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How Incumbents Hide Behind the Law to Subvert Elections

August 30, 2022
David Szakonyi


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, David Szakonyi, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University, analyzes how electoral rules and manipulating institutions before elections can help incumbents stay in power.

Voters generally do not approve of their leaders manipulating elections. In the just last few years, the world has witnessed incumbents toppled by protests over electoral fraud in Bolivia and Kyrgyzstan, building on the earlier wave of Color Revolutions that swept through Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries. Similar popular outrage about vote rigging turned violent in Indonesia following its 2019 presidential elections while in Belarus, post-election protests in 2020 nearly brought down President Lukashenko’s 26-year reign.

Election-rigging is a risky gamble that can backfire on incumbents and trigger intense public backlash. How then do incumbents bent on staying in power win competitive races? My recently published article in the British Journal of Political Science argues that politicians worldwide are learning from post-election demonstrations and devising more subtle—yet still effective—methods of undermining elections. Electoral integrity worldwide is being violated in ways that are not only harder to detect, but more difficult for democracy-minded activists to rally voters against.

The key for these savvy incumbents is to manipulate the rules and institutions that organize elections long before voters are cast. This approach helps politicians avoid the costs of trying to fix outcomes on election day, as well as the public headache of trying to explain away viral videos of votes being stuffed into machines or clumsy attempts to buy off voters.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.