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An emerging form of dictatorship that functions under the title of being an
“electoral authoritarian regime” has begun to hold elections for the sake of democratic credibility. An electoral authoritarian regime can be defined as one in which leaders hold elections and allow some diversity and party competition, but violate minimal democratic norms. So basically, there's a lot of loopholes the government can find to mess with elections.
Electoral authoritarianism challenges the idea of a full democratic transition and consolidation, or democracy that's been fully implemented into a previously dictated government. Reasons for even holding elections in dictatorships are for creating internal and external legitimacy, distributing spoils to the population and gathering intelligence.
What does all this mean? Internal and external legitimacy is the appearance of being democratic like if I eat a salad in front of you and a whole lot of chocolate when you're not looking, you still think I'm eating healthy. Maybe you've heard of a spoils system? If you're a friend or a supporter of a political party, you might just get a job out of it. And gathering intelligence is easy. Gain insight on the people, what's going on, etc.
Elections that are actually held in autocratic institutions will vary on the extent of electoral manipulation and to the extent that incumbents may allow candidates and parties to organize. An extreme example of controlling autocratic elections would be under Saddam Hussein's Iraq in which voters can only vote “yes” or “no” to the incumbent.
Dictatorships can also control what citizens can be allowed to vote. Former Soviet Union can be argues as a nation that allowed all adult citizens to vote while the UAE only allowed 1 percent of the population to vote and even those eligible were handpicked by the rulers of the seven emirates.
Election outcomes in authoritarian regimes are often if not all the time pre-determined and the voters directly have no say in who gets elected. Though authoritarian regimes are blatant in manipulation, believe it or not, democratic institutions are no stranger to corruption either.
The only difference between electoral corruption in dictatorships versus
democracies is subtlety. The United States is (or at least was)one of the most respected democracies in the Western world, but even having claims to "free and fair" elections is false.
Gerrymandering is a term used to redraw district lines and manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency in order to favor one party or class. A recent example of voting controversy to have occurred in the U.S. is the 2004 election of Bush versus Kerry. Various concerns were raised involving the voting process including whether voting had truly been made accessible to citizens who were entitled to vote, whether or not ineligible voters were registered, multiple registration claims, and if the ballot was correctly counted.
Former president Jimmy Carter has made statements about the American electoral process stating “financial corruption” threatens democracy. Going on to elaborate, the income tax code that strengthens the economic inequality of the nation essentially allows the ruling class to have a greater influence over public discourse and the electioneering process.
Even though autocracies are far more extreme in blatant political corruption and voter manipulation, democratic nations are not infallible to succumbing to it as well. Autocracies prove that election manipulation is more of a power struggle while democracies tend more towards economic aspects of it. But essentially, democracy is for sale.