Tag: electoral fraud

A Tale of Two Protests

The artist Rufina Bazlova has used traditional embroidery to describe current events in Belarus

This past weekend, two European capitals witnessed large-scale protests. Both of them protested against the government, both carried the flags that once symbolized their state, in both cases the police was involved, and during one of them the crowd was chanting “Putin! Putin!”. If you think the latter happened in Minsk you are sadly mistaken: the crowd in Belarus is much more creative than the Neo-Nazi conspiracy theorists in Berlin. 

The 38,000-strong crowd in Berlin was doing yoga against German Covid containment policies and tried to storm the Reichstag, while the 100,000 Minsk crowd has been protesting for weeks now against mass-scale election fraud and brought a cardboard cockroach as a present to the still clinging to power Alexander Lukashenka. For the record, if you need to wear a bulletproof vest and give a rifle to your underage son, that does not sounds like you have 80% popular support.  

While Putin is not going to save the Berlin protesters from wearing a mask on the train, he can still play a role in the Belarus protests, at least Lukashenka thinks so: they already spoke 5 times on the phone and right now the de facto president of Belarus seems to be on the way to Moscow. Why does Putin care? For the same reason that he cared about the Orange Revolution and Maidan in Ukraine. For once, he is afraid that might happen to him. And secondly, as Alexander Baunov notes, Russian politics suffers from geopolitization of any domestic political action. That means that elections are not about an internal transfer of power, not about feedback between the population and the government, but an act of foreign policy defense, and their results should be treated accordingly. The same applies to freedom of assembly, press, doping investigations, Eurovision, movies, monuments, you name it.  

On top of it, 20 years of Putin have significantly eroded public faith in organic protest. For the past four Putins and 1 Medvedev all Russians heard on TV was the same conspiratorial regime change narrative. Orange Revolution – it’s the West! Georgian revolution – it’s the West! Arab spring – it’s the West! Maidan – it’s the West! According to Levada, 39% of Russians are sure that the mass protests were provoked by “foreign forces” and almost 50% believe the elections in Belarus were mostly fair. Yes, those elections where you had polling workers climbing out the windows with the protocols so the observers don’t catch them falsifying.

The protesters in Belarus, unlike those in Berlin, hope that Russia does not interfere, because by the looks of it, Putin can only be on the one side, and it is not the side that is being tortured in Okrestina police station. Really, the Berlin protestors could really learn a thing or two about governmental oppression from the brave people in Belarus. Russians have also been protesting electoral fraud for years now, but it seems that Putin and his cronies either sincerely believe that every single precinct in a city can have exactly the same numbers or they don’t care that the results are cooked. Luckily, citizens of Belarus care and hopefully, they manage to send their dictator into a long overdue retirement.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times indeed. 


Déjà Vu in Zimbabwe

Polling stations are opening in Zimbabwe, and, if one’s Facebook feed is to be believed, some enthusiastic voters have already spent a few hours queueing (and winter mornings in Zimbabwe are *cold*). Today’s elections are notable for a few reasons: they’re the first elections since extensive state-sponsored violence in 2008; they mark the formal end of the coalition government inaugurated in the aftermath of that violence; and they are the first elections to occur under a brand-spanking-new constitution.  Comparisons to Kenya’s March elections have flown fast and furious.

So what’s new?  Very little.  Indeed, elections in Zimbabwe seem to have taken on an almost eerily repetitive quality.  Once again, opposition leader and former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai is facing off against Robert Mugabe, now 89 and with 33 years in power under his belt (as well as some great quotes).  Once again, the ruling party, ZANU-PF, has instituted a campaign of violence and intimidation against opposition activists and office-holders. Once again, there is evidence of planned electoral manipulation.  Concerns center on the flawed voter registration exercise, which may have left hundreds of thousands of ghost voters on the voting rolls.  And once again, conversation within Zimbabwe tends to find its way back to the interminable Mnangagwa-Mujuru succession struggle within ZANU-PF, now over a decade old.

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How is the Afghanistan Election Model Different?

Today much of the world will be focused on Afghanistan, as that country embarks on its second attempt at a democratic election. With a constant threat of violence from the Taliban, the level of participation has been limited. Also, early reports state that police have been cracking down on journalists so information coming out of Afghanistan has been limited. There are, however, several good sources still operations, and I have put together a short list of useful links for following the election below:

Charli had a very interesting post this morning on possible outcomes of this election. She points to another FP post that asserts a worst case scenario for Afghanistan would be a result similar to that in Iran—a disputed election with accusations of fraud. After the Iranian election we had several lively debates at ZIA on ideas for modeling and predicting the outcome of the Iranian election. Also, NYU faculty member Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s work on using game theory to analyze elections was thoroughly covered over the weekend the New York Times Magazine. Given the apparent power of game theoretic models to predict these processes the question is then: what is Afghanistan’s model?

The immediate and obvious difference between the two countries is the presence of the ISAF, most notable the U.S. military. Given how highly vested the United States is in the outcome of the Afghani election, any model would have to include this force as a key player. More interesting, perhaps, is the internal game being played among the political rivals. No matter the outcome, the declared winner will most certainly have to concede some level of authority to his rivals in order to maintain some semblance of unity among the heavily fractured groups within the country.

Finally, one aspect of this process that is often overlooked, which is a constant point of contention I have heard time and again from friends and former colleagues that have served in Afghanistan, is the underlying tribal dynamics embedded in Afghani political culture. As modelers, particularly those of us who are students of the selectorate model, we often think of elections as competition among an elite set of actors that are attempting to satisfy either a small or large selectorate groups in order to maintain power. The Afghani model, however, may be very different. In this country maintaining power requires balancing the needs of several intertwined tribal groups, with long histories, and subtle relations that span geographies, where their individual utilities for electing a given candidate may be inseparable. That is, one tribal group may wish gain or lose utility as a result of how their vote affects another tribe. As such, is there a way to reconcile the traditional models of power politics with the highly decentralized framework of Afghanistan political landscape?

I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: China Daily


The not-so-twittered revolution

Some comments from a friend of Iranian extraction, who kindly agreed to allow me to repost them here.

As someone who has family members primarily outside Tehran and who has been following the revolt via them, I can say that what drives everything, that intensifies protest, that prevents a calming down of anger is the very clamping down on all press that the conservatives immediately mobilised and which they thought would be effective in suppressing protests.

Rumour has been intensely spreading about everything that it actually results in people in provinces feel they need to do “something”. So before last night (7 people were killed), there were no dead protestors, but people in the provinces were hearing casualties of 14 people, resulting in escalating anger.

There have been all sorts of rumours: that Rezaii (the ultra-conservative candidate) had endorsed Ahmadinejad’s win (he hadn’t), that Moussavi was under house arrest (he wasn’t), that the plain-clothes men beating people were imported from an ominous sounding “Arabic-speaking country” (they weren’t) and on and on.

I think the rumour mill here has been central to the escalation of protest and someone MUST do some research on this.

Finally, a note about Twitter. Twitter and Facebook and blogs are primarily for the protestors to reach outside Iran, not in the country itself. Furthermore, internet speed has apparently slowed to a crawl and mobile phone networks (and SMS capability) has been severely circumscribed. So, I’d be cautious about accepting at face value the accounts celebrating this as a “blogged” or “twittered” revolution! [emphasis mine]


Apropos my last post

Today’s rally in Tehran was, by all accounts, truly massive. Now the BBC reports the security forces pro-Ahmadinejad militia members opened fire on at least some of its participants. I may have been premature in my assessment of the regime’s ability to disrupt collective mobilization against it by targeting vectors of communication among members of the active opposition. With a united opposition still capable of turning out large numbers of people, it seems increasingly clear that the direction this all takes depends, in no small measure, on:

1. Ahmadinejad’s and his faction’s ability to control the coercive apparatus of the state.
2. The political maneuvering taking place among members of the regime and its various power-centers which will help determine who controls which parts of that coercive apparatus;
3. Whether a sizable popular counter-mobilization takes place among Ahmadinejad supporters;
4. How the demands of various parties alter (or not) in response to changing circumstances, and how those demands shape the first three factors.

(Note that “forces aligned with the regime opening fire on crowd of demonstrators” comprises an extremely well-rehearsed ‘event’ in modern contentious politics. Such events often turn out to be important moments in the unfolding of both failed and successful mass movements.)

Given my lack of any expertise on the substance of Iranian politics, I’ll be looking to others to provide information concerning these processes.

UPDATE: I’m coming around to the reality that I seriously underestimated the ability of the Iranian opposition to circumvent disruptions of their communications networks. Perhaps the movement is just too big at this point, with too many different vectors of dissemination–at least in Tehran. It would be nice to know what’s going on in the rest of the country…


Regime adaptation and anti-regime collective action

Mark Beissinger, in a fantastic article entitled “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions” (abstract), develops an account of what he terms “modular revolutions”:

In the study of collective action, the notion of modularity has often been applied to the borrowing of mobilizational frames, repertoires, or modes of contention across cases. The revolutions that have materialized among the post-communist states since 2000 are examples of a modular phenomenon in this sense, with prior successful examples affecting the materialization of subsequent cases. Each successful democratic revolution has produced an experience that has been consciously borrowed by others, spread by NGOs, and emulated by local social movements, forming the contours of a model. With each iteration the model has altered somewhat as it confronts the reality of local circumstances. But its basic elements have revolved around six features:

1) the use of stolen elections as the occasion for massive mobilizations against pseudo-democratic regimes;
2) foreign support for the development of local democratic movements;
3) the organization of radical youth movements using unconventional protest tactics prior to the election in order to undermine the regime’s popularity and will to repress and to prepare for a final showdown;
4) a united opposition established in part through foreign prodding;
5) external diplomatic pressure and unusually large electoral monitoring; and
6) massive mobilization upon the announcement of fraudulent electoral results and the use of non-violent resistance tactics taken directly from the work of Gene Sharp, the guru of non-violent resistance in the West.

Beissinger also contends that not only do anti-regime movements learn–and derive inspiration–from past revolutions, but that regimes learn as well; in fact, they take proactive steps to disrupt the processes that lead to successful “color revolutions.”

Regimes have adapted by preventing adequate election monitoring, particularly by western organizations such as the OECD; in consequence, there’s no independent authority around to declare elections fraudulent. They’ve gone after independent media and otherwise attempted to limit the ability of regime opponents to coordinate with one another or get their message to the broader public. And so on and so forth. (We’ve even blogged about this kind of thing a bit in the context of Russia’s last national election).

Beissinger’s conclusion on this front is pessimistic for the success of future “color revolutions.” Regime adaptation, he argues, will outpace the strategies and tactics of democratic (or, at least, anti-regime) movements.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because we’re seeing a stunning example of such adaptation in Iran: access cut to social networking technology and websites (including, possibly, Tehran Bureau), cutting cell phone communications, as well as a media blackout that extends, apparently, to jamming BBC reports, shutting down foreign media bureaus, and throwing out foreign journalists. They’ve deployed a massive presence in Tehran (and presumably in other major cities); some of their security forces as roving the streets on motorcycles in an attempt to quickly, and brutally, crack down on unrest.

In at least one respect, the true facts about the Iranian election–which we are unlikely to ever know–are secondary to a basic fact: we’re seeing a vivid example not only of regime adaptation to a particular “revolutionary” process, but also strong evidence–at least so far–that modern communications technologies have failed to tip the balance when it comes to “networks” against “the state” to the degree that many, many scholars, pundits, and social theorists have claimed.

Which, oddly enough, is what my recent book concludes is a “lesson” of the Reformations Era for the present period.


Nate Silver on Iranian Elections

Nate analyzes some statistical analysis claiming to show fraud in Friday’s elections. Short story, he is not buying the analysis (as the results are mostly an artifact of how the numbers were released), nor is he discounting the possibility that it occurred (which, I would say, is more than reasonable).

Rob Farley links to a nice summary regarding what’s in the air regarding the dimensions of the ‘political coup’. Part of this, if true, shows an attempt to cover up data that would more than suggest outright fraud.

Still waiting for a reliable statistical model of estimated electoral fraud. Even if we had one, it appears the authorities in Iran are intent on withholding the inputs necessary for such a model.


Estimating the Degree of Election Fraud in Iran: Nate Silver, are you out there?

Given the recently held presidential elections in Iran, and the claims from each candidate that they won the election, I am wondering if it is possible to reliably estimate the amount of voter fraud in favor of one candidate. At the very least, can we reliably estimate the amount of fraud perpetrated by the incumbent, who naturally has the advantage in terms of infrastructure and resources at their disposal? I honestly don’t know and have never thought deeply about such a problem. However, my instincts tell me that there ought to be a way, depending on the quality and volume of data one has at their disposal to determine when outcomes are highly improbable and what the size of the anomalous effect is. The problem is, for those elections that we most care about–in this case, Iran–the polling data is not as detailed and representative as is necessary.

Over at fivethirtyeight.com, Renard Sexton took a look at the data from Iran before the polls opened. He notes that while there as been extensive polling in the run up to the elections, the data is skewed due to a number of factors, including geography (Tehran) and issues with the questions themselves. While polls showed a much closer outcome between the top two candidates, those polls focused on Tehran, where support for Mousavi is highest (Ahmadinejad’s base is rural). While I certainly don’t trust the numbers coming from Iran’s state media (62.6% to 34%), if the original polls where highly skewed towards urban centers like Tehran the difference between the expected results and the actual results may simply be a function of sampling-error. The one issue, as Renard points out, is that historically as voter turnout increases in Iran the share of the winning vote has decreased. It is hard to believe that if there was in fact record turnout, Ahmadinejad would have actually earned more votes this time out than during the previous election (where there was a run-off).

Here’s hoping that Nate and the folks at fivethirtyeight do some work on the question of estimating election fraud abroad.


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