The spread of democratic elections around the world after the end of the cold war was accompanied by the spread of election monitoring. The practice of allowing the quantity of Xs or numbers on the ballot papers to decide who should be in government is such a fragile way of taking decisions that it needs to be shored by external scrutiny. Any former dictatorship that wanted to become accepted as democratic had to prove that it had truly adopted the new way of doing politics.
What about national sovereignty, some people might ask. Surely it is up to each country to decide for itself how it is governed.
It was observed as long ago as 1941 in the Ventotene manifesto that the constitutional arrangements of one country were of vital interest to others. “It only needs one nation to take one step towards more accentuated totalitarianism for the others to follow suit, dragged down the same groove by their will to survive.”
In which case, it makes great sense that each country proves to the others that it is a reliable partner and no longer a threat.
One of the peculiarities of the spread of election monitoring is that their efforts were concentrated in countries that were new to democracy. Everybody knew that longer-established democratic countries were trustworthy and robust.
But the point is that there is no such thing as “a democracy”. There are systems of government, which are democratic to varying degrees. Even a long-established democratic system can start to fray at the edges.
Reports of possible postal ballot fraud in our own general election are a case in point. Anyone who declared that British electoral practices needed external supervision would have been laughed at a generation ago, but is that true today? At what point does a country concede that it is too tolerant of bad practice?
My answer is that no country should be forced to reach that conclusion. Every country that aspires to democratic principles should invite in election monitors from other countries, regardless of the exact number (or absence) of allegations of malpractice. It needs to become one of the standard features of a democratic election that it is supervised by outsiders.
Countries owe it not only to their own citizens but also to other countries to maintain their standards of democracy. As the mother of parliaments, perhaps the UK should take a lead and declare its own elections open for scrutiny.