There is no legitimacy for elections or the political process in the absence of trust. It is not merely voting or democracy that gives legitimacy to a regime, but the belief that one’s opinion matters and that one has a genuine and respected role and that one’s choice really counts for something. If one does not have faith in the integrity of one’s leaders and one’s government, there is no means short of controlling that government that can restore faith in its legitimacy.
No one who has walked in my shoes can fail to think of several examples where rebellion and civil war has not followed in the absence of trust in the legitimacy of government, even though many of those examples had legitimate rulers who had won power through legitimate means. Speaking bluntly, Lincoln’s election in 1860 in the United States and the election of the so-called progressives in the post 2007 United Church of God were both legitimate expressions of the will of the voting public, however little they were accepted by the rebellious losers. Legitimacy in fact, though, does not mean legitimacy in belief. When people fear that those in charge will rig government in their favor, especially when there is a history (even on their own side) of extralegal corrupt abuses of authority, then everything that follows in a political contest will be seen in light of those fears, regardless of the actual intent.
Something of that sort is going on right now in Thailand . In the midst of a very fiercely fought election (so far my little village remains peaceful–let us hope that lasts), there have been millions of extra ballots printed out. The opposition, which has won the last few national elections but has had its power denied via illegal means, such as military coups, the removal of its leadership on numerous occasions through “collective judgment,” the politically motivated use of protests and attacks on its media institutions, even though it does not have a blameless record itself as far as corruption is concerned, is paranoid that the extra ballots will be used to slant the election towards the governing coalition. This is not an idle fear, though it is not necessarily the case either. But, in the absence of trust and faith in the governing order, there is room for fears to take over, especially of a paranoid variety.
I imagine that the only way that these people will cease to fear in the illegitimacy of government actions is if the party and leaders they support are in control of that government. Let us note, though, that the existence of military coups and extralegal means of preventing the opposition from holding on to power is itself evidence of paranoid fears about giving up power on the other side. This is a recipe for disaster on a national scale, since you have two hostile camps who view the other with loathing, are prepared to engage in violent action, and have no trust in the legitimacy of the other perspective or their representatives. I suppose it happens to be my ill fortune to see such circumstances over and over and over again, in different contexts, but with the same tragic results of division, schism, and rebellion. How long must I witness such folly and division among the children of men, and be an unwilling witness to such hatreds?