Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sham elections and the fear of voting for the opposition

Extracted from Wiki on Sham elections with my thoughts below.

A show election, also known as a sham election or rubber stamp election, is an election that is held purely for show, that is, without any significant political purpose. Show elections are a common event in dictatorial regimes that still feel the need to establish some element of public legitimacy.

Results predictably show nearly 100% voter turnout and nearly 100% support for the prescribed (often the only) list of candidates or for referendums that favor the political party in power. A predetermined conclusion is always established by the regime, either through suppression of the opposition, coercion of voters, vote rigging, forged number of "votes received", or some combination of these.

Ballots in a show election may contain only one "yes" option. In case of a simple "yes or no" question, people who pick "no" are often persecuted, thus making the "yes" choice the only option. People who voted in the election of the People's Parliaments in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1940 received stamps in their passport. Those who did not have the stamp were persecuted as the "enemy of the people".

(Seelan: Though there is no well documented case of someone being persecuted specifically because they voted for the opposition, I personally know dozens of Singaporeans who vote for the PAP out of fear.

People working in GLCs and the civil service also frequently tell me that they have "no choice" but to vote for the PAP because they assume that their jobs and promotions depend on it. Even senior officials in the Singapore Armed Forces say such things to their subordinates as if its the truth -- so is it?

Former PM Goh Chok Tong's warning to voters that wards which did not vote for PAP would be placed last in line for HDB upgrading doesn't help alleviate peoples fears either. "In 20, 30 years' time, the whole of Singapore will be bustling away, and your estate, through your own choice, will be left behind. They become slums," said Mr Goh.

Even with the severe lack of a level playing field and the situation where half the electorate doesn't get to vote, the PAP got only 66% of the contested seats in the previous 2006 elections. What would the percentage of votes for the PAP be if the elections were free and fair and the entire population got to vote without an overarching sense of fear?)

In some cases, show elections can backfire against the party in power, especially if the regime believe they are popular enough to win without coercion or fraud, e.g., in the Burmese general election, 1990 or in the case of a referendum, the plebiscite in Chile to determine whether to let Augusto Pinochet remain in power.

Related reading:
Singapore is not an electoral democracy (Freedom House)
Truth About Elections (Singapore Democratic Party)