Prof Nic Cheeseman asks how to rig an election – and get away with it?

Prof Nic Cheeseman asks how to rig an election – and get away with it?


Before I ever went to Africa, most people
would tell me that there wasn’t really democracy there, or the democracy that
was there was a different kind to what you would find in the West. But when I
actually went and talked to people, I found that people have made incredible
sacrifices to promote democracy, fighting for human rights, trade unionists, people
in civil society, so what motivated me was trying to work out what they were
fighting for and why it was so hard for them to achieve them. One of the problems
for those of us who care about democracy is there are so many different ways that
you can rig an election. One of the things we need to remember though is
that all of these ways are equal. So what authoritarian leaders are increasingly
doing, is they’re moving into strategies that it’s harder for us to see. They’re
rigging elections in advance by determining who’s allowed to vote and
who’s allowed to stand and they’re using new technology to actually promote fake
news and hack electoral processes and is the innovation of authoritarian leaders
that enables them to keep not only rigging elections, but getting away with it.
One of the great moments in my career was being on the ground in Zimbabwe the
day that Robert Mugabe resigned. There had been a lot of tension in the
period leading up to that because no one knew if he was going to relent to the
pressure and go, or hang on. And that day was an incredible outpouring of emotion
like a champagne cork being popped, but underneath it you also had the sense of
fear – people weren’t sure if he’d really really gone and they weren’t sure if the
people who were coming after him were going to be better. So it is an amazing
moment filled on the one hand with hope, but also with uncertainty and concern
about what the future might bring. Here at the University of Birmingham we have a number of
really important programmes working with policymakers around the world, including
the British government, to help them to think about how they can better promote
democracy. One of the things it’s therefore really important that we do at
places like Birmingham University is conduct better research to understand
why. Why are some countries able to make that democratic transition and others
are not? That’s what I’ll be dedicating the next 10 years of my career to. you

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