Kazakhstan election gets a failing grade from OSCE/ODIHR

Yesterday’s snap Presidential election in Kazakhstan has been assessed very negatively by OSCE/ODIHR, the most respected international group present in the country. The election was called after interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called the poll having taken over from long time President Nursultan Nazarbayev .

The full OSCE/ODIHR statement can be found here. It is a preliminary statement and the final report will be issued in a couple of months once the election processes, including any complaints and appeals, have been dealt with.

In short, OSCE/ODIHR found that:

  • there were a few positives, including that the central election commission held its meetings in public;
  • the campaign environment was not equal, with huge bias being shown towards the incumbent;
  • although there were seven candidates, including one woman, there was no real choice available to voters;
  • restrictions on freedom of assembly and arrests of those who expressed views opposed to the incumbent regime meant there was not an open campaign environment;
  • there were indications of malfeasance on Election Day including of ballot box stuffing;
  • counting and tabulation procedures were particularly problematic with evidence of manipulation of the vote.

Mr Tokayev was declared the winner with 70.76% of the vote – well down on the 98% which his predecessor was recorded as having gained last time.

This report presents a challenge both to the Kazakh regime and to other governments. The Kazakh regime has shown in the past that it does not take much notice of OSCE/ODIHR reports. Will they do so this time? And similarly for the OSCE member governments that commissioned this mission – will they take any account of the problems with the election and will any action follow?

 

UPDATE: A Chatham House paper on the elections and what happens next is here.

 

Sudan moves to swift polls as agreement between military and opposition collapses

Sudan’s army leaders have called for elections in the country to be held within nine months after fresh protests brought the end of an agreement between the opposition and military.

The regime of President Omar al-Bashir was toppled in April after months of protests. The army moved against the former leader and appeared to be working with the opposition. An agreement was in place for elections to take place in three years time as the opposition said that it would take that long for the grip of the old regime on the levers of power to be loosened.

However the military launched a brutal attack on protesters in Khartoum recently and has been condemned internationally. The head of the Transitional Military Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said in a statement broadcast on state television that they had decided to “stop negotiating with the Alliance for Freedom and Change and cancel what had been agreed on”.

Opposition groups believe that elections held in just nine months time will allow remnants of the old regime to maintain their grip on power.

Algerian elections cancelled as elites bow to street protests

Algeria’s Constitutional Council has postponed the Presidential election planned for July 4th amid claims that no suitable candidates had come forward. The move will be seen as a victory for street protesters who have rallied against the old order in the country.

The country has been gripped by street protests which resulted in the resignation of long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika two months ago. The 80 year old had been in power for more than two decades. Protesters had been skeptical about the election which they saw as being in the grip of the old elites and the army.

Abdelkader Bensalah had been appointed as interim President with a mandate to stay on until July 9th, but his term is now going to be extended and it is he who has been tasked with organising fresh elections, although no date has been set.

General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, had been overseeing the poll as the head of the Army and key powerbroker in the country. However the election was cancelled after the two candidates who came forward were deemed to be invalid due to a lack of supporting signatures.

The New York Times has more.

Israel will go to the polls again in September as coalition talks fail

Fresh elections will be held in Israel on 17th September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to secure a new coalition deal. This will be the first time that the country has faced two general elections in one year.

The results of April’s election were, as ever, inconclusive and required a coalition. Netanyahu seemed in prime position to bring together right wing and religious parties under the leadership of his Likud Party, but former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman held out for his plan to force ultra-orthodox students to complete military service – something that angered religious parties. 

With no deal apparent by the deadline of midnight on Wednesday, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin would have had the ability to ask another member of parliament – either from within the putative right ring coalition or former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz whose Blue and White Party came second – to try to form a government. However the Parliament chose instead to force another election.

Netanyahu will be hoping that he can pin the blame for the failure of talks on Lieberman and persuade voters to return a stronger Likud presence. Gantz will be seeking to capitalise on the failure to form a right wing government to make gains for the centre and left. But any changes in outcome will likely be small and a further period of coalition negotiations will be needed.

One consequence of this vote will be that Netanyahu, who will continue as Prime Minister until the election, will become Israel’s longest-serving leader in July. He is still awaiting possible bribery and fraud charges.

Netanyahu threatens a second election as coalition talks stall

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to call fresh elections as talks to form a new coalition have stalled. By law, a new cabinet has to be in place by Wednesday, but former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist secular party, Yisrael Beiteinu has failed to find common ground with religious parties over plans to force ultra-orthodox religious students to undertake national service.

If no cabinet can be presented to the President by Wednesday then another MP could be asked to try. This, however, is unlikely to succeed as Netanyahu is the dominant force in Israeli politics.

Israel has never had two parliamentary elections in a year and it seems likely that Lieberman will back down to avoid being labelled as the cause of instability. Netanyahu is putting pressure on his proposed ally by means of a bill to force new elections.

Has the UK failed some voters?

A big caveat for this article – I’m relying on news reports. And whilst there are multiple sources, this is not a substitute for a proper election observation.

But nevertheless, it does seem that many of those UK citizens who live overseas and who wanted to vote in the European Parliamentary election did not receive their ballot paper in good time and also that many of those EU citizens who were in the UK and wanted to vote here were prevented from doing so.

Let’s take each of those situations in turn. First up, UK citizens voting from abroad.

The law is that to be on the electoral role a UK citizen has to be normally resident at a UK address or have left to live overseas within the last 15 years. In the latter case, a person will retain a place on the electoral roll in the council and constituency they last lived in.

Until a few years ago, ballot papers would not be sent overseas and such electors would need to appoint a proxy – someone to vote for them who lives in the UK. But now they can be sent abroad, but at the risk of different postal services – you take the chance of the ballot paper being stuck in the post in either direction. But there is a good faith argument to be made. The council sending out the ballot should be doing so early enough in the process to give the voter every chance of receiving it and returning it in time for it to be counted. In this election a number of authorities sent out postal votes very early – at a time when the government was still claiming the election might be cancelled. So it was perfectly possible to ensure overseas electors had the maximum chance of casting a vote. However it is alleged that some councils did not send out ballots to overseas electors in good time. 

I suspect that this is going to be a matter that will have to be investigated on a council by council basis. They all keep records as to when each batch of ballots are sent out and so this will be relatively easy to do.

I’ll come back to what could be done for the future, but a number of current MEPs have suggested that returning officers accept any ballot that is received before the count begins on Sunday. That might be a sensible compromise.

There are also the cases of EU citizens living in the UK. The law says that an EU citizen can choose to vote where they live or in their country of citizenship if the two are different. But they can only vote once and the country concerned must have a process to enable a challenge in the case of an accusation of multiple voting.

So in the UK, an EU citizen must first be on the electoral roll – as a UK citizen has to be. The UK interpretation of the ‘challenge’ rule is to require them also to fill in a form (known as UC1 or EC6) to formalise their choice to vote in the UK and renounce their right to vote in that election in their country of citizenship. A couple of former Lib Dem MEPs – Andrew Duff and Sarah Ludford – have suggested this is a case of ‘gold-plating’, ie making a simple requirement far more complex than it needs to be.

What appears to have happened is that some EU citizens were not made aware of this requirement, including some who specifically asked about a form but were told by their council that they were ok to vote and didn’t need to fill it in. Others were sent the form far too late to return it by the deadline of 7th May. And there appear to have been some presiding officers who got confused about the rules and mis-informed legitimate voters, telling them they could not vote.

The Electoral Commission has laid the blame squarely with the government. They said that the government knew about this confusion but, because of the intention to leave the EU before these elections, chose not to do anything about it. And once participation became the only option, it was too late to do anything about it.

So what can be done? To be honest, very little that can give votes to those who missed out. The principle in the UK is that elections are only ever overturned or re-run in cases where it can be proved that the result was changed by fraud or official failure. That is a pretty high bar and almost impossible to clear in an election spread across regions of the UK.

But, the case for legal action does not begin and end with a re-run. Managing elections is an official duty and so there may be a case for investigation to see if that official duty has been breached. The standard in such cases is pretty low – that an official ‘is guilty of an act or omission in breach of that duty’ (RPA 1950 s.32 as amended). So if it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that a returning officer or registration officer failed in their duty to properly manage the process then they run the risk of a fine or even jail time.

I’m not going to suggest whether any individual should be taken to court. There are those (including Democracy Volunteers and the electors affteced) who know more about each case. But if such breaches did occur in an election being observed by a recognised group then you could be sure that they would be highlighted in the observation report and recommendations would be made for the future. Such recommendations might include:

  • Ensuring that all presiding officers, electoral registration officers and returning officers are properly trained and resourced for the specific election they are managing. Presiding officers should have up to date manuals for the right election to hand.
  • Ending the haphazard nature of local decision making for national elections. There should be a defined timetable managed by the Electoral Commission with which each returning officer must comply.
  • Local councils should understand the precious nature of the elections they are managing. Giving incorrect information to electors – even if done unintentionally – should be regarded as a serious failing.

Above all, these reports show that UK elections are not perfect. We might not have the same problems that exist in other countries, but we do have issues and we should acknowledge the fact and seek to address them as soon as possible.

Australia to vote on May 18th

Australians will vote for a new lower house of parliament on May 18th after PM Scott Morrison announced the widely expected polls. In a very Australian turn of phrase, Morrison described the vote about giving people a ‘fair go’.

The current government is formed by a coalition of Morrison’s Liberal Party (he took over as PM after ousting Malcolm Turnbull last year) and the National Party. In Australian terms the Liberal Party is a broadly conservative force. The opposition is dominated by the Labor Party. The current parliament has a number of independents who have exerted a lot of power over the minority government.

Elections to the House of Representatives are conducted using the alternative vote (or instant runoff voting) in single member constituencies and voting is compulsory. At the last election, the Liberal/National coalition was re-elected with 76 seats – a bare one seat majority in the 150 seat house. Labor won 69 seats and Greens, Centre Party, Australia Party and two independents won a seat each.

Since the 2016 poll, two Liberal members faced (and won) by-elections caused by the dual nationality crisis. One Labor member faced a by-election for similar reasons and the party held the seat. At present five seats are vacant – four due to the nationality issue.

Current polls put the coalition marginally ahead with 38%, Labor on 35%, the Greens on 11%, One Nation on 5% and others on 10%. However, the AV election system often results in straight fights between the top two parties after minor candidates have been eliminated. The majority of these voters favour Labor and so the two party preference polling currently shows the party leading 52-48 over the coalition.