’s a different story with Yanukovych. Can you imagine U.S. voters putting a leader in the White House who is a puppet of the ruling elite and criminal clans?

Ukraine’s recent election witnessed the convergence of democracy’s two greatest weaknesses — the tendency to fear strong individuals (Tymoshenko) and the tendency to vote for simple-minded people (Yanukovych).

Poor people are capable of feats of bravery and revolution. They can storm the Bastille, overthrow the tsar or stage an Orange Revolution. But impoverished people are incapable of making sober decisions and voting responsibly in a popular election. And this, unfortunately, applies to Russia as well. In the unfair presidential election of 2000, Vladimir Putin emerged the winner.

Who would have won in an honest election? Mayor Yury Luzhkov?

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.

… we have a small favor to ask.

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