Election 2006: This is what you think

by ChessBase
5/21/2006 – In the last days and weeks we have published a number of articles pertaining to the upcoming elections for FIDE President. One especially, entitled "Who controls FIDE", generated a vigorous discussion. Direct replies by experienced FIDE delegate David Levy, Scotland, and Russian chess journalist Yurij Vasiliev led to a great number of sometimes very interesting letters. Here are some.

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Before we launch into the reactions of our readers a few general policy remarks may be in order.

In a number of letters in the past, and in conversations with some of the involved persons, it is often suggested that we are taking the part of one side, whether it be the Kirsan Campaign or the Bessel Kok ticket; one-nation one-vote or weighted election; Vladimir Kramnik or Veselin Topalov; humans or computers.

The truth of the matter is that our priorities lie elsewhere. The most important single criterion in the choice of what we publish, and how we present it, is not whether a news item can serve any person or organisation. It is whether the story is interesting. That overrides all other considerations. The second criterion is probably whether it is true; then whether it is informative; whether it is reasonable; related to chess; not defamatory or obscene; etc. "Cui bono" is way down on the list. If a story is true, reasonable, related to chess and beneficial to our best friends, but not interesting, we drop it. If it is interesting, true, related to chess, and of great use to people we are not particularly fond of, it makes the news page. This is, or should be, the working ethic of any popular news service.

In the "Who controls FIDE" debate we have been accused of siding with the Bessel Kok campaign – which incidentally does not advocate a change in the present system and has distanced itself from any suggestion to this effect; and we have been accused in publishing a story that is eminently useful to the Kirsan ticket, since it could be suggested that the current president is defending the rights of the smaller nations, which might net him additional votes.

None of this is the case. We publised the story for the sole reason that it was interesting – and informative, thought-provoking and related to chess. The fact that we received so many eloquent reactions and actually succeeded in unleashing a world-wide debate proves that the strategy was successful.

Finally we would like to mention that, in the following, we are reprinting almost all the substantial letters we received; and we are reprinting them with a minimum of editing, and in approximately the order in which we received them. We do this so you can get a full impression of the thoughts and feelings of our readers, even if in this case it means having to wade through a lot of fairly protracted prose.

Frederic Friedel

Reactions to the original article by André Schulz

Robert A. Karch, Tacoma, USA
We each have our personal prefence, but it will be of no consquence in this election. The promise of a unification match will sway the vote of some federations which may be undecided. For the balance, the current FIDE management will find ways to disqualify some pro-Kok federations on a technicality or for non-payment of monies due (late receipt of rating fees, membership fees, etc,) whereas some federations which are in arrears will be offered a last-minute payment of their dues. End result? I predict a 70-30 vote ratio in favor of the current FIDE President.

Femi Adebajo, Milton Keynes, UK
The FIDE motto "Gens una sumus" kind of gives the game away and suggests that the founding fathers felt that chess players belonged to one big family, and were not a dichotomous arrangement based on your wealth, achievements or self-assumed importance. FIDE is the ruling body of chess worldwide and derives any legitimacy it has on a fair and scrupulous observance of democratic standards, the most basic element of which is one member one vote. It must not be forgotten that the largest global sports bodies, FIFA and IOC are run on similar democratic norms. The specific interests of titled players are probably better represented by other organisations such as ACP.

I think it’s unfair to suggest that voting power of national chess associations be based on such changing variables as number of titled or rated players or similar measures of achievement in tournament play. If as Mr Schulz suggests, it is somehow wrong for Madagascar, Malawi, Belize and Uganda to have the same number of delegate votes as Russia, Germany, Spain and France then you are headed in the terrible direction of adjusting delegate votes by complex mathematical formulae that must include such factors as number of GMs (why stop at just number of titled players), number of world champions, average rating of all the players in a country, etc., And then you have to factor in the number of non-tournament players. Such a demographic contortion would rapidly become unworkable and a fertile ground for endless disputes and unwholesome practices to secure voting advantage. And what happens if the number of active or titled players in a country changes over time?

Graham Glen, Durham NC, USA
There is a good historical reason for FIDE's one nation, one vote rule. Today, beyond the general advancement of chess, FIDE has four specific responsibilites: the world championship, the ELO ratings, titles, and the Olympiads. But when it was founded in 1924 (at a team competion between nations in Paris, although not considered an Olympiad), there were no ratings, no titles, and FIDE had nothing to do with the world championship. For its first two decades, its only responsibility was organizing Olympiads, with the first official one occurring in 1927. Since Olympiads operate on the one nation - one team concept, it was natural that each team got one vote when decisions were made. It did not really matter how many chess players lived in each country, as long as the country was willing to field a team in the Olympiad.

Today the situation is very different, as FIDE makes decisions that affect all chess players, especially those at master level and above. It seems bizarre to give a significant voice in these decisions to nations that don't have any players with Elo ratings, and who don't bother to send teams to the Olympiad. Yet as Andre Schulz points out, these nations are not likely to vote for a change that deprives them of their power. It remains to be seen whether FIDE can satisfy the needs of serious chess players, or whether in the long run the chess professionals will have to find another organization to represent them.

Arun, India
It is a shame if India fails to vote for Mr.Kok. The current president has made the world championship a comedy and hurt many chess hearts by introducing double round robin format in deciding the world champion. One cannot forget the loss of Kasparov, humiliation to Ponomariov and in an indirect way to Kramnik and Anand, organising thr world championship in Libya, where not all players can be assured of safety? Also it is enough for one to be president for fide for 10 years? It would be good if the top 20 active FIDE rated players were also given the right to vote, so that FIDE could reflect their feelings too.

Siegrun Macgilchrist, Maybole, Scotland
I don't like Bessel Kok, because from 1985 until 1991 he was chairman of World Chess Grandmaster Association. This means that he actively tried to destroy FIDEi. Since he couldn't do it from the outside, what will he do if he gets in? In their direct comparison, you mentioned that Bessel speaks a number of languages, why did you not mention Kirsan's? Kirsan has done more for chess and put more money into the game than anyone else. Has Bessel sponsored any tournaments?

Desk R, Brazil
FIDE as an international organization can not use the demografic criteria for elections. That's why small countries have the same weight as chess giants like Russia or even the USA. If FIDE decides to become just another chess association, without a truly international profile, then the claims about the fairness of disregarding the chess demographics, as for instance, the number of chessplayers and professionals, is certainly correct. However, it is not the case, and FIDE stands like UN, as one the most relevant international organization of the world.

Following the steps of FIFA, is totally apropriate to invite and accept countries without any previous chess tradition. FIFA does not limit itself to guide powerfull Italian, Brazilian or German soccer, for it also includes non traditional soccer countries like Fiji or Sri Lanka. Nobody complains about it. Likewise, it is indeed FIDE's task to include those marginal countries, helping even the most insignificant one to be exposed to chess cultural experience.

Susan Grumer, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
Mr. Schulz, you wrote what looks like an interesting article, but what exactly is you point? Do you believe that the “big” chess countries deserve more power in a World Chess Federation? Garry Kasparov felt that he should have more power because he was the best chess player in the world. So he left FIDE and split up the chess world. Are you aiming for another split? Or do you just want the small countries to leave FIDE because there is nothing there for them anymore?

FIDE is supposed to bring the whole chess world together. Moreover, how many of the active players in Germany have a say in how the Federation’s delegate votes on anything? Did you have a vote among all chess players? Did you have a vote among all active chess players? Did you have a vote among all titled players? Maybe the delegates think about what is best for their federation. Maybe they don’t. Maybe what is best for titled players hurts the enthusiastic amateur players. In any case, one vote per member country is the way to bring the chess world together and keep it together. Of course, buying votes or other unethical manoeuvres is not good, but who is to say that wouldn’t take place with the delegate (or four or five delegates) from the big Federation who has many votes?

You write that if a sponsor is found who pays or forgives some federations their debts, then the delegates may be expected to show their gratitude by casting their vote in one direction during the upcoming election. This is something that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov may do – it is in his style. Bessel Kok has not, and will not stoop to this level. He is an honest and ethical person, as are the other members of his team.

You state in your chart that the US Virgin Islands has no titled players. Craig Van Tilbury is a FIDE Master (FM). There are many players actively playing in clubs and tournaments, at least 25 on the three islands that make up the US Virgin Islands. I realize that this is not anywhere near the number that Germany has, but it is certainly more than you stated.

Thank you for your interesting article, even if it is not accurate.

Vernon Vanpoucke, Seattle USA
Mr. Schulz states that having a system of one-delegate one-vote regardless of proportionality would be "unthinkable" in regular politics. Yet the unthinkable exists in the United States. The legislative branch of the U.S. Government is bicameral in nature. One house, the House of Representatives, is proportional according to the populations of the 50 states - the higher population a state has, the Representatives that state has in the House. The other house, the Senate, is different. Each of the 50 states has two Senators representing them. The State of Wyoming (population a little over 500,000) has just as many Senators as the State of California (population approaching 36 million). Remember this when you ponder U.S. policy.

David Herz, Paris
AS your article somewhat disingenuously states Ilyumzhinov "has managed to find funding" for the upcoming world championship. As further reading (including a recent portrait in the New Yorker) indicates, the source of this funding will remain secret. These articles paint a portrait of someone you might think twice about supporting with your grandmasterly presence.

Andrias Ziska, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
I will only point out, that you have forgotten to mention that my federation supports Kok!

Pineau, Kawagoe, Japan
Again a good article on this site. I thought FIDE must be a democratic association. It is not in fact. The most active federation get no more recognition than a federation who do nothing. A great nation like Japan, who have a local chess association (JCA) wasn't able to organize, during 30 years, an international event. It is a fact Mr Matsumoto was president of this association almost 30 years until his death without effective election. Actualy his long time secretary, Mss Watai decided to keep the control of the JCA. I doubt that could be normal even according the rules of the FIDE. But as we see the argument of chess weak country is the statu quo. Effectively I'm not sure there are 100 actives japaneses chess players here. I mean who play one or two local tournments during the year!

Tianaina Antananarivo, Madagascar
Checking the Online Database, you will notice two Malagasy (from Madagascar) players (Ranaivoarisoa Alain and Rabenandrasana Liva). I would like to draw your attention in the fact that the "Fédération Malagasy des Jeux d'Echecs" has ceased to be since many years here. Actually, there are at most two active chess clubs here in Madagascar! I'm a member in one of them. The Malagasy chess players, never gave, officially or not, our support to Ilyumzhinov. So if anyone claim that Madagascar is supporting him or even Kok, he LIES! Actually, Madagascar can't vote because the Malagasy Federation is dead (there ain't even a president, there's no place you can call an office for the Federation). And I guess many of the country shown on the Map has the same case as us!

Rafael Arruebarrena, Caracas, Venezuela
I was very relieved to finally see in writing the real reason for which Ilyumzhinov will win the forthcoming elections. It's just a matter of politics. Even though Bessel Kok has a very impressive background, I think he's ignoring the reality of countries like mine, where support and corporate sponsorship for top players isn't really the main issue. It's more a matter of coming through with a real compromise for attending the growing masses of players who are learning the game but don't have any chances of appearing in the rating lists, even though they form the bulk of people who play regularly in tournaments or clubs or just follow the game on the internet or by buying magazines. Of course, these players don't appear on the rating lists you use as a reference for deciding (with a poor criterion, in my opinion) which are the most active chess countries in the world.

To use Venezuela as an example, I'm lucky enough to appear in the rating lists, as I had a chance to play an open in Curacao in 2001 (I'm rated 2266 FIDE inactive and I'm a National Expert in my country), but I can think of many other players, some 30 or so, who are quite active and possibly stronger than I am, maybe around the 2200-2300 mark. These players won't appear in the rating lists as there are no FIDE rated events here. Of course, you can then imagine how many players would be around 2000-2100 FIDE. I would put the number around 200, and I'm sure if people knew the events to be FIDE rated the number of players would jump. So even though we appear with 88 players, including supposedly "inactive" ones (who are pretty much active, I can assure you!), I think the number of players over 2000 Elo is more realistically around 400.

We should then be very careful about the criteria for awarding votes in the FIDE assembly, as I think it's very possible that for each player who is accounted for in the rating lists, there are at least two more equally active players who are left out. Looking over the numbers again, I think it's ridiculous to assume that a country like Argentina, with such a rich chess tradition, has just 402 active players. I could go on citing countries, but I think the point is clear enough already.

There hasn't been much discussion regarding a much more serious problem, which is how national Federations' presidents are elected. In Venezuela there is a very awkward system which calls for clubs to elect regional "associations" which then, in turn, elect the president. Many of these clubs are non-existent in practice, and so are the associations. Whatever way you look at it, the president of the Federation is not representative of that Federation's players. I think that a clear way to solve this mess would be for FIDE to require national Federations to hold clear and just elections, and only those "clean" Federation presidents would be allowed to vote in FIDE elections. That way, we could at least be sure that national Federation presidents would be held accountable for their decisions in FIDE's assembly.

I hope Mr. Kok doesn't give up his efforts, but I think his proposals up to now fit better in an organization like the old GMA, and not in a broad organization like FIDE. Maybe he can come up with something more concrete for us lesser players in third world countries...

Thanks to ChessBase for this discussion. I believe it's more important than many out there think!

Vincent Gerusz, Paris, France
Why not switch to a more "universally" democratic way of sorting this out: let's have a vote solely based on the licensed players who are the first concerned by its outcome. 1 licensed chessplayer = 1 vote. Easy (hopefully), fair (certainly) and involved (we pay for the license, we have a right to get involved).

Dr Ricardo Szmetan, Barbados
I talked with the President of the Guatemala Chess Federation just two weeks ago in CiudadaD de Mexico. Some players of the Olimpic Team where present. He said to me that he is UNdecided! The very good article of Schultz states that Guatemala will vote for Kirsan. This is not correct.

Paul De Man, Brussels, Belgium
I am a supporter of Bessel Kok for the following reason: I have seen his work at the time of the SWIFT tournaments (for instance in Brussels) and I must say I was impressed. Surely a gold period for chess (the eighties!) as was said by John Nunn in one of his books. I think he is a man who really loves the game and gave it as much fame as is possible. I think also that more GM will have the opportunity to show their talents as it was the case with the SWIFT tournaments. The system played there was really good. The current president has a lot of money (Bessel Kok also I suppose). The FIDE system favours too much easy money (buying the votes of little federations). Also I don't like the (political) fact that he is using his money just before the election organising the world title. This is not long-term politics.

Vladyslav Kosulin, USA
I was really confused when reading your note that Mr. Ilyumzhinov "has managed to find funding for a world championship match between Topalov and Kramnik". First of all it is not clear who really brought this money to the table and how real it is. We know only that this money will be processed by FIDE accountants. And from past experience I would bid on statement that the prize fund was again raised by Kramnik. Also, we definitely know that Mr. Ilyumzhinov has totally ruined the World Championship structure. It is clear thet Mr. Ilyumzhinov needs this match to win the elections, but if he gets re-elected, he can change his mind, as he did many times before.

Joe Justice, Dayton, USA
The FIDE election system is called democracy. You do not give richer, smarter, or more educated people more votes than others. Everybody has only one vote. Unless you want FIDE to be like the UN whith the result we see around the world.

Jonathan Berry, Nanaimo Canada

FIDE members' voting powers resemble the UN General Assembly. What surprises me is that the chess superpowers have never banded together to create a Security Council. Perhaps they are easily distracted.

Eddy Fong, Malaysia
I had just read the article entitled "Who controls FIDE?" by André Schulz on the chessbase website. This article really made my tummy churn with the bad taste it exuded. Really, the idea of democracy is "one-man (or member), one vote", irrespective of any perceived "better qualification". To suggest otherwise is to go against the principles of democracy expounded in "developed" western countries in recent years. And in the FIDE spirit of GENS UNA SUMUS, the stronger chess countries should help the weaker countries develop their chess strength instead of attempting to deny these weaker countries their democratic rights.

I have followed the interesting points raised by both sides in various websites but have remained neutral in my personal views. I am writing because I perceived that ChessBase is a pro-Bessel Kok website. And allowing such an article as Schulz's to be published on this site is a black eye for the Kok camp. And this is especially as "The Right Move" campaign has stated "Restoration of Democracy" to FIDE as one of their objectives. And here we see the most prominent pro-Kok website publishing an article to remove democracy from FIDE.

It will be interesting to see if the Kok camp take steps to distance themselves from Schulz's article and the ChessBase website. In contrast, Yuriy Vasiliev in the Chess Fidelity website has put this matter of voting rights in the proper and principled perspective. And using FIFA statutes to illustrate the correct spirit that should be in a truly global organisation like FIDE.

Sören Östmark, Västerås, Sweden
This page (in Swedish language) confirms that Sweden support Bessel Kok for FIDE president!

Reactions to the David Levy article

Raul Lagomarsino, Montevideo, Uruguay
With all due respect for Mr. Levy, democracy may be a good thing for FIDE, but "one country-one vote" is not democratic. For example, why would the formula "one GM-one vote" not be considered democratic? Or "one titled player-one vote" if you want it to be REALLY democratic? Apart from logistic complications in the electoral process, there is no clear reason why one system is better than the other.

Jerome Tarshis, San Francisco, California
I don't know whether it has been revealed by David Levy's God that one-federation-one-vote is synonymous with democracy. It doesn't look synonymous to me. It looks more like the very opposite of democracy. It may be a good idea, or a bad idea. But I do not think anyone academically qualified in political science would take the view that "democracy" requires the present system of governance in FIDE.

In the United States the national government has two legislative houses. The House of Representatives follows, more or less, the population being represented. More people, more representatives. The Senate operates on a basis of two senators per state, without regard for the population of the state. This is analogous to the FIDE voting system. But the Senate was created as a check on popular democracy, specifically on the power of populous states, not as being synonymous with democracy. Some among us desire to be protected from the tyranny of the majority, or from the good sense of the majority.

Johan, Copenhagen, Denmark
It should be fairly clear to everyone that the point David Levy is making in his occasionally interesting article that Kok supporters should accept the "democratic" decision is completely invalid since he admits himself that the electoral system is not a fair one. He then proceeds to shrugs his shoulders and says "because that is the way it is and it will never change". Since his entire argument relies on the premise that the election can be called democratic, it is rendered quite useless by the fact that while some may call it "democratic" (the word has been abused so many times it has become more or less worthless), it most certainly can not be called fair, in any conventional sense of that word.

Indeed, the world is full of fake democracies and FIDE is just another in the long line. That does not, however, mean that we should just accept it. Bessel Kok may not be able to beat an unfair system where the outcome is decided by corruption, but all the more reason for those people in the chess world who wants chess to fulfil its potential to start looking for alternatives to an inherently corrupt and unfair world chess federation.

Graeme Cree, Austin, Texas, USA
It seems like a facile misrepresentation of the Schulz article for Levy to say that its point was that the current FIDE system is democratic and that democracy is a bad thing. Schulz never uses the words democracy or democratic at all, and my interpretation of his point was that he was trying to say that the current system is NOT democratic.

It also seems odd of Levy to characterize opposition to the current system as sour grapes for a Kirsan victory that hasn't happened yet, after admitting himself that such opposition had been around for years in the ECU. Not to mention that it is odd to give Kirsan credit (in the past tense) for a reunification match that hasn't happened yet. The way most of us remember it, Kok succeeded in getting Prague signed, and Kirsan spent the next four years avoiding it until campaign time rolled around. The way Levy tells it, the whole incident is Kok's failure and Kirsan's success. What can one say, but 'odd'?

Koichi Nicholas, Slough, UK
David Levy talks about the democracy of the FIDE electoral votig system but I find it a very odd form of a democracy. He completely skirts the relevant question of why should federations with no rated chess players have the same voting power as those with hundreds. His answer of "because that is the way it is" is far from satisfactory. Imagine if the UK electoral system had a one city - one vote system whereby the entire city of London got the same voting power as the city of St. David's, it would be absolutley ludicrous as the people of St. David's would possess far greater individual voting power than any resident of London. This is clearly not democracy and neither is FIDE's system.

Randy Wester, USA
Levy's article is an obvious "smear" campaign letter for Ilyumzhinov, and is also in the spirit of politics - full of half-truths and blatant misinformation. One inaccuracy is his idea of democracy. Levy obviously is need of either a dictionary or a lesson of democracy. There are many types of democracy, like "the people ruling themselves collectively, usually via majority rule employing some system of voting and representation" (Wikipedia) or "Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives" (The American Heritage Dictionary). I wonder why Levy is so hostile, did Shultz give Levy a thumping on the chessboard once that he never got over?

Charles Hall, Orlando FL
Mr. Levy seems very pleased with Kirsan's performance, noting among his "accomplishments" that "he has succeeded in reunifying the World Championship title where Bessel Kok failed."

A correction must be made. It was FIDE's inertia and inability to gain sponsorship, that was to blame for the failed reunification effort, not Bessel Kok's. Kramnik also fulfilled his obligations under the referenced agreement. During the split, the FIDE World Championships until San Luis were knockout matches, with the results carrying little credibility, especially the year the tournament was held in Libya, a venue that denied equal access to all otherwise qualifying individuals.

Kirsan has poured a ton of money into many events, which is commendable. I do not keep up with politics, so I would hope it's not at the expense of the population of Kalmakya, or their well-being. My preference would be that chess would be self-sustaining through sponsorship, such as the MTel event taking place at this time.

The question of democracy and how the vote should be handled is very interesting. One could argue that more weight should go to the member countries with the greater chess playing population, but this would render the vote of the tiny countries as effectively nil and give very little incentive for their participation, their viewpoints, and their membership. This discussion requires the wisdom of Solomon to reach a solution that is mutually fair, so we accept what we have instead.

Greg Koste, Chicago, USA
Democracy means "rule by the people." In FIDE's "one-country, one-vote" system" 184,000 voters from Andorra, Faroe Islands, San Marina, British Virgin Islands and Palau (five countries) could outvote 3,000,000,000 voters from China, India, the US, and Russia (four countries). The FIDE system has nothing to do with democracy.

Nigel Gwee, LA, USA
I don't think Schulz was trying to imply that "democracy is bad for FIDE," as Levy puts it. From my understanding, Schulz was calling into question the "one country one vote no matter how many members it has" policy. I recall Bent Larsen in the 1970s (in C. H. Alexander's 'A Book of Chess' I think it was called) commenting on the "weird decisions" made in FIDE elections, owing to the "small countries."

Graham Glen, Durham NC, USA
A central principle in modern democracies is the concept of representation by population. Whether population is taken to mean the number of people or the number of registered chess players, in this sense FIDE is not democratic. Two hundred years ago there was a long-running effort to eliminate 'rotten boroughs' in British politics, which was ultimately successful.

It may be argued that FIDE does not represent players at all, only federations. But both the titles and Elo ratings are awarded to individual players. FIDE therefore affects the players directly, but it does not represent them.

Ted Cross, Beijing, China
Mr. Levy's idea of democracy is pretty weak in my opinion. It is not democratic to have a country with no active players having the same voting power as a country with thousands of active players. This is a sham. And his only real answer to this is, "This is just the way it is"? We need some strong federations, like Germany, England, and the US to meet together to plan and implement a new world chess federation, breaking away from FIDE. If they lead, the rest will follow eventually, and FIDE will fade away as it so clearly deserves.

Ardjan Langedijk, Haarlem, The Netherlands
Perhaps democracy (in FIDE) entails more than just "one country - one vote". What about a fair and open bidding process for major events? What about not changing the statutes without consent? Maybe, after losing twice to Campo, Mr Levy has started to admire his ways. In any case, there are so many objective reasons to get rid of the current FIDE administration, relating to democracy and not to mention transparacy and honesty, that any attempt by intelligent people like Mr Levy or Topalov to support them should be considered as an opportunistic and even cynical move.

Georg Smidt, Oslo, Norway
David Levy misses a huge point in his article on chess democracy and the FIDE voting system. A very common idea within most representative democracies is that regions get votes according to the number of people in the respective regions. So if the USA, with over 90,000 members of the US Chess Fedration, gets the same vote as Mongolia, with ten members, does he think this is democratic??

William McVey, Aberdeen
The debate on voting mechanisms is the same debate that rages across all voting schemes; Proportional representation or one area one vote. The reality is this is a pointless debate as any party, contestant or otherwise has to win using the existing system. The message is get campaigning.

Geoff Marchant, Purley, England
David Levy's commentary on Shultz's article appears flawed to me. Levy repeats that we have democracy in FIDE elections so don't complain. Well, the concept of democracy is fine but the FIDE version is reminiscent of early nineteenth century British democracy, where pocket boroughs and rotten boroughs existed. Two Reform Acts improved democracy in Britain, introducing among other things, the principle that each constituency should hold roughly the same number of electors. What's wrong with trying to do that for FIDE elections?

GM Mikhail Golubev, Ukraine
I think that the forthcoming elections is a test for FIDE on democracy and effectiveness. But the present election system is far from optimal. In my opinion, it would be more correct to weigh each federation's vote proportional to a number of players representing a particular federation in the FIDE rating list.

Reactions to Yurij Vasiliev's article

Johan, Copenhagen, Denmark
Thank you. The article from Yurij Vasiliev speaks for itself as a great example of the level of thinking symptomatic of the Kirsan camp. Any rational person from an enlightened part of the world should be able to see the utter meaninglessness of his "arguments". I find it insulting that he has the audacity to use George Orwell in this context where his argument has *nothing* to do with Animal Farm and where Kirsan Ilyumzhinovich is a prime example of the kind of totalitarian ruler Orwell warned about in that book and others. Ironic indeed. The chess world is in a sad state if these people are really allowed to win.

George Simon, Lodi, NJ
When a Kirsan's crony brings in "Animal Farm" to support plutocracy, you know that something is really rotten in the chess kingdom. So, Mr. Vasiliev, how does "1 person - 1 vote, 1,000,000 persons - also 1 vote" translates into democracy?

John Cox, London
Why do you put up idiotic propaganda such as Levy's stuff? There's nothing more 'democratic' about one country, one vote, as compared to one registered individual, one vote. If your contributors can't write more sensibly than this there's no point in publishing their scribblings. Let alone Mr Vasiliev. I assume though you've put his stuff up on the grounds that it speaks for itself and condemns him for an apparatchik without requiring comment.

Greg Koster, Chicago, USA
George Orwell must be rolling in his grave to hear his name invoked in defense of FIDE's "democratic" one-country-one-vote format. No moderately well-educated high-school senior would make such a simple mistake.

François-Xavier Priour, Fontainebleau, France
I sent the following message Chess Fidelity: I'd like to react to Yuriy Vasiliev's Orwellian analogy regarding FIDE politics, although I'm fairly convinced that it is pure rhetoric, ridden with bad faith. True democracy is "one MAN, one vote". Currently, as a French chess player, I am being disregarded in favour of non-existent Virgin Island players. It is very fitting that Mr Vasiliev should take the example of FIFA, one of the most obviously corrupt bodies managing one of the most spectacularly corrupt modern sports, which is only normal given the huge amounts of money involved. In FIFA, as in IOC, small countries votes are for sale, it's as simple as that. Professional football is run by business interests, not democracy. So is chess, where a wealthy, fairly unknown individual has been able to seize and retain power without real resistance, regardless of the objective merits of his policies. The list of countries supporting each ticket is enough for me to make up my mind... except that I will have no say in the election.

Christos Koutsabelas, Athens
The absurdity of the recently publicized article of Y. Vasiliev should not be unanswered by chess world. In his article, no matter how I tried, I did not succeed in tracing any arguments. Instead, the text was full of rhetorical exaggerations, glittering generalities and one totally unsound allegory based on G.Orwell's novel. Moreover I cannot help characterizing his writing style as deliberately propagandistic. For example the frequency of the use of the name of the Orwell, fits impressively well in the definition of the propagandistic technique of "transfer", which is "a device by which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept" (from Institute of Propaganda Analysis). Or equivalently the paradigm of the very successful organization of FIFA reminds me the the rhetoric technique of bandwagon by which orator tries to exploit the natural desire of audience to be on the winning side (who of us wouldn't want FIDE to be as popular as FIFA?). Without doubt I feel that I can extend more my analysis of the nature and the scope of his article, nevertheless I think that my point is clear. I speculate that the publication of this article by ChessBase stems by a desire to prove its impartionality on the upcoming Fide election. If this is the case I respect it. Should I assume that the title "A lesson in democracy" entails a bit of irony?

Jens Christensen, Copenhagen, Denmark
What I think is wrong with Mr. Vasiliev’s argument is that he finds it democratic for one country to have one vote. Now I ask you, dear reader, which would you find the more democratic: one vote per country (no matter the size) or one vote per human being. If you did not answer the latter I suspect that you really have no idea what democracy is about.

What got me off the chair was Yuriy Vasiliev’s comparison to Animal Farm, which to me seems completely warped and downright wrong, is obviously only written because he favors Mr. Ilyumzhinov and, at the moment, the one country one vote system seems to do so too. But doesn’t the one country one vote system make some people “more equal” than other? Doesn’t it exactly give vastly more power to the 20 or so chess players from the Virgin Islands than the thousands (millions?) of chess players in Russia. Well it certainly seems so to me.

Also Mr. Vasiliev’s comparison to FIFA seems well out of place in a discussion on the democracy of an institution such as FIDE. I don’t think anyone have ever accused FIFA of being particularly democratic and wouldn’t it be more suitable to compare with an actual democratic institution, such as the European Parliament. How about we compare with the “most democratic country in the world”, namely USA. When USA chooses a president, do they do it on the premises of “one state one vote”? Do they give Alaska one vote and California the same one vote? I think we can all agree that that would just be utterly ridiculous. If they did so, it would be very easy for a majority of people to be overruled by a minority. Therefore each state is naturally given a number of electoral votes according to how many people live in it.

Does Belgium have the same number of seats in the European Parliament as Germany does? Again it seems very logical and democratic that they have a number of seats corresponding to the population, but if you had to go by Mr. Vasiliev’s logic this makes the German citizen “more equal” than the Belgian ditto.

Mr. Levy states in his article that the reason the current FIDE system is the way it is, is because... (drum roll) “that is the way it is”! Wow!! What an argument. I wonder if Apartheid in South Africa would have been overthrown if Mr. Levy had been in charge of the opposition. Or communism in the Soviet Union. Or Franco in Spain. I do agree with his reasons why it is probably never going to change but if you just lean back and accept things the way they are we’d all still be living in stone caves (and chess wouldn’t have been invented at all). Things being difficult to change is no excuse for complacency.

What many people seem to get wrong, is that FIDE is a democratic institution. It is not. Essentially it is, like FIFA and any other sports organization, a business. It is written nowhere that a sports organization has to be democratic. Each individual organization has to judge what structure is best for the development of it’s particular sport and implement this into their organization. I think we would all like democracy and transparency in FIDE, but in which specific way it is implemented I will let other people decide.

The way FIDE has been run in the last ten years or so is not very good. Not because of the electoral system but because of a president, who would probably have been elected no matter what system was used. Mr. Ilyumzhinov seems to treat FIDE as his own little toy. He may have put a lot of personal money into chess but I believe that an honest and respectable governing body would be able to attract much more money than the relatively mediocre amount (in the big picture) the current president has contributed.

Jean-Michel Laprise, Montreal
Both the "one country - one vote" system and "one player - one vote" (or "one grandmaster - one vote") are legitimate expressions of democracy. It is true, though, as FIFA, the CIO and other "one country - one vote" sporting federations have shown, that such an arrangement is fertile ground for corruption, with smaller countries or ones with less democratic oversight from their chess-playing population or freely-elected governement easy targets. On the other hand, as David Levy says, once you give someone the vote there is no way he will allow you to take it away. We must accept that this is the present FIDE and the only option to change it is to create a breakaway federation, which seems like a strange thing to do now that the rift is finally on its way to being healed.

J. Caruso, Boston, USA
Regarding the articles on democracy and FIDE: I thought that "democracy" meant "rule by the people"? What is the basis of the claim that one country one vote is more democratic than one person one vote?

Graeme Cree, Austin, TX
In the last US election, California had 55 electoral votes, Delaware had 3. According to Yuri Vasiliev, the system would be fairer and more democratic if both had one vote only. I doubt he'd get many takers on that idea. Vasiliev's error is in believing that the purpose of the system is to make things fair for politicians, rather than for the people they represent. Why should a politician from Zalagasa have less power than one from Verybiggia, just because the Verybiggian delegate represents 10,000 players and the Zalagasan one doesn't represent any. All politicians are created equal, you know! There's something incredibly ironic about the fact that he chose an example from Animal Farm to illustrate his "Of the government, by the government, for the government" viewpoint.

Khachatryan Andranik, Yerevan, Armenia
One of the most remarkable discussions on democracy is in Bertrand Russell's "The history of western philosophy", when he talks about Plato's utopia. Democracy, as opposed to monarchy, anarchy, etc., expesses the opinion of the society in the best way. The best property of democracy is that it ALMOST ALWAYS works, as Russell points out. It is arguable whether the felons, war heroes and doctors of science should have equal votes. But the fact is that history knows examples of great warriors or great minds making great mistakes. While most people would agree that the more clever people should have more influence in the tricky job of governing, it is also obvious that it is even more tricky to decide who is actually more clever or more prepared decide in government.

So, the system where everyone is equally weighted has been adopted by the most developed countries.
Meanwhile, let's note that there are also non-democratic ways of governance too! The elections of the president of a company is not a democratic in terms that the voters are heavily weighted - one person owning 51% of portions decides everything. But the voters are humans, not the portions. Could someone imagine the enterprise where everyone who has any number of shares had exactly one vote?

Democracy is not a incontestable form of making a decision. It works in case of electing a president of a country, but it might not work when electing a president of FIDE. Why? First of all, because laws of large numbers don't work when there are just 160 voters, although they do when there are 10,000,000 of them. Secondly, someone electing a president usually wants something to change for the better. Or remain unchanged. But in the case of countries hat have no rated players or no direct interest in chess simply makes the delegate a target of manipulations. HE DOES NOT have any objective criteria for choosing between candidates. His country will gain or lose nothing if all the rated chess tournaments get cancelled or if all the proceeding chess olympiads are held without Jewish players. I think that absence of common interests makes this sort of election pointless. Illumzhinov will further ruin professional chess if he gets elected.

Nathan Bauman, Seoul, South Korea
I was disappointed in Levy's rather personal attack on Schultz, and on his misunderstanding, if not outright misrepresentation, of "democracy." Democracy is about people, and in this case the people are being disenfranchised by the one-country, one vote system. It takes some chutzpah for Levy to claim "democracy" on the side of the incumbent when the latter is the sole autocrat in his own fiefdom of Kalmykia within the now largely undemocratic state of Russia. Furthermore, when one looks at the incumbent's supporting countries, most of these are countries without democratic political systems. Levy's attack on Scultz's excellent analysis looks like the work of a partisan grouch.

In the case of Yuriy Vasiliev I think he is confusing the issue of animals. To take my present country as an example: it has a chess federation that's been almost completely nonfunctional, holds no nationally or FIDE-rated tournaments, and sends no team to the Chess Olympiad. Yet this facade of a chess federation, provided it pays its dues to FIDE, will have equal the voting influence as Mr. Vasiliev's own native country, with all of its tournaments and chessplayers. This is not democracy in action. The situation should be recognized for what it is: a recipe for corruption and vote-buying. Mr. Vasiliev may have good intentions, but I believe he is writing solely as a partisan for the incumbent's team, a team that represents a lot of countries that (a) do not have democratic practices, and in some cases (b) do not even have any meaningful amount of real chess activity.

There are all sorts of possible solutions, but I think people should agree that there is a problem.

David Herz, Paris, France
I suppose it is normal that Mr. Yurii Vasiliev would be supporting Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. The saying birds of a feather flock together is quite appropriate here since he coyly uses Animal Farm to further his point of view. If we examine his FIFA analogy of one country one vote it is nonetheless interesting to consider where the eight presidents of FIFA hail from: three from England, two from France, one from Belgium, one from Brazil, and the latest from Switzerland. So I hardly think Kalmykia is in the same league as Switzerland, they might consider handing the office to a more dignified power. Naturally it is a question of competence, not origin, and the only objection I have to the present President is that despite ChessBase's resolutely neutral stand, all is not roses in Kalmykia, especially not for dissenting voices of citzens, journalists and others. The fact that he has given so much of his money to chess and that he organized the much desired Kramnik-Topalov match should not lead us to blind ourselves to the unsavory aspects of President Ilyumzhinov's reign. Check out The Curse of Kirsan, as well as a recent New Yorker article Michael Specter's "Planet Kirsan: Inside a Chess Master's Fiefdom", The New Yorker, April 24, 2006. But money talks, and I suppose a great deal of it drowns out all other voices.

Albrecht von der Lieth, Münster, Germany
After the recent articles that tried to defend the current FIDE election format, one of those not even shying from using Orwell's 1984 to make it's point, I can't help but get two things off my chest. First, the literal meaning of the word "democratic" is "rule of the people" (gr. "demos" = "people", "society"; "krateo" = "to be powerful", "to rule"). It follows that FIDE is clearly not democratic. It's members, the individual chess players, do not have equal vote each: a chess player from a federation consisting of five players would have a "shared vote" of 0.2 in the upcomming election, whereas a player from a country with a larger federation (let's say 1000 players) would enjoy "shared vote" of only 0.001.

Secondly, to utilize George Orwell's "1984" (which was written with Stalin's regime in mind!) is a) very bad taste; b) very poor discussion discipline; and c) very poor with regards to substantial argumentative content. Using such disgusting polemics to counter discussions about the format of an existing electorial system is by far closer to what Orwell had in mind than any idea about change ever could be.

Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
Your recent articles on the upcoming FIDE election unfortunately have become 'off topic'. The main issue isn't whether one should support democracry as a principle or if democracy based on representation by states or by the number of players is best. The nature of an organization does not intrinsically make it a good or bad organization. There have been benign, benevolent and even enlightened dictators. There certainly have been corrupt presidents and prime ministers in democratically and freely elected states. The issue is that the current FIDE regime is corrupt and has not served the interests of chess as much as their own interests and those of their cronies. The whole democracy discussion is simply off topic.

David Collins, Nyack, New York, USA
A relatively simple solution on handling the upcoming FIDE elections is to allow each FIDE member to cast a vote, as opposed to each member country. The members are the ones most affected by the decisions made within FIDE; it seems only fitting that those affected are the ones to vote for their representatives. The Orwellian references in mind as I type this, I do indeed believe that countries with more active FIDE members deserve more say in who is representing them. As the article by Mr. Vasiliev is entititled "A Lesson in Democracy", I encourage him to take the idea to it's conclusion and consider that "one member, one vote" is much more democratic than "one member country, one vote". In fact it appears quite obvious as to which system is fairer to the members of FIDE.

Niels Lauritsen, Kampala, Uganda
How pathetic, this article is trying to justify that all votes are equal. Some of the very small chess federations are extremely vulnerable to persuation like offers of air tickets, descrete envelopes with cash, and forgiveness of unpaid FIDE membership fees, if they otherwise will vote as the stomach of their chairman or delegate tells them. This "incentive" practice helps to keep the elected guy in office.

Seng Teoh, Penang, Malaysia
For Bessel's team, it is a complete waste of time to argue that the one country one vote system is flawed. That system is an unalterable fact of life for the next election. If Bessel truly wants to win this global election, he must put absolute 100% focus to obtaining the majority first, i.e. the support of the countries that he does not yet have support, and if necessary, play the same game as Ilyumzhinov does. Otherwise he is guaranteed to lose, as many of the smaller nations simply do not think and work the same way as he does. This much is obvious to the undecideds.

For example, if I was a small nation, then my reation to the position paper by Bessel Kok's team on the next World Championship Cycle would be "So what? What's in it for me (WIIFM)?" A personal answer is probably nil. In fact, I would argue such a position paper has an opposite effect, and is detrimental to Bessel Kok's campaign at the global level. Why? Because if there's nothing for me here, I (as a small nation) will vote elsewhere where there's a chance to receive something!

Further the position paper talks a lot about money, but it is clear the bulk of the monies would only go to a relatively few of the top chess nations (remember there are over 140 country voters). That already alienates the vast majority of (voting) countries around the world.

In my opinion, to win the election, Bessel must change his approach and talk (either directly or indirectly, publicly or privately, any means necessary) to each nation in the same wavelength as Ilyumzhinov does, or he is sure to lose the election.

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