A new study by the Electoral Integrity Project, a leading academic project based at the University of Sydney and Harvard University, has identified coercion and corruption as major challenges to electoral integrity in 2017.
The latest report added 44 new national parliamentary and presidential elections from 2017 to the rolling study of elections that began in July 2012.
Electoral corruption was identified as a serious problem around the world, involving malpractices such as kick-back schemes for supporters, vote-buying and the bribery of electoral officials. The study found that problems with campaign finance and media coverage emerged as the weakest stages of the electoral cycle, suggesting that public concern over the abuse of money in politics is justified.
“Coercion and corruption present a real challenge to democracy as they continue to cause bloodshed and weaken legitimacy,” said lead author Professor Pippa Norris from the Department of Government and International Relations. “We also observed the rise of new problems such as the popularity of authoritarian-populist parties, cybersecurity risks of foreign hacking and social media misinformation campaigns.”
Evidence from the report showed that electoral coercion and corruption were often related, with deeply flawed and even failed contests held last year in many parts of the globe.
In the Honduran general election, major irregularities at the vote count lead to suggestions of electoral fraud and violent protests. Meanwhile in the Pacific, in Papua New Guinea, violence undermined the electoral process and thousands of voters were excluded from the electoral roll.
The detention of political opponents and a death in police custody in Equatorial Guinea sowed public distrust and exacerbated wide-ranging electoral malpractices, while in the Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was declared to have won 98 percent of the vote following a contest where all opposition candidates were appointed by his government.
“While almost all countries around the world now hold elections, malpractice is prevalent. Autocracies and hybrid regimes face the greatest challenges, although established democracies also face problems, including biased district boundaries, restrictive voter registration practices and issues with campaign finance,” said Dr Sarah Cameron, the Electoral Integrity Project Manager and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Government and International Relations.
Of the 44 elections covered by the survey in 2017, Norway, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Germany received the highest expert evaluations of electoral integrity.
Although European countries had the strongest electoral integrity ratings in 2017, they still faced problems with the growth of authoritarian-populist parties and, in the UK, issues with voter registration processes which meant many eligible electors dropped off the register.
Australia remains at number four in the Asia-Pacific region with a score of 70 out of a possible 100 points, behind New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan.
Established in mid-2012, the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity expert survey monitors elections worldwide and regionally across all stages of the electoral cycle. The rolling survey draws its data from 3,253 expert assessments, evaluating 285 national parliamentary and presidential elections in 164 countries worldwide from July 2012 to December 2017.
Elections are assessed one month after polls close on electoral laws, procedures, district boundaries, voter registration, party registration, media coverage, campaign finance, voting process, vote count, results and electoral authorities, resulting in an overall Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index score from 0 to 100.