The world of 100% election victories

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Saddam HusseinImage source, AP
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In 2002, Saddam won 100% of the votes

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was elected to the rubber-stamp parliament with 100% votes on Monday. He's not the only leader to win an election overwhelmingly, writes Tanvi Misra.

Iraq former president Saddam Hussein also won 100% votes in a 2002 referendum on whether his decades-long rule was to continue. Former Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il fared almost as well as his son in 2009, winning 99.9 % of votes. Raul Castro earned 99.4% votes in the 2008 Cuban election and Syria's Bashar al-Assad secured 97.6% votes for his 2007 presidential referendum.

Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov in 1992 and Chechnya's United Russian Party in 2011 both secured 99.5%. Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, also from Turkmenistan, topped them with 97% in 2012. In 2004, Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili won more than 96% votes after his predecessor was ousted in a bloodless revolution.

In authoritarian regimes, elections are largely managed popularity contests, says Michael Svetlik, vice-president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Elections are rigged and people vote one way because they fear punishments.

Many like Jong-un were unopposed. But in other cases, token or sham opposition candidates are put up, says Svetlik. Autocrats realise that to "play this game they need to have competition, so they create competition".

Sometimes, the opposition is genuine but does not have the resources to fight or it may decide to boycott the contest, says political scientist Thomas Lundberg of the University of Glasgow. Any election win with more than two-thirds of the votes should raise suspicions, because it is so unusual in a free and fair election, he says. A number within the 60-80% range might signal a fragmented opposition - in South Africa, the African National Congress regularly gains votes in the high 60s.

After a "democratic breakthrough", voters flock to support the anti-incumbent, says Svetlik, explaining Muslim Brotherhood's 70% win in Egypt's 2012 elections. And a 60-80% margin may in some cases signal a lack of democratic experience - a disorganised opposition and an embryonic media favour those holding power.

And then you have outliers. In the 2002 French presidential election, Jacques Chirac enjoyed a rare 82% landslide victory, as voters united against National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

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