By Stephen Gowans
Q: When does the US government hide an exit poll that calls a foreign election into question?
A: When it doesn’t want the candidate who got the most votes to win.
That’s what happened when a US government-financed exit poll cast doubt on the victory of Kenya’s president Mwai Kibaki in a December 2007 election.
In a January 31, 2009 New York Times article, “A chaotic Kenya vote and a secret US exit poll,” reporters Mike McIntyre and Jeffrey Gettleman revealed that the “results of an exit poll, paid for by the United States government, that supported the initial returns” favoring the challenger, Raila Odinga, were kept secret.
The exit poll showed Kibaki losing by six percentage points.
When Kibaki claimed he had won the election, despite charges of ballot counting fraud and its own exit poll that called the result into question, Washington rushed to congratulate him and urged Kenyans to accept the outcome of the disputed vote.
The US government favored Kibaki, who “had a good relationship with the Bush administration and generally supported American counterterrorism policies in East Africa,” the article says.
Odinga, on the other hand, was viewed skeptically by US officials, because “he was educated in East Germany and named his son after Fidel Castro.”
During the election the US ambassador, Michael Ranneberger, tried to influence the vote in Kibaki’s favor, proposing to release “a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga.” Ranneberger also “made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing” corruption in Kibaki’s government.
The poll was conducted by the International Republican Institute, the international arm of the Republican Party, with funding provided by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development. The IRI receives much of its funding from the US Congress’s NED, the National Endowment for Democracy, whose ostensible mission is to promote democracy abroad. Its real mission is to promote the foreign interests of US banks, corporations and investors, by backing political parties and movements that oppose governments that fail to provide a congenial climate for US investment and exports.
While presented as an organization with an admirable mission, the NED was established to do openly what the CIA used to do covertly – meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. The US government established the NED after the CIA’s role in funding overseas political parties, church groups, cultural organizations, dissidents and trade unions was revealed in the press. These revelations served to discredit these organizations, most social democratic and all vehemently anti-communist.
By changing the paradigm from covert to overt funding and by replacing the CIA with a new “democracy promotion” organization as the source of funding for US fifth columns, it was hoped the stench of secret CIA funding would be lifted, even though the objective was the same: to manipulate the internal affairs and elections of other countries to serve the interests of US capital.
The IRI is involved in many countries, including Zimbabwe, where it has played an active role in formulating the policy platform of the Movement for Democratic Change. That platform, not surprisingly, favors the creation of a climate favorable to foreign investment and exports, and advocates robust privatization and elimination of subsidies, tariff barriers and affirmative action for domestic investors – measures congenial to the interest of the US corporate ruling class.
The hollowness of the US government’s pro-democracy stance is so frequently revealed, it’s hardly necessary to point it out. Its backing of Israeli efforts to reverse the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections that brought Hamas to power and its support for innumerable corrupt and despotic Arab regimes shows that the US government’s conception of democracy is roughly synonymous with its foreign policy interests. New revelations that it concealed an exit poll that pointed to electoral fraud in order to protect a favored candidate in Kenya’s December 2007 election, simply reinforces the view that Washington is not democracy’s champion, but its greatest enemy.