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|Written by Kendall R. Giberson|
|Tuesday, 02 September 2008 19:00|
There is an old Cold War joke that goes something like this: "Did you hear about the burglars who broke into the Kremlin last week? They stole the results for the next three elections!" One may go ahead and laugh, but scenarios such as this seemingly occur when developing countries experiment with their own brands of democracy. It is quite commonplace for the ruling party of the day to announce open and free elections, and then either tailor the rules to its own preferences, make up rules as it goes along, or just completely ignore the rules altogether. Changing governments in the developing world is more often than not a bloody affair. Corrupt regimes use rigged elections to hold onto power much the same way that the house uses the odds to hold onto your money at a casino.
Let's look at some recent examples:
Zimbabwe held a Presidential and Parliamentary election on March 29, 2008. The initial results showed that no Presidential candidate received a majority, as incumbent Robert Mugabe found himself trailing challenger Morgan Tsvangirai with 47.9 % of the vote to 43.2% of the vote. A second round of voting was held on June 27, 2008, but Tsvangirai withdrew one week prior, due to his supporters being harassed throughout the country.
The elections saw Mugabe's supporters perpetuating violence against their Tsvangirai counterparts, including beatings, kidnappings, and breaking up a party rally on June 22. Tsvangirai had to take refuge at the Dutch embassy, and the next day his party's headquarters was raided by the police and 40 people were arrested for what was officially termed "health reasons." The BBC reported instances of Mugabe's party militias forcing people out of their homes to go out and vote on election day. This time, Mugabe won 85.5 % of the vote and was declared the official winner. On July 2, 220 Zimbabweans who had supported Tsvangirai sought refuge at the US Embassy.
The Puppet Master
At the end of his second term as Russian President, Vladimir Putin was riding a wave of popularity but could not serve again due to the two-term limit set out in the constitution. Following in the footsteps of his Bolshevik predecessors, Putin installed himself as the de facto ruler by appointing his people into key positions just before his term ended. A series of moves were made in his final days as President that gave the Prime Ministerial position more power, including having all of the regional governors report to the Prime Minister instead of the President. Using the election results of December 2007 where his United Russia party won 64.2% of the vote, Putin manoeuvred himself into that role, not missing a beat. He probably did not even move into a new office, so he could continue his business of prosecuting journalists and continuing military campaigns in the Caucuses.
The regime of President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus has had a history of playing number games to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. Originally a "sorta" democracy, Lukashenko's government held a referendum in 1995 that gave the President more powers, which Lukashenko used to oust the old Parliament and appoint a new one that contained only his supporters (additionally, he had the Parliament buildings closed for renovations). By 2004, Belarus held a referendum that reversed the constitutional provision regarding Presidential term limits. The ballots were already marked. In the most recent election in 2006, exit polls reported that Lukashenko had 84% of the popular vote. These results were announced 8 hours before polling stations closed. Oh, and one should note, the polling groups were government-controlled. Lukashenko actually publicly stated that the official number was lowered from 93.5 % to 84 % to appease Western observers.
We Hold Elections, So We Must Be A Democracy!
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak held onto power through four elections. However, Egyptian democracy did not allow for anyone to legally run against the President, as the People's Assembly elected the President, and the election ballots basically asked if the voters agreed with the choice. A soldier would look at the ballot before placing it in the box, and if the voter did not agree, the voter would be led away to think hard about his decision. In 2005, Egypt held a multi-candidate Presidential election, but Mubarak's article controlled the election processes, security and the state media. Some foreign news outlets said Mubarak used government vehicles to drive civil servants to polls while handing out money to voters in poor areas. Guess who won?
The Most Popular President Ever
Before meeting his demise at the end of a rope, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein enjoyed two of the most lopsided electoral victories in history. Of course, this is a case of dictatorship run amok, but anyone would envy the kinds of numbers Saddam put up. "Official" vote tallies gave him 99.96% of the vote in 1995 and 100% of the vote in 2002, just as the United States and the "Coalition of the willing" were preparing to bomb Baghdad to kingdom come. Perhaps the American President had just a tinge of jealousy that the Iraqi president's last election win was not decided by dangling chads in an electoral district full of retired people in Basra.
So there you have it. One bright spot in all of this is that many of these same tactics were used by politicians in so-called "advanced democracies" such as Canada, the United States and Great Britain just a few decades ago. Governing parties held onto power through electoral tampering and intimidating opposition rallies. Candidates would influence voters by handing out gifts such as alcohol pilfered from state-controlled stores. In the history of democracy, it appears that the developing world is going through the same growing pains as the developed world.