Sunday, 28 July 2013

Cambodian civil society keeps an eye on the election amidst widespread irregularities (The 2013 Cambodian Election, Part 2)

Calmer minds supposedly emerged from a one-day cooling period, and Cambodians took to the polls on July 28, 2013. 123 seats of the national assembly were contested in 24 provinces (called ‘constituencies’ in Cambodia). Voting day started at 7am, with lines already forming in many places before polls opened. In 19,009 polling stations throughout the country, voting concluded at 3:00pm, followed by the counting process and polling station results posted outside each station from as early as 6 pm in some placesAfter the opposition leader hastily withdrew an early letter in which he claimed the win for CNRP, Hun Sen’s CPP called their own preliminary results around 8pm. According to these CPP results, the ruling party won 68 seats, leaving 55 to the opposition. The mainstream media followed the CPP's lead, and later that night COMFREL concluded their Parallel Vote Tabulation with similar results (67 to 56 seats). Official tallies were at that time still being consolidated at the commune and later at the constituency (provincial) level.

I would like to leave it to more qualified observers to discuss the political implication of this huge opposition gain and the different scenarios that had already been speculated about before. While the opposition has already rejected the results, the coming days will show how things fall into place. Rather, I will focus this blog post on the diverse monitoring efforts set up before the election in a multilateral effort towards accurately depicting the conduct of the election and preventing election-day fraud.

The Situation Room

Cambodian civil society mobilized an impressive number of volunteer election monitors. The DHRAC had deployed 2,000 observers, the Khmer Youth Association (KYA) fielded 700 people, TIC/CISA provided 900 observers, joined by NICFEC,’s contingent of 3,000. The largest group was deployed by COMFREL with 10,000 short-term observers (STOs) and 250 long-term observers (LTOs). These combined ca. 15,000 observers could not cover all of the 19,009 polling stations, but there was still a considerable chance that any malpractice would be noticed.

In order to coordinate the diverse election monitoring efforts, COMFREL established a situation room on July 26th - a best practice they had adopted after a personnel exchange with several African observer NGOs. The aim of such a set-up is to serve as an information-sharing platform for diverse electoral stakeholders, facilitate real-time evidence-based analysis, and enable rapid response to problems of electoral process. In an ideal scenario, the latter goal is achieved by cooperating closely with election management bodies (EMBs) and security forces and by inviting them to join the situation room. While monitoring incoming reports from STOs or from citizens via phone and social media, and disseminating them to the public in regular press conferences, the information should also be shared on a continuous basis with decision-makers of state agencies with an appropriate mandate to take action. This model cuts short communication times and is meant to clear up what one could call “the fog of election day” (freely adopted after Clausewitz’s phrase "Fog of War", describing the difficulty of decision-making during conflict). 

Source: author

Pioneered by PAFFREL and others, situation rooms have worked reasonably well in Sierra Leone or Nigeria, and the turnout for COMFREL’s effort was huge. A coalition of 30 different NGOs attended and shared their observations with the media and international organizations such as ANFREL, the EU, UNHCR, OSCE/ODIHR, La Francophonie and others. Yet, the concept did not come to full fruition in Cambodia due to several factors: 

1. No participation of the NEC and security forces

The motto “together in the situation room” was unfortunately misleading, because neither the NEC nor any other state agencies deemed it necessary to attend. The NEC instead set up its own press tent and briefed the mainstream media and an observation team from the International Conference of Asian Political Parties – which, by the way, glowingly endorsed the election after being invited by the CPP.

While this came as no surprise, given the generally dismissive and disinterested stance of the Cambodian EMB, nevertheless this crucial ingredient highlights the situation room's shortcomings. For instance, when it was revealed that the indelible ink employed for the election could be easily and completely washed off with household detergents, no NEC representatives were present to respond to the problem or even present a counter view. In fact, the NEC had invited political party representatives and observers for an official testing of the ink – only to be absent when the results were discussed. The situation room committee took great lengths not to antagonize the NEC too much, instead stressing that the information was meant to help the election administration address this crucial problem, and to increase the transparency of the whole process for voters.

Similarly, when bloated voter lists, over-production of ballots (about 27% more ballots than needed) and over-issuance of temporary Identification Certificates for Election (ICEs) to Vietnamese voters were alleged in the situation room, there was no reaction from the NEC.What can any observation effort realistically achieve under such adverse circumstances? It certainly highlights the fact that models like the “citizen co-production” or “co-governance” of elections as a public service is only possible when there is a ‘willing’ EMB, ready and able to participate. While the above factors put serious constraints on the functioning of the situation room as a direct link between observers (foreign and domestic) and the state it nevertheless did generate a platform of information-sharing among the watchdog organizations. Parallel joint debriefings of all involved observer groups also served this aim.

Video evidence on the (not so) indelible ink is presented (Source: author)

2. Cambodian mainstream media ignored the situation room

Although turnout was huge, and even increased significantly on election-day, Cambodian national TV stations were notably absent. Thus, the effort of disseminating election-relevant information to the public was more or less stopped in its tracks. Thai TV was present in force, as were some Khmer radio and print media. But there was a strange sense of preaching to the choir, since the gathered civil society members were overwhelmingly critical of the ruling party, and some media outlets could certainly be considered partisan. With no dissenting voice in the room to present a reaction from either the government, the NEC, or the armed services, the gathering became a rather one-sided affair. This became apparent when on July 26th an audience question challenged the CNRP’s anti-Vietnamese campaigning as hate speech and wanted it considered an election irregularity. Responses from the plenary were overwhelmingly dismissive, going so far as to agree with Hun Sen’s characterization as a “Vietnamese puppet”. This rhetoric had become so strong in the CNRP’s campaigning that the Vietnamese embassy felt compelled to comment about it.Vietnamese citizens being bussed in to cast their vote for the ruling party was a recurring theme, and it was difficult to discern xenophobia from genuine reports. In some instances, observers reported hundreds of Vietnamese being put up in a hotel in Phnom Penh or crossing the border in tourist buses. The derogatory term “yuon” was used widely in the observer circles as well as opposition media. It is certainly a plausible scenario that the voter list tampering together with the mass-issuance of ICEs would facilitate the addition of ‘foreign’ voters. Especially, since these last-minute documents are issued in lieu of other forms of identification by the commune chief - 98% of whom are CPP party members. But one would have to wait for a conclusive report to make a judgment call.
The absence of mainstream Cambodian media in itself was certainly a strong example of the strategic manipulations of vote choice so prevalent in this election.

3. A cumbersome workflow

In the absence of a ‘willing’ EMB, theory tells us that - at the least - monitoring should increase the likelihood of exposure and lead to increased international costs of cheating, because international actors will withdraw “democracy-contingent benefits” from regimes who engage in election fraud. Domestic costs should also be higher, because civil society organizations will use information about irregularities to increase leverage for social accountability, theoretically imposing reputational costs on cheating parties. Of course, for these mechanisms to work, monitoring groups need to generate accurate, timely, and reliable information. In other words, they need to clear up the fog surrounding election day.While the alliance of NGOs excelled at getting a plethora of anecdotal and personal evidence – sometimes through witnesses presenting the evidence themselves – there was a structural problem of how to systematically receive, prioritize, classify, and take action on incoming reports.

To the attending press and foreign observers it was not entirely clear, which of the reports constituted massive and widespread irregularities, and which reports were of more isolated incidents. This kind of analysis is of course a huge logistical task, since it requires a division of labor and many organizational units feeding into each other’s work. It should have nevertheless been the priority of the situation room to make sense of a huge stream of information and concisely funnel it to the public as a big-picture view. In a way, the situation room turned into a mishmash of disconnected evidence, perhaps adding more clouds to the fog of election day instead of clearing them. On the other hand, perhaps this is understandable in such a heated and time-sensitive environment as an election.

To be fair, an intervention team did evaluate available evidence according to whether it violated either election or general law, and it subsequently requested action from the local or national election commission, or the Ministry of Interior. In some instances, this cooperation with state agencies worked. For instance, there were several cases in Phnom Penh where companies tried to prevent their employees from taking Sundays off to go home to provinces to vote. They threatened to fire employees who left or stationed guards in front of employees’ housing. This occurred in the garment and electronics sectors. In all reported cases, the COMFREL intervention team notified the NEC and other state agencies. With the help of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training several cases were resolved, and employees were finally allowed to go upcountry to cast their ballot.

Crowdsourcing or crowdinforming?

COMFREL also invited the participation of the general public in the election watch effort. In an open call to the 'crowd', they opened channels to report all irregularities via the Cambodian Voter Voice (CVV) platform. Anybody could report observations via phone call, email, tweet, Facebook, or by filling out an online form. These reports would then be verified by COMFREL’s volunteer team to the extent possible and then displayed in an online map.

Call for participation via the CVV platform (Source: author; © Taylor Lowe)

The expected benefits of crowdsourced election monitoring include widening the information base for assessments of the quality of elections by exponentially increasing the number of eyes placed on the electoral process. By doing so, crowdsourced monitoring should increase the leverage of civil society and international actors, should they want to sanction the cheating party by withdrawing aid or mobilizing protest for example. Thus, the crucial component of this methodology is the engagement of organized civil society and the citizenry at large. 

Hardly any empirical evaluations of these expected impacts exist at this time, though Michael Callen, James Long, and colleagues are doing some great work in this regard, as are Catie Bailard and Steven Livingston. Whatever the impacts might be, one would expect them to be strongly contingent on the level of buy-in from state actors, linkages, and alliances of civil society organizations, ICT penetration rates, provisions for data validation, and the level of ‘crowd’ participation in the platform.

One serious obstacle to the crowdsourced initiative was the government ban on photos or videos within 100 meters of polling stations. This seriously restricted the collection of vivid evidence, which Archon Fung cites as a major advantage of 'popular election monitoring'. Still, it was possible to take pictures of the final vote tally. Likewise, the presence of security personnel, campaigning during the cooling period, or other irregularities before election day could be documented, as in fact they were by the dozen via YouTube and Facebook.

However, the CVV failed to make use of the ‘crowd’ to increase its information base for a more basic reason. There are two general approaches to crowdsourced election monitoring: The open approach is a truly open call to anybody and everybody to report whatever they observe via different technical avenues. Here, data validation issues are the main concern. The way to address this issue are threefold: a) Large volunteer teams for manual validation and georeferencing, as in the case of the Uchaguzi platform in the 2013 Kenyan election; b) sophisticated automated systems based on natural language processing; or c) approaches that “crowdsource the filter” and employ user ratings, commenting, redundancy, and the included evidence to calculate 'veracity' scores. In addition to the data validation, outreach becomes a prime concern for such open systems.

CVV took neither of these routes, as it was primarily designed to be a crowdinforming platform. It used a bounded or closed approach, in which primarily COMFREL’s own long-term observers (LTOs) provided information. On the one hand, these reports didn’t have to be verified by such stringent measures, as they originated from already trained and vetted observers. In other words, CVV relied on a 'trust network' (as Lederach calls it) to ensure accurate reporting, and used the mapping function mainly as a tool to visualize these findings in the situation room and to the general public. This intended function was well-served by the platform, as frequent questions in the situation room showed, It also became apparent how important a core of verified and reliable reports is when informing the media about the extent of irregularities. An open system would inevitably be criticized of being not trustworthy and easy to manipulate.

On the other hand, the CVV platform did contain the call to the public from the very beginning. It simply was not promoted by any concise outreach strategy. When a cartoon which informed citizens about reporting options (see figure above) was published on July 25th, it received several hundred shares on Facebook within an hour, more than the 'delible ink' video in the same period of time. The desire to put scrutiny on the election and get involved in the observation effort was obviously present, at least among Facebook users. Another indication was the countless YouTube videos uploaded within seconds of irregularities. This was the case in a small-scale riot in the Stung Mean Chey area near the capital, where voters angrily demanded to observe the counting protest. When a local official hit a monk who was making a claim on behalf of the protesters, the crowd erupted into an angry mob, throwing stones at the polling station and burning a police car. Videos of the incident circulated on social media within seconds, almost as fast as the news reached the situation room via phone.

Thus, it might be necessary to distinguish between different goals for crowdsourced election monitoring: One is to create an accurate depiction of the conduct of the election. The second is greater civic participation or engagement with the election process that goes beyond putting one’s ballot in a box. A bounded approach is more suited for the first purpose, while an open approach might be better for the second one. Trade-offs are inevitable.

Source: Phnom Penh Post

In summary, my observations above about the election's observers might sound overly critical. But to be sure, given the difficult relationship with state agencies and antagonistic media and the systematic manipulations of the electoral process, COMFREL and others exhibited great professionalism. They employed a range of standard instruments of election observation, such as voter registry audits or parallel vote tabulation. If anything, the following lessons need to put into the context of these great achievements:

a) Electoral authoritarian regimes do not cooperate much with civil society monitoring efforts. A model of 'citizen co-production', i.e. the joint fixing of problems within the electoral process, is unlikely to work in such circumstances

b) Domestic monitors need to ensure the trustworthiness and timeliness of their data. They also need to develop systems by which to effectively aggregate, prioritize and effectively disseminate huge amounts of incoming data.

c) Crowdinforming systems are a good tool to funnel such data to the public. Crowdsourcing systems are a tool for increasing the information base but at the same time exacerbate the problems of trustworthiness and call for a huge outreach effort. 

Max Grömping, 29 July 2013, Phnom Penh

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The 2013 Cambodian election, Part 1: The menu of strategic manipulation

A curious sight greeted the unwitting backpackers exiting Phnom Penh airport one week before Cambodia’s parliamentary elections of 28th July 2013. Just two days before, opposition leader Mr. Sam Rainsy had returned to the capital after a royal pardon ended his four-year long self-imposed exile. Allegedly, Cambodia’s long-time prime-minister, Mr. Hun Sen, had suggested the royal pardon himself to thwart allegations that the polling would be neither free nor fair. The prime minister’s move might be seen as an empty gesture helping primarily him and his legitimacy, but Sam Rainsy’s return has undoubtedly energized the Cambodian electorate.

Although not eligible as a candidate himself, the opposition leader’s arrival drew tens of thousands to the streets of the capital, and subsequent appearances in his tour through the country generated similarly large number in other provinces. The major TV news outlets didn’t deem it necessary to report this event, and left the field to foreign reporters, smaller news outlets, and citizen journalists. Shortly after, YouTube and the digital sphere were buzzing with videos of his appearances.

Even when the official rallies were over, droves of people lined the main street leading from the airport into the city, holding banners and shouting “Change or no change?” One couldn’t help but notice that the cheering crowds were young--the average age was 20 or below.

Sam Rainsy returns (Source: Phnom Penh Post)

Seldom has an election energized Cambodia as much as the upcoming poll this Sunday, even though the prospects for a real change in government are as bleak as always. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has maintained--and even extended--its power in every single post-war election since the first UN-administered election in 1993: in 2008 they increased their legislative seats from 64 to 90 (out of 126) and in the 2012 local commune elections they won 68% of all commune council seats (but occupying the crucial position of commune chief in an astonishing 97.5% of all communes).

However, perhaps due to Sam Rainsy’s return and the merger of his and another major opposition party into the new Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), coupled with increased attention among young first-time voters, the stakes are perceived as higher than ever. Numerous incidents from gunshots fired at CNRP headquarters, to clashes between CPP and CNRP supporters, to an attempted hack of the National Election Commission’s (NEC) computers by members of Anonymous Cambodia, attest to the highly charged atmosphere.

Few of the recommendations of foreign observers have been implemented since the last election. This time around, international observers were either not invited (except a few individual observers from ASEAN countries), or declined to come so as to avoid bestowing legitimacy on a process that they deemed flawed from the start. In a recent joint statement, the election watch NGO COMFREL and an alliance of civil society organizations drew attention to the most widespread problems in Cambodia's electoral process. The strategic “menu of manipulation” includes:

1) Intimidation and threats
Although there have been no killings (at the time of writing), the joint statement cites continued threats, intimidation, and disruptions “both at grassroots and national level”. Due to the overwhelmingly strong grip of the CPP on commune councils, commune chiefs and other local authorities are in a unique position to exert pressure on the electorate. This includes ostracizing known opposition supporters from the community, refusing to register them, or threatening other sanctions. Closely related to this is the engagement of security forces (military and police) in political activity, including election campaigns. Although prohibited by law, observers frequently recorded such partisan activities, which are just as frequently denied by officials.

2) Manipulation of voter lists
Two independent Voter Registry Audits (VRA), one conducted by NDI, Cambodia’s Center for Advanced Studies, and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), and another one conducted by COMFREL, found that 10.5-13.5% of eligible voters who thought they were registered did not actually appear on official registration lists. This amounts to more than one million disenfranchised voters (out of an electorate of about 9.6 million). At the same time, up to 18.3% of names on the voter list were invalid, according to the NICFEC VRA, either because they were deceased, lived somewhere else, or were completely made up names. This obviously opens the door to ‘ghost voting’, or ballot box stuffing. These two phenomena led to an interesting distribution of inflated and deflated voter lists throughout the country’s communes. Curiously, several tightly contested constituencies show inflated lists, as do opposition strongholds. Both, over-registration of non-existent voters, as well as under-registration of presumed opposition voters could be a strategic manipulation and could give the final push in closely contested constituencies. But such suspicions are at this point not backed by hard data.

Variation in voter registration (Source: Phnom Penh Post)

Just shortly before the election, the NEC ordered the regional consultancy Business and Marketing Research Solutions Asia (BMRS) to conduct their own VRA in rebuttal. Though this audit found a similar number of 13% erroneous or missing names, the NEC argued that most of them would still be able to vote (because if only one consonant is spelt wrong, one can still vote according to NEC regulations). Whether such assertions are credible or not, these problems should have been addressed far before the election. The interesting finding here is however that the second audit seems to have been a reaction to international doubts about the fairness of the election. Could it be that even hegemonic electoral autocracies are subject to some sort of pressure? And if yes, does this pressure generate from within or from outside of the country?

3) Restricted media access and biased reporting
The influence of the ruling party on the media, especially television and radio, remains strong. A media monitoring effort by COMFREL between February and March 2013 found “over 4000 speeches by, or references, to Prime Minister Hun Sen […]in contrast to 1200 combined mentions of the two opposition leaders, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, on radio FM105. Broadcasts referencing FUNCINPEC leader Nhoek Bunchhay were observed only a 170 times.” (Source: COMFREL). Cambodian television by and large does not report on opposition rallies or emphasizes negative news, such as traffic disruptions or social unrest. One radio host went so far as to predict a military coup in the unlikely event that the CNRP should get elected.

On the other side of the political divide, the CNRP brandishes nationalist anti-Vietnamese rhetoric against alleged illegal immigrants and voters bused in from the neighboring country. It is also a thinly-veiled reference to the prime minister's rise to power during the Vietnamese occupation. Such incitements have been decried as hate-speech by the CPP. Overall, the media landscape is at the same time systematically skewed in favor of the ruling party and has become a platform for what Sarah Birch calls the 'black arts' of manipulative campaigning.

4) Misuse of state resources
There is a long tradition of clientelistic power dynamics and misuse of local development funds or Ministry of Interior resources in Cambodia. The established practice of gift-giving as a coercive tactic is well-institutionalized in this country, and the CPP is ideally positioned to make full use of its strong networks of commune chiefs and local canvassers in this regard. The state’s resources provide an ample reservoir for pork spending and more mundane forms of voter or candidate-buying. Naturally, such tactics are as old as Southeast Asian politics itself. CNRP's Sam Rainsy tried to counter them in an innovating and frightening way: by announcing a "bounty" on canvassers. In a speech he offered to double the money offered to voters if they exposed the party agents offering it.

Prime minister Hun Sen (Source: CTV News)

The NEC has been inactive--or even obstructive--on most of these issues. The commissioners themselves consistently reject criticism and dismiss most problems as minor or due to incapacities. According to NEC, complaints are duly received, assessed, and dealt with. But the fact that international and domestic observers' recommendations are continuously ignored certainly makes it easier to classify this as a manipulation of vote choice (as Sarah Birch calls it). 

In Birch’s typology of different types of manipulations she expects the choice of manipulation strategy to be the result of weighing costs and benefits. The strategic manipulation of rules carries the lowest risk. However, in the Cambodian case, much of the regulatory structure, which was set up under the auspices of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), turned out to be comparatively robust, making this long-term strategy perhaps less accessible to the ruling elites. Organizations like COMFREL or NICFEC might insist that adherence to the law is lacking in the NEC's and some political parties' conduct. But the fact remains that such a relevant body of law exists.

The next best thing, according to Birch, is the manipulation of vote choice. All the described issues in Cambodia fall firmly into this category, further split up into “manipulation of the voters genuine preferences” (media bias, misuse of state resources, and candidate intimidation/obstruction), and “manipulation of voters expressed preference” through undue influence (vote-buying and voter coercion). In line with her expectations, the ruling party in Cambodia relies mainly on these strategies as the ones with the next-best cost-benefit ratio.

Resorting to outright manipulation of the vote (i.e. election day fraud, ballot box stuffing, carousel and ghost voting) would be a sign of the CPP’s slipping control.

The manipulation of elections is costly, as the quite vocal criticism by watchdog organizations (both domestic and international) shows. At the same time, increased reliance on Chinese investments insulate the ruling regime from outside pressure to a certain degree. In that sense, the ball is back in the corner of those young Cambodians lining the street from the airport or riding around town in the evening on their motorcycles, waving opposition flags and shouting "change".

And it is up to those Cambodians for whom elections with integrity are in themselves the yard stick by which to measure their country's progress. They will place scrutiny on the elections as they unfold by making use of cellphone cameras, the blogosphere, and their sheer presence. Ironically, the higher the turnout of young people and the closer the race, the higher the chances will be for outright vote manipulation. In such an event, any election result is likely to be refuted by the opposition, leading to post-election protest and a possible crackdown like that seen after the 1998 election. Whatever the scenario after election day, it is quite possible that those who characterize the process as a farce will be seen as being right.

More to come...

by Max Grömping

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Electoral integrity in Spain

Lately, attention has been drawn to Spain for a rather important flaw in the integrity of its elections— party finance. Spain’s leading conservative party, Partido Popular (PP), has been recently accused by its former treasurer, Luis Bárcenas, of using illicit financing methods. According to Bárcenas, Spain’s current Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the PP’s other leaders had improperly received money. Furthermore, members of the former Aznar government have also been implicated in illicitly receiving money in addition to their public wages. In addition, significant sums of money were illegally donated to the PP in a scheme that could date back over 20 years.

Mr. Bárcenas, who is now in prison, received a PP salary for more than 28 years, and the PP paid Bárcenas’ lawyers fees (over a million euro) until April of this year. It is also important to mention that PP referred to Mr. Bárcenas as an example of ‘great professional.’ Therefore, as a former PP insider, Mr. Bárcenas’ accusations have caused widespread attention both at home and abroad.

Mr. Bárcenas
While PP’s case of rampant and illegal party finance (summarized here and in wider detail in Spanish here) is the only one to have make it into the international headlines, unfortunately, it is not unique. Another high-profile case (known as the ‘Palau case’) suggests that Convergencia i Unio (CiU), the conservative nationalist party governing in Catalonia, took money from Ferrovial, one of the few Spanish multinational corporations. The scheme was simple: Ferrovial would give some money to the CiU, and then the Catalonian government would give public works contracts to Ferrovial. A similar scheme seems to be at the heart of the Bárcenas case. Such a quid pro quo is a violation of the Spanish electoral law, which forbids companies receiving public contracts from donating money to any political party.

Since the news broke in the case, Spanish society is shocked and asking questions. The President still has not given any explanation to Parliament, which has caused surprise both domestically as well as from the Financial Times, The Economist, the New York Times, Liberation,  the Independent, among others.
Where did the money come from? And what was the money used for? From what has been published in the media, the money primarily came from big companies in the construction sector. The money, in turn, has been used (allegedly) to finance electoral campaigns.

The above mentioned cases are not the only instances of illegal political party financing in Spain.  During the 1990s, both the Socialist Party and the Popular Party had their own scandals (the Filesa and Naseiro cases’, respectively).

If the money was used to finance electoral campaigns, one might ask, is it because Spain does not have a political finance law? No. The problem is that Spanish law allows for anonymous political donations up to €60,000.

Nevertheless, many corporate donations were above even this €60,000 level. One way to skirt the law was to make multiple payments. For example, if company X wanted to donate say €200,000, they would break it into six anonymous payments of 50,000. By this procedure, anonymity was guaranteed, and the law thwarted.

Even more shocking, in some documented cases the system approached the plot of a Hollywood movie. Mr. Bárcenas would collect envelopes full of cash from company X, scrupulously record it, and then put the money in the bank. Then, Mr. Bárcenas would call the PP mayor in a relevant city and tell the mayor to treat company X ‘well.’ Company X would get the contract, and the PP would have a deeper campaign war chest.

All together, the building contractors in Mr. Bárcenas records received 6,600 million euros in public contracts. Remember, this is forbidden by Spanish electoral law.

The implication of some research is that [Pinto-Duschinsky, 2002] that when party finance regulations are altered, democracy is altered. When an athlete, a biker, or a soccer player cheats, normally he looses his titles (e.g. Lance Armstrong). What should happen when a party that governs millions cheats? 

                                                                                         -Ferran Martinez i Coma 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Africa catching up with transparency

On July 1st the African Development Bank published data to the International Aid Transparency detailing activities in their public and private sector becoming, according to IATI, the first multilateral development bank to provide a thorough level of detail in IATI data.
Enhancing disclosure procedures and implementing them is a point more for Africa in the path of transparency. Although this disclosure pertains only to the realm of international aid, it is evident that the effects of the international community's influence to trigger implementation of transparent practices is great, maybe far greater than other influencing factors like governments' particular interest in openness and media and/ or civil society's pressure.
While Africa is doing well in the transparency path (legally speaking) it is still behind other continents in the world. In the campaign finance realm for example, in terms of percentages, of the 57% countries in the world possessing campaign finance transparency laws, Africa ranks last with 50% of the continent (23 countries) having some kind of disclosure policy regarding campaign finance. Europe ranks the highest with 70.5% (31 countries), followed by Asia with 67.7% (27 countries), the Americas with 50% (17 countries) and Oceania with 50% (7 countries).
The new initiative to abide by international transparency standards, therefore, has the potential of being replicated in areas other than development money. If adjusted to the realm of campaign finance, for example, it could lead to a more uniform transparency practice in the country, and could very well pave the road for a standardized practice of transparency at the global level.
What are the standards promoted by IATI and how is transparency understood by them? transparency is "the disclosure of regular, detailed, timely information." Though "comprehensibility" is not mentioned, the three principles mentioned in IATI's Accra statement are still a solid base to build and promote transparency and definitely have the potential to become customary law with time.
The step undertaken by the ADB is positively one that strengthens global notions of accountability and categorically is a step towards the consolidation of integrity at the global level.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Egypt: A Step Backwards or Forwards?

(Source: The Economist)

Now that Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has been removed from his post by the Egyptian military after a year in office, people, politicians, and pundits both within Egypt and around the world are united only in their uncertainty as to what will happen next. 

Will this military coup (and yes, it is a coup, see Powell & Thyne 2011) lead to a new round of elections that offer more of a choice than the 2012 election,  where the only two options were the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood or Mubarak's former prime minister? Will a new Egyptian government have more legitimacy and the the ability to encourage a more inclusive economic and democratic development? Is this a blow to political Islam as both Tom Friedman and Syrian President Bashar al Assad) argue (and Morsi's supporters obviously dispute)? Is this as another indication of the political rise of the non-Islamist middle classes in the region from Turkey, Iran and more widely to Russia and Brazil?

Right now, there are clearly more questions than answers. As the glow of the Arab Spring faded and the war in Syria is well into its third year, an increasing number of observers are seeing what social scientists have seen occur in many other parts of the world--it is tough for countries that have long had autocratic personalists rulers to move to a more pluralistic and democratic society. 

Is democracy in retreat?

There are setbacks, but the overall trend (as you can see from the figure below) is towards democratic systems of governance. However the last few decades have also witnessed a growth in what are often called electoral authoritarian regimes or anocracies (the black line in the figure below).

                                (Source: Center for Systemic Peace)

More specifically, the takeaway message from the vast literature on democratization in divided or fragile states (that I am far from being an expert on, but see recent work by Andy Reynolds, Elizabeth Wood, Acemoglu and Robinson, and Benjamin Reilly) is that  (1) the democratization process takes time, (2) institutional design (e.g. writing constitutions and holding elections) and implementation (e.g. actual governing) are crucial, and (3) legitimacy is an essential but fragile flower.

The many ways of losing legitimacy

And in a little more than two years crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square have overturned two presidents who had lost legitimacy with a broad swath of Egyptian society. Overturning the first was arguable much harder and more eventful than the second. Mubarak had been in power for decades and had solidified economic and political power, while Morsi was elected with 52% of the vote against an opponent who represented the previous regime while non-Islamist parties were unable to put forward a consensus joint candidate. 

In the end a large number of people who voted for him have pushed back, in large part because President Morsi clearly did not govern as many expected. His tenure was marked by  a struggle with the military including in April 2012 suspending articles of the constitution that gave the military say in legislation and seized more power in November 2012 by declaring himself above oversight by the Supreme Constitutional Court. 

However probably most damaging to Morsi's chances of surviving his first term in office was the country's dire economic situation. As The Economist put it today:
“He did nothing to rescue the economy from looming collapse. The Egyptian pound and foreign exchange reserves have both dwindled, inflation is rising and unemployment among those under 24 is more than 40%. The IMF has despaired of agreeing on a big loan that would have opened the way to others. In the broiling summer heat, electricity cuts have become maddeningly frequent. Queues for petrol have lengthened. Farmers are often not being paid for their wheat. Crime has soared—the murder rate has tripled since the revolution.”
Thus part of the motivation for the size of the protests that led to Morsi's ouster. As many as 14 million of the county’s 82 million turned out against him (according to sources cited by The Economist)

Had Egypt become a democracy yet?

More broadly, the events occurring in Egypt in recent days highlights the importance of electoral integrity as well as governing roughly according to expectations. Most observers viewed Egypt's elections as having integrity, and by some measures this made Egypt a democracy. By other definitions like that of Cheibub, Ghandi and Vreeland (2010) it was not. Cheibub et al. required an alternation of power under identical election rules, something that is not likely to happen in the near future in Egypt. 

Is this alternation important? It depends. Botswana is considered a flourishing and well-governed multiparty democracy, but the Botswana Democratic Party has always held the reins of power having won more seats in every election since independence. Yet in Senegal when incumbent Abdou Diouf stepped down after losing elections in 2000, it was seen as crucial in consolidating Sengal's democratic tradition.

Watching, waiting, and learning

Meanwhile, aspiring political leaders in Egypt and abroad (including the region's Islamist groups) are watching. And an obvious conclusion for them to reach is that even if they do embrace democratic multiparty elections that meet international standards of electoral integrity their opponents can always use non-democratic means to subvert them. What will the Muslim Brotherhood take from this? They renounced violence in the 1970s, but if the moderates in the Brotherhood fall out of favor, extreme voices might grow louder, especially if the military handles the next few weeks in a heavy-handed manner. The arrest of Morsi and "entire presidential team" not to mention the arrest warrants for 300 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the shutdowns of several televisions stations is worrying.

The international community's response to Morsi's ouster will be crucial, although as Salon points out, these responses depend of course as much on domestic as international interests.The US could cut off the over US$1 billion in aid to Cairo, although some argue against it. Most have taken a wait and see approach as Adly Mahmud Mansur, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court takes power in Egypt and moves forward with new elections under the watchful eye of the military. The US will also likely try to stay out of Egyptian domestic politics.

And so, in the end, I come back to several of the takeaway messages of social science:  (1) the democratization process takes time, (2) institutional design and implementation are crucial, and (3) legitimacy is an essential but fragile flower. Egypt is clearly a case in point. The next few months will see whether a new or tweaked institutional structure and new leadership will be more successful than Mohamed Morsi during the 368 days he controlled Egypt.
-Rich Frank