It’s always been somewhat baffling to me why authoritarian rulers and dictators go through the motions of sham elections.
The voters inside the country know better than anyone else that the elections aren’t a real choice, and in many cases, boycotting the vote or voting for the ‘wrong’ candidate, if a choice is even permitted, can carry perilous results.
International observers aren’t really fooled, either. With the proven work of folks like the National Democratic Institute and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, there’s a 21st century international standard for free and fair elections, and the NDA, OSCE and other similar groups have a thoroughgoing process for certifying the sanctity of elections in developing democracies.
Furthermore, in the world of social media and 24-hour news, it’s harder to carry out the kind of widespread fraud. That doesn’t mean elections are perfect. In Venezuela, the collapse of the state, governing institutions and chavismo mean that a totally fair election is almost impossible. But there’s nonetheless a limit — even with a decade’s worth of dirty tricks, Nicolás Maduro managed only a narrow win in April 2013, for example.
So why is Syrian president Bashar al-Assad pushing forward with an election on June 3?
In case you were wondering about the outcome, here’s a chart of every presidential election in Syria since Hafez al-Assad came to power in a military coup in 1971:
In each of the prior ‘elections,’ Syrian voters were presented with a yes-or-no choice on the incumbent, either Hafez al-Assad or, since his death in 2000, his son, Bashar al-Assad. Continue reading Why is Syria holding a presidential election in the middle of a civil war?