Election-monitoring has traditionally been linked to the events on Election Day, determining whether the process was fraudulent or fair. But as authoritarian regimes get keener on their impression abroad, they are becoming more sophisticated in the methods they use to stay in power. Last year’s elections in Ukraine and Venezuela are two examples investigated in a recent Freedom House article.
The strategy is to “control the ballot with professional finesse, permitting the opposition to compete, but preparing the terrain and distorting the process so thoroughly that the leader’s defeat is next to impossible” according to Freedom House.
Various methods used by the two regimes in the eve of Election Day are presented in the article. How state authorities deal with the media, both state owned and private outlets, is a key factor in modern election rigging. As the U.S. Congressman David Dreier commented on the results of the Ukrainian election observations: “a country that removes independent television from the air (…) is not an example of a country progressing in its democratic development.”
In the Venezuelan case, each candidate’s campaign in the presidential election was allowed to have a 3-minutes commercial ad per day in each network. Meanwhile, the government was able to run as many ads as it liked, promoting its work in a manner hard to distinguish from the President’s campaign ads. Additionally, President Chávez on a daily basis commanded all the TV and radio networks to broadcast his speeches, in average 30 minutes per day during the election campaign, according to an article by Francisco Toro in The New Republic.
Another popular method for authoritarian leaders to boost themselves is the use of administrative resources in election campaigns. Senior U.S. official Otto Reich, who served as Ambassador to Venezuela 1986-1989, describes how Chávez used public transportations “to take thousands of government employees to his rallies during working hours.” The Ambassador further describes how Chávez promised three million voters new housing, the only thing these people had to do was to ask the authorities to provide them with it.
The International Republican Institute, IRI, further presented how the tax authorities became an important tool of the Ukrainian government to harass independent media as well as the political opposition prior to the election.
Fortunately, election observers as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, in the Ukrainian case, increasingly focus their attention on what’s happening in countries prior to Election Day. But what still needs to be improved, according to Freedom House, is the way foreign media and governments understands this new way of rigging elections.
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