Reading List – 16th October 2020

Tory election agent guilty of tricking voters into nominating candidates

The party official managing election campaigns in East London told voters she was calling on behalf of Labour, the Greens or Hackney Council, a court heard. She tricked them into signing nomination papers (council candidates need ten signatures) and has been sentenced to a six month suspended jail term and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work after being found guilty.

Kyrgyzstan parliament confirms Sadyr Japarov as new president

Riots in Bishkek and across the central Asian country forced the resignation of Sooronbay Jeenbekov who was elected in 2017. New elections will be held next year but, until then, President Japarov will effectively control all three branches of government.

Long regarded as an island of democracy in the region, Kyrgyz politics are largely clan and regionally based and political parties have little ideology. 

Advance NZ party’s Facebook page removed for breaching misinformation policies

One of the smaller parties in New Zealand, a group renowned for espousing conspiracy theories, has seen its social media presence cut after Facebook took action to stamp out what it saw as promotion of fake medical advice surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. The move comes just a few days before the country goes to the polls.

President Trump recruits election day team

Calling itself the ‘Army for Trump’, the Donald Trump campaign is seeking to recruit election day volunteers and says it aims to cover every polling place. The video accompanying the call claims that Democrats will ‘be up to their old tricks’ and implies that fraud will be likely but that Trump volunteers can help stop this from happening. In fact, there is little or no evidence of electoral fraud taking place in polling places in the USA at recent elections.

The good news is that the campaign says it will provide training to volunteers rather than encouraging them to go to polling places without an understanding of the rules.

New Zealand debates autumn poll delay

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern has received largely positive reviews so far for her government’s handling of Covid-19. Now she is embroiled in a debate over whether or not to move the planned date of the general election from September to November.

Among the parties who want the delay are the opposition National Party and Ms Adern’s own coalition partners New Zealand First. There may, of course, be tactical reasons for a particular party requesting a delay and the most recent polls (although these are all from before the pandemic) pointed to New Zealand First losing their places in parliament.

There are a vast number of competing issues to balance when looking at issues like this, and I wrote about many of them before. Going ahead when there is a risk to voters, poll workers and campaigners is reckless. But delaying elections unless absolutely necessary is anti-democratic. And trying to come up with a quick fix such as all-postal ballots leaves the way open to confusion and to fraud.

The Director of OSCE/ODIHR, Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, has written a powerful piece about the proposal by the Polish lower house to go ahead with elections there on May 10th. She points out that elections are not just about polling day itself, but need to have a proper campaign with both government and opposition able to reach out to voters. Moving to a postal ballot after a campaign period dominated by government figures on state-controlled media during a lockdown does not fit, she suggests. New Zealand is not the same as Poland, of course, but the need to have an open campaign as well as workable polling day should apply in all democracies.

There is no easy answer, of course. Scientists suggest that Covid-19 may ease before coming back as a second wave and so there might only be a small window of comparative freedom in which elections could be held. A number of countries besides New Zealand are due to hold (or have re-scheduled) elections this autumn and will have to make similar decisions.