How to spot a lying Dictator? It’s the percentages, stupid.

A lot of numbers are flying around in the media nowadays. Opinions have become polarized on every subject after financial crisis, Arab Spring, War on Terror etc. To give weight to their arguments, opinion makers quote made up (or so it seems) statistics to give credibility to their side of the story.

Most recently, King Mohamed VI of Morocco held a referendum to seek approval for  his proposed reforms. His proposal was approved by almost 99% of voters. From Huffington Post:

Moroccans on Friday overwhelmingly approved a new constitution their king says will bring the country much-needed democratic reform, the Interior Ministry announced.

The preliminary results showed a 98.94 percent approval rating and 72.56 percent turnout and appeared to indicate strong belief by Moroccans in the king’s promises of reform just months after hundreds of thousands marched throughout the North African country calling for more democracy.

98.94% approval rating and 72.56% turnout. Now where have I seen such numbers and referendum on such unilaterally proposed reforms before? There are no points for guessing that Pakistan would be the correct answer. We have a history of holding such referendums by military dictators.

When Ayub Khan appointed himself ruler of Pakistan, he carried out referendum to give legitimacy to his rule after deposing Iskandar Mirza in a bloodless coup. From Wikipedia

In 1960, he held an indirect referendum of his term in power. Functioning as a kind of electoral college, close to 80,000 recently elected village councilmen were allowed to vote yes or no to the question: “Have you confidence in the President, Field Marshal Mohammed Ayub Khan, Hilal-i-Jurat?” Winning 95.6% of the vote, he used the confirmation as impetus to formalise his new system.

The next referendum was carried out by next military dictator Gen Zia after deposing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a coup (it wasn’t bloodless as he had Bhutto hanged).  And the question asked by him was

Whether the people of Pakistan endorse the process initiated by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the President of Pakistan, for bringing the laws of Pakistan in conformity with the injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and for the preservation of the Islamic ideology of Pakistan, for the continuation and consolidation of that process, and for the smooth and orderly transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.

Say what? Come again?

From Wikipedia

It was reportedly approved by 98.5% of voters, with a turnout of 62.2%.

Finally, it was Musharraf’s turn and he carried out another sham referendum. (Since this happened in my life time, I have seen with my own eyes military bringing in people from interior Sind by truck loads at one of polling stations half an hour before election commissioner visited the place at NIC building, off Sharae-Faisal, Karachi). The question posed in the referendum was

For the survival of the local government system, establishment of democracy, continuity of reforms, end to sectarianism and extremism, and to fulfill the vision of Quaid-i-Azam, would you like to elect President General Pervez Musharraf as President of Pakistan for five years?

From Story of Pakistan

According to the Government there were 78 million eligible voters. Eighty seven thousand polling stations were set up, including booths set up at prisons, hospitals, petrol stations, workplaces, and markets. However, there were no voter lists or constituencies, and anyone who could prove his identity and age could vote at any polling station. According to the Government estimate, around 98 percent of the counted votes backed General Musharraf continuing in office and the turnout of the referendum was said to be around 70 percent.

What’s with the obsession of dictators with approval ratings reaching almost 100%? And when voter turnout has normally been less than 50%, how come voter turnout in referendums reach 70%? Don’t they know that this puts the credibility of the results into question.

Once these usurpers have legitimized their rule for the said period promising reforms, it turns out that by the time they leave (rather “forced to leave”) and take their reforms with them, the country is worse off compared to when they took over.

Based on this history, I will give King Mohamed VI of Morocco a maximum of 10 years of sham reform before he is booted out or is restricted to his palace.

Whereas these dictators create an infrastructure of polling/votes before quoting statistics, we have an Interior Minister who has taken to quoting percentages like a magician creating them out of thin air at his whims. But that is for another post.


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