Somebody out there in academia should really do a study of how various authoritarian states throughout history have continued to organize elections, despite a glaring lack of democracy. For some, the election has always been an exercise in mockery – leaders such as Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, and Saddam Hussein always seemed to enjoy impossible margins of victory with over 90% of the vote in their favor. Other countries, which may be described less as authoritarian and more like adjective-laden democracies, practice a much more subtle manipulation of the process – often focused on barring any competition and other measures to skew the level playing field – and end up with more reasonable, yet always predictable, margins of victory.
Hugo Chavez’s regime in Venezuela, for example, may have mastered the art of rigging elections without having to tamper with the vote – simply remove all checks and balances, campaign with the full resources of the state, use the judiciary to arrest opponents, and disqualify any other candidates who pose the biggest threat (such as Leopoldo Lopez). Other countries, such as Singapore, play up an impressive democracy facade while laying down a brutal and draconian legal assault against even the smallest protest or attempt by the people to participate in the democratic practice, with Dr. Chee Soon Juan being one of the primary victims.
This bring us to today’s editorial in The New York Times,which points out the sad impossibility of Boris Nemtsov’s legalchallenge against the election results in Sochi. How could it ever bepossible to prove election fraud when the courts, the secret police,and the media are all working together, the editorial asks. The piecealso goes on to mention the impressive and hopeful story of AntonChumachenko, the United Russia candidate who renounced his own electionvictory as fradulent, and insisted that he wanted to win his positionin a real contest (the Washington Post had a great article on this some weeks ago, which I had been hoping to write about).
Whether or not it was sweetly naive of Chumachenko to believe that the elections in Russia today featured real competition, or whether his entrance on the party ticket was subversive way to advance changes in the country (which is how Nikita Belykh sees it), I believe that if more Russian politicians, ministry officials, judges, and policemen would similarly have the bravery to take a stand on the principles of their duties, anything could be possible.
But that seems unlikely so long as the Kremlin continues to insist upon control economy-like targets of voting quotas expected out of the regional offices of United Russia. The Times editorial writes:
The Post quoted a political scientist who said the Kremlin sets votegoals for local officials that are far too high to achieve withouttampering, just like the old Soviet-era factory quotas. There are alsotough laws against tampering with elections. In other words, the expertsaid, do what you have to do, but don’t get caught. So somebody mayhave to be slapped.
Citizens such as Chumachenko have proved that reasonable debate can still occur within the current Russian system, and, as such, it would be in the interests of him and others to demand that the leadership put an end to this double standard of voting quotas + technically pure elections. I myself would be very curious to see what kinds of innovative leaders and ideas could come forward if the Kremlin had the courage to take the boot off the people’s neck, and alow some space for genuine competitive democracy to function.