June 16, 2009

How To Fake An Electoral Victory

Ahmadinejad clearly has got a lot to learn about how to stage an electoral victory. If you are going to fake an election, you can't just go old school like the Soviet Union used to do and declare margins of victory over 90%. Why? It doesn't work any more. You know how you can tell? They are fighting in the streets of Tehran.

How obviously did the election results in Iran have to be bogus in order to cause demonstrations and international denunciation? Ahmadinejad claimed 67% of the popular vote. Clearly, that number is so high as to be universally regarded as bogus. Would the results have been the same if Ahmedinejad had beaten Mousavi by say 51% to 44% with the remainder going to other candidates? Would the results have been any different if the results were not announced for 4 to 8 hours after the election closed, rather than even before they could have possibly been counted and verified?

One of the oldest despot tactics is to claim a resounding victory in a rigged election. It's intended to lend an air of international and domestic legitimacy to an otherwise illegitimate regime. But fooling the public and fooling the world has become increasingly difficult in the age of the Internet, and wireless technology.

It's become far trickier for tinpot dictators in these times to write a credible storyline for their own victories. Many have had to drive down their victory margins to a level that potentially undermines their mandate for total and supreme command. Although it's not universally true.

Kim Jong Il 'won' re-election in March 2009 with 100% of the popular vote with 100% voter turnout. A stunning victory to say the least. With support like that, maybe he should rule the planet. He could pose a real challenge to Obama.

The Castro brothers won another election in 2008, this time Raul Castro, not Fidel won the job with a 99.4% support level and 95% turnout. Clearly a legitimate victory when compared to the 100% Jong Il clearly faked.

Further down the despot chain, you start to see more 'credible' deceit start to creep in.

Hugo Chavez, having tried unsuccessfully to win a constitutional reform to allow him to remain in power indefinitely, had to lower the bar for his victory. Having won an election in 2006 with 63% of the vote, he tried immediately in 2007 to get the Venezuelan constitution changed to ensure himself an unending Presidency. He lost gaining only 49% support. He went about tightening his grip on the media in order to be able to perpetrate the big lie when he tried the referendum again. In February 2009, on his re-try, that margin had fallen to 54% in support of his reform.

Perhaps the real master at this is Vladimir Putin. He didn't change his countries Constitution (yet). After winning re-election in 2004 with his strong-arm tactics and a 71% support level, he backed off in 2008 and inserted a puppet replacement so that his power could continue from behind the scenes. There's no obvious impropriety there. It's as ingenious as it is evil.

Bringing it all back to Iran, as time passes and as people become more interconnected via technology, deceptions become harder and harder to perpetrate. There are only two possible outcomes of the opening up of societies like Iran to the truth. The first is more freedom and openness. Perhaps real elections might follow. With a very young populace, it could mean more alignment with the West eventually. And that would be a good thing. Secondly, there's a more sinister possibility. A brutal repression of the people of Iran that might make the Chinese disgrace at Tiannamen Square look like a family picnic. When a despot's power is threatened, especially despots', they can lash out violently. It would mean further isolation of the nation and a descent into some very dark days for the people of Iran.

What the country needs now is a strong international condemnation and demands for a new, internationally monitored election. There's supposedly a risk of causing Iran to re-ignite the insurgency in Iraq, but if a new election were demanded, it would give the Mullahs that run the theocracy enough to keep their hands full trying to maintain their grip own on power. It's a roll of the dice that the US government should be more than willing to take. Shaking up the Middle East now, is much more an opportunity than a threat. Unfortunately, I trust the Obama administration to get this one wrong too.

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