Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Alleged poll mess sparks Myanmar putsch

Myanmar’s precarious democracy again teeters on the edge of dictatorship after the military seized power and detained the country’s top civilian leader State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi was arrested along with several other senior figures from the ruling party following an early morning coup on Monday. The move came after weeks of threatening rhetoric from the military which has vowed to “take action” over alleged irregularities in a November election swept by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Suu Kyi, who made international headlines as political prisoner and iconic leader of Myanmar’s democracy movement, came into power after a 2015 landslide election win. In November, the NLD won 83% of available seats, in what was widely regarded as a vote of confidence on the country’s fledgling democratic government.

Although her international star dimmed after her handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis in 2017, she remains hugely popular at home.

Evidence of fraud is scant, but it has not stopped the military from savagely attacking the November 2021, alleging discrepancies such as duplicated names on voting lists in many districts. The military had also been critical of the Union Election Commission (UEC) which has declared the elections were "done fairly and free," and that it could not have been "more transparent."

The UEC had said that the result was final and there would "not be an election re-run". The army had also alleged that early voting showed "errors of neglect" in voter lists and a "widespread violation of laws and procedures".

Ironically enough, the military itself was the architect of Myanmar’s 2008 constitution and democracy. Then, it did not see fit to completely abdicate power to civilian authority, so they instituted a permanent role for itself in the political system. Under Myanmar law, the military gets an unelected quota of 25% of parliamentary seats.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Conspiracy theories, a staple of US elections


The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a statement on November 12 calling the last elections “the most secure in American history,” thereby directly contradicting the claims of the president who appointed them.

Bafflingly though, 88% of people who voted for Trump falsely believe Biden did not legitimately win the election. This, according to a The Economist and YouGov poll.

Conspiracy thinking around elections is nothing new in the US. Joe Uscinski, professor at Miami University specializing in the study of conspiracy theories, noted that conspiracy theories about election fraud are, in fact, a regular fare in US elections. “What we found was a regular stream of voter fraud accusations over more than 120 years that seemed to recycle endlessly”.

What is entirely new is a sitting president stoking the rumors himself. Where conspiracy theories usually swirled and died on the fringes, 2020 saw the theories being mainstreamed as the rabble-rousing Trump breathlessly claims of being ganged up on by deep state, Zionists, globalists, and other shadowy groups.

One of the theories being floated is that the software used to count the votes in the US is secretly controlled by Smartmatic, a company founded in the US in 2000. The rumor goes that ES&S, Dominion, Hart InterCivic, Scytl and Indra – all prominent election technology companies – are mere fronts of this evil company that the elites are using to control democracies around the world. Expectedly, Scytl, Smartmatic, Dominion, Indra have all denied the rumors.

In a recent marathonic and evidence-free press conference, Trump’s “Elite’s Strike Force” hit almost every conspiratorial keyword, from George Soros to Fidel Castro, from China to Cuba, and from The Clinton Foundation to the Chinese Communist Party.

Sidney Powell, who was present at the conference but was later disavowed by the legal team for concocting rumors that are too bizarre even for them, went as far as to claim to have evidence that “this came from Venezuela, from Nicolas Maduro, from Hugo Chavez, from Cuba, and from China which has significant interests in Venezuela.”

The idea that Hugo Chavez, dead since 2013, was able to steal the elections to overthrow Trump, has clearly just become the gold standard of preposterous claims.

This is not the first outrageous conspiracy theory Donald Trump has fanned. Uscinski writes that the president had “flirted with 9/11 conspiracy theories, proposed conspiracy theories about Syrian refugees, and accused Mexico of conspiring to ship murderers and rapists across our borders. His main claim to fame however was pushing the Birther theory in 2011.”

As unhinged and incredible the theories are, what’s worrying is how they are further eroding whatever trust the people have left in government. Americans have the terrible burden of preventing this from leaving a lasting scar on democracy.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Kyrgyzstan unrest highlights ills of political clientelism


Source: abc.net

Hordes of outraged Kyrgyz citizens have spilled into the streets of Bishkek, overrunning several government buildings and springing a number of opposition figures from jail in the process. The protesters, armed with rocks, have been battling the police in close quarters, leaving one protester dead and some 500 others wounded.

The ongoing turmoil has set off an unexpected turn of events — the election commission has annulled the results of the elections, Prime Minister Kubatbek Boronov has resigned from office, and his post temporarily filled by Sadyr Zhaparov, one of the opposition figures released by protesters.

At the root of the unrest is political clientelism and its most common manifestation, vote-buying. The opposition is roiling with suspicions that the administration massively bought votes in the recent parliamentary elections. Although Kyrgyzstan is known to have one of the freer elections among the Central Asian countries, the recent incidents have revealed the ills of political patronage which has plagued the rocky history of the young republic.

In the 2017 presidential elections which installed current president Sooronbai Jeenbekov into power, for example, European observers noted massive vote buying. Although the observers cited the elections as a step towards being a full-fledged democracy for the ex-Soviet state, they emphasized the need to address the issue of political patronage squarely.

The parliamentary elections in 2015 was also marred by charges of vote buying.

Kyrgyzstan is just one of many democracies around the world which are grappling with the deleterious effects of political clientelism. Recently, charges of vote buying have hounded elections in Thailand, Indonesia, and Kenya, among others.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

2016 Philippine elections free from fraud - forensics experts

Elections forensics experts Kirill Kalinin, a national fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Professor Allen Hicken of the University of Michigan have concluded in a study that the contested 2016 Philippine general elections was free from fraud.

A paper titled “Using Election Forensics to Detect Election Fraud in the Philippine Elections, 2016,” revealed its key findings that the Philippine 2016 elections were relatively clean.

This study used the tools of election forensics to investigate charges of electoral fraud in the Philippine national elections of 2026.

“We focused on digit tests, finite mixture model and its equivalents. We pay particular attention to the measurement of stolen votes and geographic allocation of election fraud across national elections. We then focus on Marcos v. Robredo court case, which helps us to validate some of our research findings for the vice-presidential election,” the paper said.

It will be recalled that defeated vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. had filed an electoral protest against the winner Vice President Ma. Leonor Robredo for alleged fraud. Although the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, composed of Supreme Court justices and tasked to decide on electoral disputes involving the two top elective positions, has yet to issue a formal ruling, it commented last year that its recount showed Robredo increasing her lead.

The study further said that even though there is some limited evidence suggesting the presence of election fraud, “their effect on the electoral outcome for the national races is insignificant.”

Election forensics is an emergent discipline which employs a diverse set of statistical tools such as Benford’s Law and other techniques similar to those employed to detect financial fraud, to analyze electoral data for pattern deviations which could suggest fraud.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), which is at the forefront of the new field, “numbers that humans have manipulated present patterns that are unlikely to occur if produced by a natural process—such as free and fair elections or normal commercial transactions.”

“These deviations suggest either that the numbers were intentionally altered or that other factors—such as a range of normal strategic voting practices—influenced the electoral results. The greater the number of statistical tests that identify patterns that deviate from what is expected to naturally occur, the more likely that the deviation results from fraud rather than legal strategic voting.”