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Campaign finance failed to meet international standards in two-thirds of all elections in 2015

9 March 2016
New report ranks world's worst and best elections

Flawed and failed elections around the world are manipulated through vote rigging and corruption, intimidation and violence, according to an annual report released by the Electoral Integrity Project.

People stand outside a polling station in Myanmar. Image: Prachatai/Flickr.

People stand outside a polling station in Myanmar. Image: Prachatai/Flickr.

Political finance is often a major problem. Malpractices undermine civic engagement, political accountability and faith in democracy. These problems arise despite the fact that each year the international community invests about half a billion US dollars to improve elections.

New evidence gathered by The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) has just been released in an annual report and dataset that assess which elections across the world meet international standards. The EIP is an independent research project based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University, directed by Professor Pippa Norris.

"More elections were held worldwide during recent decades, but too often elections fail to meet international standards," said Professor Norris.

"This study is the first to gather reliable evidence from experts to pinpoint where contests last year were problematic – such as in Ethiopia, Burundi and Haiti – and also to celebrate where they succeeded, such as in Estonia, Finland and Denmark.

"This study will provide useful evidence for a wide range of scholars and policymakers, including public officials, human rights organisations, academic researchers, and reporters covering elections and seeking to strengthen electoral integrity."

The Year In Elections report covers 180 national parliamentary and presidential contests held from mid-2012 to end-2015 in 139 countries worldwide – including 47 countries that held national elections during 2015 – and highlights issues that were salient in elections last year. The project generates a 100-point Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index and ranking. 'Failed' elections are defined as those that fall below 40 on any of the 100-point scales.

Key findings include:

  • The most widespread problems in elections concerned money and media. Experts rated around two-thirds (68 percent) of all elections last year as having 'failed' standards of campaign finance. Similarly, 38 percent of all elections were rated as having 'failed' media coverage.
  • Some long-established democracies performed relatively poorly. This includes the May 2015 UK general election (ranked 39th worldwide), the worst performance in Western Europe.
  • Another democracy that has performed poorly is the United States. In global comparisons, the 2012 Presidential election and the 2014 Congressional elections were ranked worst of any long-established democracy, especially on campaign finance and electoral registration. It remains to be seen how bitter divisions affect assessments of the 2016 race.
  • One in six elections (eight out of 54 countries) in 2015 failed (ranked below 40 on the 100-point PEI index). This included contests in Africa (Ethiopia, Burundi, Togo), Eurasia (Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Uzbekistan), and Haiti. These elections typically saw fraud, protests, and conflict. Ethiopia, ranked worst, is a key example, where the ruling party, the People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, won all seats in May 2015, amid repression, intimidation and censorship.
  • Another nine elections in 2015 were flawed, (rated between 40 and 50 on the PEI index). This included elections in Africa (Zambia, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt and Guinea), in Latin America (Guatemala, Venezuela), and in Turkey and Kazakhstan.
  • By contrast, experts rated nine elections very highly, including in Denmark (ranked first), Finland, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, Portugal, Israel, and Canada.
  • Some notable gains also occurred in 2015, although contests still had room for further improvements, including elections in Nigeria and Myanmar, which were moderately rated. Elections in some developing countries and newer democracies were also scored fairly well by experts, including Benin, Croatia, and Lesotho.
  • Electoral integrity was undermined by societal constraints, such as deep-rooted poverty and a legacy of conflict.
  • Electoral integrity was strengthened by international linkage (including development aid and membership of regional organisations) and the design of political institutions (including proportional electoral systems and impartial electoral management bodies).

Evidence for the Year in Elections report is gathered from a global survey of more than 2000 election experts. Immediately after each contest, the survey asks domestic and international experts to monitor the quality of an election based on 49 indicators. These responses are clustered into 11 stages occurring during the electoral cycle and summed to construct the 100-point PEI index and ranking.

Further evidence will cover national elections each year, to broaden the comparison worldwide.

Further information – including the full report – is available at www.electoralintegrityproject.com.

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Division of Humanities and Social Sciences)