Livni flag 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that US President Barack Obama's statement in Cairo that elections alone do not make true democracy was an important principal that would be put to the test in this weekend's Lebanese elections.
"Many have called for the elections to be free and fair. But few have asked whether this is even possible if Hizbullah is viewed as a legitimate participant in the process," she wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times.
Comparing the situation to Hamas's participation in the 2006 Palestinian Authority elections, Livni said that then, as justice minister, she had tried to persuade the international community that just focusing on the act of holding elections was not enough to promote democracy, but that "it must insist that those who sought the benefits of the democratic process accepted its underlying principles as well."
She said the argument that participation in elections would act as a moderating force on extremist groups ignored that some extremist groups used the democratic process to advance their violent agendas.
"For them, electoral participation was merely a way to gain legitimacy - not an opportunity to change," Livni wrote. "Some of these groups were better seen as 'one-time democrats' determined to use the democratic system against itself."
The opposition leader went on to say that democracy was about values before voting.
"These values must be nurtured within society and integrated into the electoral process itself," she said. "We cannot offer international legitimacy for radical groups and then simply hope that elections and governance will take care of the rest. In fact, the capacity to influence radical groups can diminish significantly once they are viewed as indispensable coalition partners and are able to intimidate the electorate with the authority of the state behind them."
Livni called on the international community to adopt a universal code for participation in democratic elections which stipulates that every party running for office must renounce violence, pursue its aims by peaceful means and commit to binding laws and international agreements.
"The democratic process is not a free pass - it is about responsibilities as well as rights," she said, recalling Israel's banning of the radical Kach party.
Livni said radical groups could become legitimate political players in the democratic process by accepting core democratic principles and abandoning violence, or maintain armed terrorist militias in order to threaten their neighbors and intimidate their people, stressing, "The international community should not allow them to do both."
"Unless such groups are forced to choose between these conflicting identities, their participation in elections not only risks empowering extremists, it risks debasing the values of democracy itself," concluded the opposition leader.
In his speech in Cairo on Thursday, Obama said that governments must maintain power through consent, respect the rights of minorities, participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise, and place the interests of the people and the legitimate workings of the political process above the party.
"Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy," he said.