Back in 2002, when President George W. Bush was pressing the case for invading Iraq and the American public -- still raw from the terrorist attacks a year earlier -- seemed amenable, Saddam Hussein decided he needed to do something to reaffirm his legitimacy as the leader of Iraq.
So he held an election.
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On Oct. 16, 2002, the Iraqi government trumpeted the great news: Saddam had won with 100 percent of the vote!
In all, 11,445,638 voters cast ballots in the national election, and every single one of them voted for Saddam according to regime official Izzat Ibrahim, who insisted the election was legitimate, BBC News reports.
Of course, no one outside Iraq took the results seriously. The "election" was staged for the benefit of Iraq's people, to show them that Saddam still had an iron grip on the country even as the Americans were threatening to unseat him.
Other dictators used the same tactic to prop up themselves up. In 2007, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov "won" 90.77 percent of his country's vote. That same year, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- who is now mired in a civil war and desperately trying to hang on to power -- "won" with an astonishing 97.62 percent. Hosni Mubarak, the former leader of Egypt, "only" racked up 88.6 percent of the votes in a 2005 election.
But for other dictatorial regimes, especially those run by tyrants who care about how they're viewed internationally, stealing elections is a more subtle art -- they must win with enough support to show their citizens they are clearly in charge, but without approaching the absurd margins of victory enjoyed by the Saddams and al-Assads of the world.
It's all about keeping up appearances, which is apparently what Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party tried to do with the results of Russia's Sept. 18 election. United Russia, which Putin founded, won a commanding 76 percent of seats in the Duma, the country's lower house, Reuters reports.
Data analyst Sergei Shpilkin says he's run the numbers, and they point to massive fraud benefiting United Russia.
“By my estimate, the scope of the falsification in favor of United Russia in these elections amounted to approximately 12 million votes," Shpilkin said, according to Radio Free Europe.
Cheating in the age of social media has proven a bit more challenging than in the past, however, and in less than a week videos showing Putin's minions stuffing ballot boxes appeared online and garnered millions of views.
Golos, an independent election monitor, says it observed 3,600 violations in the Sept. 18 contest. The group crowd sources its efforts, with users submitting videos and photos documenting fraud.
Golos “spotted the full spectrum of violations” during the vote, group leader Grigory Melkonyants said, according to Newsweek.
Now, Russia’s Central Electoral Commission has declared the results from nine polling districts invalid, and Ella Pamfilova, a human rights advocate who headed the electoral commission this year, says "it is possible" that more districts could be invalidated.
While there hasn't been an official U.S. government response to the Russian election or allegations of fraud, the State Department harshly criticized Russia for holding parliamentary elections in Crimea, the Ukranian territory annexed by Russia in 2014.
“The United States does not recognize the legitimacy, and will not recognize the outcome, of the Russian Duma elections planned for Russian-occupied Crimea on September 18th,” State Department spokesman John Kirby wrote in a statement, according to UPI.
Likewise, President Barack Obama didn't pull any punches when asked about Russia's elections in the context of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's appearance on a Russian TV network. Obama mocked Trump's statements saying Putin is a popular leader.
"Well, yes, Saddam Hussein had a 90 percent poll rating," Obama said, RT reports. "If you control the media and you’ve taken away everybody's civil liberties, and you jail dissidents, that's what happens."
Hillary Clinton has stepped up her criticism of Russia, as well, while hammering Trump over alleged ties to Russia via business interests. She's also repeatedly blamed Russia for the email hacks that prompted several embarrassing revelations, including internal emails revealing the Democratic National Committee colluded with Clinton's campaign to derail her primary rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
And here's where we get to the part about glass houses and stones. There are independent monitors exposing fraud in the Russian election, as well as international organizations like the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which has already issued a report on the election in Russia and continues to monitor developments.
But American politicians, especially Clinton, should think twice about trying to take the moral high ground with regard to Russia. Clinton's campaign actively colluded to sink the campaign of a rival and render millions of votes invalid if needed. Working on her behalf, the DNC deprived the Sanders campaign of vital resources like donor lists, bullied the American media to portray Clinton in a positive light while pushing negative stories about Sanders, and even tried to use Sanders' religion against him via indisputably ugly campaign tactics.
Obama, meanwhile, has made it clear he fully supports Clinton and is doing everything he can to help her win the presidency. Neither of them have the moral authority to tell anyone else how to hold a clean election.
Sources: Radio Free Europe, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Foreign Policy (2), Newsweek (2), BBC, Reuters, RT, UPI / Photo credit: Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons