Identity and Democracy in Single Party States
Apr 10, 2011

Identity and Democracy in Single Party States

This post is an addendum to my previous post, Identity and Democracy, which discussed the role of tribal identity and loyalty in democracy. I looked principally at the comparison between democracies of the bottom billion, particularly in ethnically divided countries, and democracies in the western first world. However, after reading this excellent New York Times article on the recent sham of an election in Kazakhstan and how it compares to similar ones in Russia, I realized I neglected to consider the case of democracies in single party states which fits very well with the general thesis.

At a first glance, it is natural not to bother with such "democracies" because they are so fundamentally invalid as a method of accountability - when there is only one ubiquitous party the result is predetermined and they get 95% of the vote. However as the NYT article indicates, regular elections still have a purpose for the ruling party which is an expression of loyalty from the people. Indeed, it would seem the party works very hard to encourage (perhaps in a somewhat threatening way) that everyone actually shows up to vote. The act of voting remains, as I opened the previous post with, an expression of identity. In this case, it is the nationalistic identity of the party.

While it may well be that in a free society with ample alternatives in time there would become viable alternatives, in single party systems there usually is actually some level of popular support for the party. Having everybody come out to reaffirm their support, loyalty and identity through elections is a way of engendering a sense of legitimacy among the population. Big celebrations are held, for instance after the elections in the Orwellian North Korea which their state media delights in informing everybody that essentially everybody voted and essentially everybody voted for the party. There is of course no way to ascertain the true numbers, but it will be a boost to the sense of legitimacy however superfluously. Most importantly, it is reestablishing the existence of the nationalistic party identity and sham elections are an affirmation of membership in this identity

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