Reading List – 8th September 2021

Bulgaria heading to the polls – again

The voters of Bulgaria will head to the polls for the third time in 2021 after the three largest parties in Parliament each failed to form a government. At the most recent elections  held in July the ITN group (‘There is such a people’) took 65 seats, while GERB has 63 seats and the Socialists 36 in the 240-seat parliament.

Romanian government facing no-confidence vote, possible election

An election may also be around the corner in Romania where the junior partner in the governing coalition has pulled out after its leader was sacked as a minister for failing to approve a $12 billion community development plan.

Russian election shenanigans

Meanwhile, there are a number of reports concerning the elections to the Russian Duma due to be held later this month.

This RFE article highlights the difficulties faced by one Yabloko candidate who is campaigning from behind prison bars.

Meanwhile, another Yabloko candidate is facing two opponents who have changed their names (and it appears their appearance) to mirror his own.

And the Moscow Times has the story of an official from the governing United Russia party apparently telling poll watchers to ignore cases of fraud if they see them.

Ranked Choice voting comes through for New Yorkers

An article in Politico highlights the differences that have been made by the change to ranked choice voting in New York City’s recent primary elections. 

Ranked Choice voting is more usually known in the UK as preferential voting or the Alternative Vote. Electors number their choices in order with 1 for their first preference, 2 for their second preference and so on. In the New York system they are constrained to a maximum of five preferences. The system is designed so that if no candidate wins an overall majority on first preferences then the lowest scoring candidate is eliminated and their votes redistributed according to the next preference of the voter. It means that votes aren’t ‘wasted’ on no-hope candidates.

Politico has found that of the 63 races, only three saw a candidate who was not in the lead on first preferences end up as the eventual winner. That isn’t unusual – especially as 21 were won with an overall majority on first preferences.

In the most high profile race – that for Democratic Mayoral nominee – Eric Adams won the vote despite two candidates – Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia – effectively teaming up to advise their supporters to cast their second preference for the other. 

Of the three where the lead changed, one is particularly interesting. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Council member, decided to re-stand at the last minute despite questions about his ability to do the job. Nevertheless, incumbency brought with it a significant bonus and he led on first preferences with just 21.1% of the vote. Under the old system he would have won. But using preferential voting his closest challenger Kristin Richardson Jordan was able to overcome the deficit to win by 114 votes – a slim but decisive margin.

The key lesson from New York appears to be that ranked choice – or preferential – voting helps to give voters more choice and ensures that winners have broader support but only rarely results in significant leader changes.

Uzbekistan’s Presidential election line up takes shape

The list of candidates for Uzbekistan’s Presidential election in October is filling out. As expected, the Liberal Democratic Party (known as OzLiDeP) has nominated incumbent President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. 

Also nominated are:

  • Maksuda Varisova, the Deputy Head of the People’s Democratic Party (XDP);
  • Alisher Qodirov, Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Chair of the Central Council of Milliy Tiklanish (the National Revival Democratic Party);
  • Bahrom Abdukhalimov, the Leader of Adolat (Justice) Party; and 
  • Narzulla Oblomurodov of the Ecological Party. 

At present there are five political parties registered in Uzbekistan and independents are not allowed to run for elections.

Candidates will have to be approved by the CEC and by formal votes of the parties. The election takes place on October 24th, having been brought forward from the original planned date in December.

EU Parliament ‘names and shames’ fake observers

The names of MEPs who have taken part in ‘fake’ election observation activities have been revealed in the European Parliament. Eight have been told they will not be picked for official trips for the remainder of the year and three more have been warned as to their conduct.

The problem of fake observers – those whose attendance simply bolsters the credibility of a flawed election with little pretence at independent observation or adherence to a recognised methodology – is increasing. Often authoritarian regimes will seek to use such observers to drown out the reports of more credible missions or to convince their populations that a flawed election was actually well run.

The initial report is available via EU Observer here. There have been various follow ups including in French magazine Marianne (with comments from myself) here.

It is worth pointing out that the MEPs named in the report have responded in various ways, including some who say that their activities were genuine. And whilst it is good that some sanctions have been levelled against those who undertook fake observation activities, a ban of just six months or so is hardly punitive.

CPA BIMR Election Expert Mission to the Cayman Islands – Report

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s British Islands and Mediterranean Region has today released its election expert report report into April’s general election in the Cayman Islands, a mission in which I was involved.

You can download and read the full report here.

The press release that accompanied the report says:

Vote inequality and campaign finance amongst issues highlighted as areas for improvement by first virtual assessment of Cayman Islands General Election.

The international experts that independently assessed the Cayman Islands General Election have made fifteen recommendations for the electoral process in the Cayman Islands. In a report published today, the Election Expert Mission concludes that the legal framework for elections in the Cayman Islands provides an adequate basis for conducting democratic elections. However, several areas for improvement remain.

At the invitation of the Governor of the Cayman Islands, His Excellency Martyn Roper OBE, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region (CPA BIMR) conducted a virtual Election Expert Mission to the Cayman Islands General Elections in April 2021. The invitation was supported by the then Government and Official Opposition of the Cayman Islands.

In the official report, which is now publicly available, the analysts highlight that the legal framework provides an adequate basis for conducting democratic elections. The report also commends the Elections Office for its efforts in the lead up to Election Day as it provided extensive training for all polling staff, undertook a campaign of voter education, and prepared educational materials for staff and for candidate and party agents.

The Mission also notes fifteen recommendations to improve elections going forward. These address several issues, including an absence of equality in the weight of the vote, due to severe differences between the number of registered voters in each electoral district. For the 2021 election, a registered voter in East End district had more than double the weight of a registered voter in Bodden Town East. It is arguable therefore that electoral boundaries have not been drawn in compliance with the Constitution and international standards.

The recommendations also address a lack of transparency of campaign finance. Election candidates are only required to submit limited details of their campaign expenditure and of donations received, and campaign finance is only regulated for a short period of time. The report also includes recommendations on issues such as the severe restrictions on the right to vote and the right to stand for Caymanians, and the lack of clear and coherent complaints and appeals procedures.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team of experts conducted the Mission virtually, carrying out research online, as well as undertaking interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, using digital meeting platforms.

This was the third time that CPA BIMR was invited to assess elections in the Cayman Islands. In 2013, CPA BIMR conducted its first Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the Cayman Islands, followed by a second EOM in 2017, which resulted in the publication of a report with 21 recommendations.2 Although the 2017 report was cited as a source of recommended amendments to electoral legislation, only one recommendation was taken forward in time for this election.

The CPA BIMR conducted the Mission in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Election Observers. CPA BIMR has previously carried out observation missions to Anguilla, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British Virgin Islands with the aim of reinforcing good democratic processes.

UK’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on international institutions

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee has published the report on its inquiry into the UK’s membership of international institutions. This includes membership of the OSCE and its election observation related activities.

I’m delighted to see that a couple of recommendations that I included in my evidence have been adopted by the Committee. These include a recommendation for the government to publish an annual proposal for which election observation missions it plans to join and for OSCE to move to observe online and social media activities in a more robust manner.

You can read the entire report here (which includes links to the various evidence submissions including my own and those from other international observers).

Reading List – 15th February 2021

Election officials held in Myanmar ‘in bid to prove fraud’

The army in Myanmar is seeking to justify its takeover of the government by suggesting that elections held at the end of last year were fraudulent. In those elections, the National League for Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won an easy victory. According to the Guardian, election officials are being arrested in an attempt to prove fraud.

Moldova’s Parliament Rejects Government Lineup Put Forward By President

Newly elected President Maia Sandu has failed to see her nominee for prime minister of Moldova approved by the parliament. This was an expected move as it is the first of two such rejections necessary to allow for the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections. President Sandu hopes that new elections will allow her to cement a governing majority in the country.

EU support for Russian democracy is inadequate

In an article first appearing in the FT, Constanze Stelzenmüller argues that the EU has failed to develop a united approach to Russia following the arrest of Alexey Navalny.

Kazakh elections in social media

The Memo 98 organisation has crunched the numbers from last month’s elections in Kazakhstan.

Reading List – 12th February 2021

Unfinished Business in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

The pre-eminent western expert on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Thomas De Waal, has written a long read analysing the challenges facing the various parties in the dispute over Nagorno Karabakh. He makes it clear that the peace accord signed in haste in November leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Elections Ahead

András Tóth-Czifra looks at the Russian Duma elections due to be held in September. Alexey Navalny’s ‘smart voting’ scheme is dividing the parties and also sets challenges for the Kremlin. Whilst the leaderships of the various systemic opposition parties have denounced Navalny, many of their supporters see smart voting as a means to benefit in the forthcoming polls. 

Overturning Trump’s Facebook ban would set a dangerous precedent

Steve Feldstein looks at the challenge in front of Facebook’s Oversight Board as they decide whether the former President should be allowed back onto the platform. Feldstein is clear that he thinks the ban should continue as he weighs up the various international standards on free speech and incitement. Whilst he only looks at this from the point of view of Trump’s Facebook ban, the decision mirrors that which (at least in theory) should be in the minds of US senators hearing the impeachment trial. 

End of Myanmar’s Rocky Road to Democracy?

Sana Jaffrey gives a brief but pretty comprehensive run through of the recent history of Myanmar and the likely effects of the military coup there. 

America Is Back. Europe, Are You There?

Daniel Baer, in Foreign Policy Magazine, suggests that Europe has acted precipitously to seek to gain an advantage before President Joe Biden’s feet are properly under the Resolute Desk. And whilst America needs to recognise its own failings, the EU has damaged its standing with what he calls ‘childish actions’. 

Rising EU-Russia tensions are good news for Ukraine

On much the same subject, Oleksiy Goncharenko suggests that the failure of the EU mission’s recent talks with Russia led by Josep Borrell could be good for Ukraine. 

Why the Belarusian Revolution Has Stalled

Finally (sorry for the long list today) Ryhor Astapenia of Chatham House examines three reasons why he believes the Belarusian revolution has apprently come to a halt. He suggests that Lukashenka has kept the rulling classes largely behind him, that the opposition has failed to break out of its ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ base, and that international actors are concerned about what might replace the current president if he is forced out.