*This is an Annual Lecture presented at the Mr Hans van Mierlo Stichting, Amsterdam, 10th December 2015
We live in times gripped by the conviction that periodic ‘free and fair’ elections at the national level are the heart and soul of democracy. The conviction has deep taproots with a remarkable history. In 1945, there were only a dozen representative democracies left on our planet. Since that time, in nearly 90 countries, national elections have come to be seen widely as the best way of forming good governments, sometimes even as a ‘timeless’ and non-negotiable feature of the good political life. Article 21 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in December 1948, famously set the standard. After noting that every person ‘has the right to take part in the government of his [sic] country, directly or through freely chosen representatives’, the article states the core principle of self-government: ‘The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures’.