Paper Candidates and Fake Democracies

A “paper candidate” is a term often used in political contexts, particularly in elections. It refers to a candidate who runs for office with little to no expectation of winning. Instead, they are typically fielded by a political party or group with the primary intention of fulfilling a formal requirement for the election process, rather than with a genuine belief that the candidate can secure victory. Paper candidates are sometimes also called “placeholder candidates” or “straw candidates.”

Fielding paper candidates can happen for several reasons:

  1. Ballot Access: In many electoral systems, political parties or independent candidates must meet specific requirements to have their candidates listed on the ballot. These requirements often include collecting a minimum number of signatures, paying filing fees, or fulfilling other legal obligations. Paper candidates are sometimes nominated solely to fulfill these requirements and ensure that the party’s main candidates can appear on the ballot.
  2. Vote Splitting: In situations where there are multiple candidates from the same political party or ideological group, paper candidates may be used strategically to divert votes from the opposition. This can prevent vote splitting and increase the chances of a more viable candidate from the same party winning.
  3. Maintaining Party Status: Some political parties need to maintain a certain level of electoral activity or voter support to retain their official party status or access to campaign funding. Running paper candidates can help parties meet these requirements.
  4. Testing the Waters: In certain cases, a political party might use a paper candidate to test public sentiment or to gauge the level of support they have in a particular district or election. This information can inform future campaign strategies.
  5. Sending a Message: Paper candidates can be used to make a symbolic or political statement. For example, they might be used to protest against a perceived unfair electoral system or to draw attention to specific issues. They may not be expected to win but serve as a means of highlighting concerns.
  6. Protecting a Preferred Candidate: When an organisation, especially membership bodies, want to be seen to be fair and democratic, but the potential electorate is largely apathetic, a paper candidate can stand against a preferred one to create this impression.

It’s important to note that the use of paper candidates is controversial in some political contexts. Critics argue that it undermines the democratic process by manipulating elections and misleading voters. Additionally, it can dilute the seriousness of political campaigns and candidates, making it challenging for voters to distinguish between those genuinely seeking office and those who are not.

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