Guest post by the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU).
Even with the range of electoral processes and democratic structures across Europe, a set of standard criteria for evaluation elections can be developed. A recent study by Sciences Po, the renowned French university, in conjunction with the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, set out the fundamental principles that guide observer groups. The comparative study of election observation efforts defined them as:
- Access to election
- Political situation
- Institutional system
- Election frauds/violations of law
Under each category, a range of key indicators help to determine how free and fair an election is, and whether it should be treated as valid by the international community. These indicators provide a common benchmark for elections in the developed and developing world, and offer a roadmap to areas for urgent or long-term improvement.
Chart: Key indicators of free and fair elections (click image to enlarge)
The Sciences Po study reviewed recent presidential and parliamentary elections in a number of Western, Central and Eastern European countries, specifically Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. (The full report is available here.) The in-depth analysis revealed compelling insights that indicated that while Ukraine’s ongoing reform process is essential, the countries all face similar issues, on different scales.
Sometimes in developing nations, severe challenges occur – yet often elections are treated as fully valid, in spite of such issues. For example, Armenia’s recent elections were determined to be fair by the international community, but the analysis cited acts of violence against campaign activists and party property; discrepancies in vote tabulation; evidence of ballot stuffing and implausible turnout at polling stations; and clear evidence of media bias.
In Russia, extensive evidence exists of interference with the campaign and voting processes. Administration and state resources were used for election campaigning; equality and fairness in media coverage were not assured, and were frequently a problem; persons not registered were allowed to vote, while multiple voters were also cast by some individuals; and international observers suffered significant intimidation.
Even in Poland, widely seen as a strong democracy, challenges have been cited. Ballot secrecy is often compromised; rates for political advertising are often prohibitively high for small parties, limiting competition; the registration window is narrow, limiting access; and independent candidates are not allowed to stand in Parliamentary elections. In addition, several legal provisions limit media freedom, for instance creating criminal liability for defamation and public insult.
Given the heavy attention on Ukraine, officials from all Ukrainian parties are committed to ensuring a high-quality election. The threat that some observers will view only certain outcomes as legitimate, rather than the process as legitimate, appears increasingly real. In response, Ukraine’s leaders continue to emphasise transparency and fairness, putting in place processes to monitor for election fraud, increase access to information, and count votes in a reliable manner.