BOSTON — There are many ways an election can go wrong.
Abuses can result from willful corruption or government’s insufficient resources to ensure a free and fair contest.
They are rarely the product of benign negligence.
“Regimes that are not truly committed to democratic practice have gotten very clever in the way they go about giving the appearance of a democratic election because it’s become expected,” said Michael Svetlik, vice president of programs for IFES, also known as the International Foundation for Election Systems.
The most bogus elections of 2010 showcase the ways an election can go heinously wrong, and how an apparently democratic contest can end up disastrously flawed.
Workers shift ballot boxes at the Independent Election Commission warehouses on Sept. 23, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)
While the international community did not have high hopes for an election in one of the world’s most volatile countries, the aftermath of the September parliamentary poll has revealed the depth of political dysfunction in Afghanistan. Full results were not released until Dec. 1, and just last week the government announced a new court would be set up to hear fraud complaints before parliament could be formed.
Certainly there was fraud in the Afghanistan election. But more telling is President Hamid Karzai’s inability or unwillingness to move the country forward. Is he worried that the new parliament will not be the rubber stamp he has enjoyed in the past?
Haitian police provide security for a bulldozer clearing a street in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 9, 2010 blocked by demonstrators protesting the presidential election. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
Talk about challenges. In a year when the country suffered a cataclysmic earthquake and a cholera epidemic, Haiti can hardly be expected to hold a model election. Despite the government’s efforts to ensure otherwise, reports indicate that voters stayed away from the polls in fear of violence. Sure enough, the nights that followed the Nov. 28 contest echoed with gunshots in the capital Port-au-Prince, as gangs supporting different candidates roamed the streets. The results of that first round will probably lead to a run-off, but have yet to be made official.
A U.N. peacekeeper stands guard outside the headquarters for the internationally recognized winner of the Ivorian presidential election Alassane Ouattara on Jan. 1, 2011. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)
Whether or not there were flaws in the second round of Ivory Coast’s presidential election on Nov. 28, there is not yet a resolution. Regardless of the quality of the poll, the apparently losing candidate, Laurent Gbagbo, has refused to concede to his opponent, Alassane Ouattara. Despite international condemnation and attempts to mediate a concession, Gbagbo is hanging on, as his country creeps closer to chaos and civil war
A man holds a paper, reading "You Cannot Jail Us All!," from a window at a prison in Minsk on Dec. 23, 2010, where protesters arrested on election night, Dec. 19, are being held. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)
Belarus, a former Soviet state, has the resources and civic order to hold a fair election. But international monitors believe its autocratic leaders chose not to. President Alexander Lukashenko won with 80 percent of the vote, surprising few. And he is popular. But experts have cast aspersions on the ballots cast early, an unlikely 23 percent.
“Incumbency works to the advantage of an incumbent,” said Svetlik of IFES, “but certainly there’s not the checks in place in Belarus to guard against the inappropriate use of administrative resources.”
There is little question that after the Dec. 23 vote the Belarus government has reacted anti-democratically. It has jailed several of Lukashenko’s opponents and searched the offices of journalists and opposition leaders. After a period of thaw between Belarus and the European Union, Western leaders are left with few options.
A Burmese man rides a bicycle past a campaign poster on Nov. 6, 2010 in Rangoon, Burma. (CKN/Getty Images)
In Burma, the country officially recognized as Myanmar, the military junta did not even attempt to hide its manipulation of results. The November contest was clearly a sham. In a mastery of diplomatic understatement, the United Nations Secretary-General issued a statement calling the election "insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent." The website burmaelectiontracker.org continues to collect reports about the situation inside the country, which is closed to most foreign journalists.