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Free, Fair, & Regular Elections: Study Questions

Suggested Review Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles

Questions

When representative democracy was first instituted, the vote was limited to property-owning males. The vote was generally denied to citizens without property, women, indentured servants, slaves, and other subordinate classes. Under such conditions, was the political system a legitimate or genuine democracy? Why or why not? Can similar or any other justifications for restricting the franchise be used today?

Can a free electorate vote for dictatorship? What are some cases in which citizens freely choose parties or candidates that are violent or dictatorial? Can these choices be justified?

Activity

Aside from the three countries studied above, identify some other examples of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free countries (see other sections or Freedom House's list of countries in its Freedom in the World survey). What are the criteria used for designation within each category? Are there examples of free countries with unfree elections, or fair countries with unfair elections? How would your designations differ from Freedom House's designations? What conclusions can you draw about elections in general?

Poland

Question

Compare pre- and post-1989 Poland. What makes the most recent elections free? What made previous, communist-era elections unfree?

Activity

The Catholic Church played an important role in Poland's history, both in times of occupation and during independence. Do some additional research to compare the role of the Church during the period of martial law and its role today. What role has the Church played, historically and more recently, in elections and politics?

Venezuela

Question

What factors originally helped Venezuela to become a democracy? What types of social and political movements supported democracy?

Activity

What factors led to the election of and consolidation of power by Hugo Chavez? Is Chavez a dictator? Pretend you are a lawyer defending Chavez's behavior and make the argument that he should not be considered a dictator. Allow a classmate to present the opposing side, and have the class vote based on your presentations.

Azerbaijan

Question

After a brief period of democracy, Azerbaijan has been governed by a post-Communist dictatorship. What other post–Soviet bloc countries are dictatorships? Which countries are now more democratic? What are the differences that make some countries more democratic than others?

Activity

The 2006 elections in Azerbaijan were deemed unfree and unfair by international observers and agencies. Indeed, the regime is increasingly autocratic. Does a peaceful election-oriented strategy of opposition still make sense? What strategy would you adopt to overcome such a persistent dictatorship? Write a proposal making suggestions to U.S. policymakers.