Electoral Integrity in Southeast Asia

Partyforumseasia: The 2016 report of the Electoral Integrity Project (PEI), an academic research project under political scientist Pippa Norris, Harvard and Sidney, is being introduced with the headline “Fraud, rigging and corruption – the world’s elections this year”. From the Scandinavian and some other European countries on top, via the USA ranked no.53 out of 153, and the usual suspects in Africa at the bottom, Southeast Asia, unfortunately, does not do very well:

pei-seaStarting the Asia-Pacific comparison with New Zealand and South Korea with scores over 70 on top, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia come dangerously close to African score levels.  Yellow means Moderate Electoral Integrity (50 – 59), and Red signals Low to Very Low Electoral Integrity (less than 50).
The PEI – project uses 11 criteria and pertinent questions for each of them, namely: 1. Electoral laws, 2. Electoral procedures, 3. Boundaries, 4. Voter registration, 5. Party registration, 6. Campaign media, 7. Campaign finance, 8. Voting process, 9. Vote count, 10.Post-election, and 11. Electoral authorities.

For Southeast Asia, with the exception of the Communist one-party states Laos and Vietnam, many of the formal criteria are not the problem. The institutions are in place, party and voter registration are acceptably fair, the vote counting works fine, and the days of ballot-box-stuffing are definitely over. But there are serious weak areas nevertheless. The following “performance indicators“, used by PEI as positive or negative (the negative ones underlined below), are telling:

  • Boundaries:  1. Boundaries discriminated against some parties,  2. Boundaries favored incumbents,  3. Boundaries were impartial.

    See e.g. the ongoing and rather controversial discussion about the blatant gerrymandering in Malaysia! 

  • Campaign media: 1. Newspapers provided balanced election news, 2. TV news favored the governing party,  3. Parties/candidates had fair access to political broadcasts and advertising, 4. Journalists provided fair coverage of the elections, 5. Social media were used to expose electoral fraud.

    Indonesia is not the regional front runner by accident, but maybe the freest country in terms of press freedom and number of media.

  • Campaign finance: 1. Parties/candidates had equitable access to public subsidies 2. Parties/candidates had equitable access to political donations, 3. Parties/candidates publish transparent financial accounts, 4. Rich people buy elections, 5. Some states resources were improperly used for campaigning.

    Finance is by far the most problematic area in the region. Like in the First-past-the-post slogan “winner takes all” it is safe to say that ruling parties take all the money or nearly all. Finding money for running an infrastructure or for election campaigns is most difficult for opposition parties, apart from other legal and de facto impediments. Rich people can buy a promising candidacy and their own election, and they can choose the party they like more often than not. And above all: Politics in Southeast Asia is big business and makes many politicians rich.The 2016 Report is available here (LINK)

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