politics, world

How To Steal an Election

There have been a number of recent attempt to steal elections. Of course not all have succeed, and probably, not all have been known. Though I don’t have much advice about how to keep your fixing from being known, I have some ideas about how you can succeed despite it being known.

First, there are some initial conditions that are very helpful in making rigging possible. They include:

  • A corrupt bureaucracy to help with the fixing. Without at least a small force dedicated to the autocrat, he or she has almost no hope of meaningfully changing the elections results. There must be a secretive and relatively powerful force, traditionally the army, who is willing to help. It is for this reason that incumbents are usually much more able to rig an election than outside candidates.
  • A world unwilling or unable to intervene on behalf of justice. Fortunately, the default mode of the international community today is non-intervention. Unless or until your rigging has resulted in the deaths of over 500 people, the rest of the world is unlikely to be terribly concerned that you’ve rigged an election. Even if your rigging results in the death of that number, mediation is much more likely than any movement of force. As such, you can expect to keep at least a little personal peace and security even if you’ve been a thoroughgoing tyrant.
  • A pacified public. This isn’t completely necessary, but that it helps can not be doubted. There are generally two way to pacify the public in your country, love or fear. Perhaps the best way to pacify though, is a little of both. That’s secret has been working solidly for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party for years.

Now we should note that there’s more than one way to steal an election. Simply changing the results in counting can if few enough people notice. For our purposes, as was the case recently in Zimbabwe, we’ll assume that the opposition has some legitimate claim to victory.

  1. Do everything in your power to delay the announcement of final results. If you’ve not released the results a few days after the election, consider claiming that there were irregularities that merit recounting. Though the opposition may claim to know the results, make sure that you don’t let anyone in the government either agree or disagree with them. This allows you to demand a run-off or a re-vote.
  2. It’ll help to use some coercion. If the election didn’t go your way, be sure to rough up at least a few people who are responsible for this. It’s best to make sure that you can’t be directly linked to the violence, but that everyone understands that you’re responsible. This could be especially useful in turning the tide if you succeed in getting a run-off.
  3. Be sure it’s not to outrage the world that prefers to be uninvolved. They’ll probably do their best to look responsible to those concerned in their home country, but will be very reluctant to intervene. Be aware that if your violence–or other coercion methods–become too well known they may be forced to intervene. This is bad for you and uncomfortable for them.
  4. It’ll help, too, if those who might intervene fear that you’ll create greater instability if you lose. If they see you as dangerous or unstable, they’re much more likely to fear you and let you remain in power, however disastrous this is for your country or its citizens.
  5. Once the world makes clear it’s intention to look away, (re)inaugurate yourself. They’ll forget soon enough and you’ll be free to rule for however long you claim you need. Tyranny will have triumphed again.
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Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: Free and Fair Elections

Back sooner than expected, our roving reporter, Steve Finch, has another story to be filed under “that’s something that would really benefit humanity.”

openDemocracy (ASA)Putin on Banner

SANTA MONICA, CA — The YZ Prize Foundation has announced a second interesting initiative to help the world to move toward stability. Unlike the YZ Prize for Peace, this one strikes straight at their vision of government: free and fair elections.

In light of the blatantly rigged elections in Russia last week, and the just-resolved election mess in Kenya, the Foundation has pledged that they will dedicate a significant amount of money for elections that are externally verified to have been completely free and fair.

“Obviously, we were spurred on by what had happened in Kenya,” said the chairman. The recently brokered peace deal between the opposition leader Raila Odinga and the sitting President Mwai Kibaki did satisfy the Foundation, but they were deeply saddened that the December election–which most outside observers agreed was rigged–touched off violence and chaos that left at least 1000 dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, and tarnished the reputation of what had been one of the jewels of Africa.

And though the YZ Prize Foundation was glad to see little violence over Russia’s election, they were distressed by the implications. “It looked to us,” the chairman said, “as though the will of the people was clearly subverted. It looks to us like outright authoritarianism and we can’t stand by and let such shams continue.”

The plan is relatively simple, the Foundation has offered about $100 million that would be split between the sitting executive (either a president or prime minister) and his country if the elections are declared to be free and fair. Anticipating some vexing questions, the chairman offered this tidbit on eligibility: “Surely, we can’t afford to hand out $100 million for every clean election. Stable, open, accountable democracies are thankfully numerous, and so we were forced to make restrictions. To qualify for this prize, the country has to have a history of fixed elections, to be seen to be at great risk for such fixing, or to be a new democracy.”

The Foundation has formed a committee that will decide before every election whether or not the country qualifies. The chairman was forthright that forming and maintaining this committee would be difficult but said that there is “no other way.”

Contacted for comment, Steven Jones at the Center for Democracy said that he thought the prize was a good idea, though he has some concerns. “Though I don’t think this is likely to cause more rigging in the interest of winning the prize money in the future, as some have suggested, I do think there are risks. The most prominent of these is the possibility that once they know they don’t qualify, they’ll go ahead and rig it.”

The Foundations has, however, been prompt in responding to this issue. They’ve since decided that the eligibility decision will be made and announced after the elections have been held. Releasing the statement, “We’re hoping to address the very valid criticism of Mr. Jones and others. It’s in everyone’s interest that the prize remains a possibility for all countries until all elections everywhere are deemed free, open, and fair.”

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politics, world

A Good Week For International Change

IrotzabalFidel Castro

If there are four big pieces of international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these. And if there were for big pieces of good international news this week, it would be hard to make them anything but these:

  1. The Kofi Annan-led mediation team seems to be getting close to a real resolution to the months-long violence in Kenya that has left over one thousand dead.
  2. Kosovo, a former province of Serbia under United Nations control for nearly a decade, declared independence. Little–though sadly not none–violence or meaningful disruption followed this long-feared move.
  3. In a largely symbolic but long anticipated move, Fidel Castro has announced that he will officially resign his posts of president and commander-in-chief of Cuba.
  4. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appear willing and able to accept the results of Monday’s election, preventing the type of chaos that was unleashed in Kenya when Mr. Mbeki refused to accept the legitimate results of the election in his country.

Surely this list isn’t all sunshine and daisies. There’s still a long road toward peace and stability that Kenya must travel before it regains some of the stability and sheen it had less than a year ago. Kosovo still has a large Serbian population in it which will likely continue to cause disruption. That will also be exacerbated by Serbia’s unwilling to accept the legality of the fracture. While Fidel’s Castro role in Cuba’s day-to-day activities has clearly diminished, it’s hard to see Cuba becoming a free and open country while he’s still alive and his brother retains power. Though Pakistan’s begun the transition back to civilian governance, it’s still a mess of country with large ungovernable portions. The legislative future is still far from smooth while the newly-elected parliment is to be checked by a president it doesn’t like but can’t impeach.

Indeed, too, there are large problems in many other places around the world. Civil wars still rage, the rule of law is still a dream in far too many countries, totalitarian leaders still have meaningful influence in far too much of the world.

But seen from a distance–the only way I know how to see international affairs–this has been a good week. Certainly we’d need many good weeks like this to see a meaningful trend toward openness, democracy, and prosperity sweeping over the world. Probably we’d really need something closer to many years like this week for us to reach something like satisfaction about the way the world is now.

But we should be glad for what we’ve gotten this week. Too rarely does so much good news come without a break of the bad, the terrible, or the catastrophic. Though I have no idea what tomorrow will bring these countries and all the others in desperate need of change, I’m thankful for what progress we’ve had so far.

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american society, politics, USA

Watching America’s Game

IowaPolitics.comObama Campaigning in Iowa

It’s chaos. It’s a circus. It’s a money parade. It’s undemocratic. It’s pointless. It’s cheap drama. It’s the real American Idol.

That’s right everyone, it’s the middle of America’s presidential politicking season.

I could make a list, but I doubt I need to. You know that many people–in America, but especially in stable parliamentary systems–find this whole mess in which America is now submerged mildly absurd. Myself, I fluctuate between hearty agreement with their bafflement and tut-tutting consternation with the foolishness of the critique.

First, a few points. The way the Democratic party’s contest is held in Iowa is absurd, perhaps even undemocratic. The priority given to Iowa, New Hampshire, (now) Nevada, and South Carolina is, at best, unfair. The rush to have the earliest nominating contest has, this year, been harmfully chaotic but is a direct consequence of the truth of the last sentence. Too much money is raised and spent in the quest for a party’s nomination.

Having made all the necessary concessions to critiques, I’ll now heartily and blindly defend America’s system.

The most important point is that the system I defend is open. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim it’s always democratic, but it usually is. And open and democratic are better than most parliamentary systems can claim in nominating their candidates for leadership.

It’s no secret that Gordon Brown was to be Tony Blair’s successor from the first day that Labour took power in Britain. And it’s also no secret that only politicians determined that point. Lay members of the party had no say in who would lead the party. It’s like the way American Vice Presidents are selected–behind closed doors with unknown calculations being made.

But that’s also the way that parliamentary parties pick their leaders, and thus their analog of President. In America, a candidate has to win the support of a plurality of his party’s members, and then a plurality of the country’s electoral college voters (a chastisable system in itself, but not our topic here). This seems to me far more democratic than a system whose candidates are selected by a small group of full-time politicians whose party is than approved by the people.

In America’s system, a candidate must be liked and chosen by normal people. They can’t merely call in a small number of favors within the party, they must be chosen as the best candidate by a lot of non-politicians. And I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. This circus may be a dislikable result of a system that tries to give people–normal people–a say, but it gives people a say.

And then there’s this: I find this game we’re playing–however over-moneyed, shallow, and pointless–at least a little bit exhilarating. The result may not always be perfect, but it’s more exciting and democratic than any other system I’ve seen.

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