Wednesday, 27 May 2015

How to regulate the messengers? Insights from electoral media coverage in Portugal

By Carla Luis, May 26, 2015

Carla Luis is a researcher at CES - University of Coimbra, Portugal, and acknowledges the research grant from FCT SFRH/BD/79096/2011. More info available here

Media coverage is one of the critical issues worldwide when it comes to electoral integrity. According to “The Year in Elections, 2014”, recently released by The Electoral Integrity Project, media coverage scores only 60 points in a total of possible 100. 

International standards regarding the media have been developed by institutions such as UNESCO, The Council of Europe and OSCE, among others. While there is a wide margin for each state to regulate the issue, equal, impartial and non-discriminatory treatment is shared as a common benchmark. This is due to the prominent role of the media, being balanced information and impartiality important standards regarding election coverage. An impartial and independent body should also be appointed to monitor these issues. 

Portugal is probably not an exception on media coverage challenges and there is a public debate on this issue going on at the moment. The Portuguese electoral system for parliamentary elections is proportional, with D’Hondt method. There are 230 seats, divided among 22 multi-member constituencies. Parliamentary representation is usually achieved by about six parties, varying according to the political situation, with many more registered political parties, though not all running for each election. 

Facing a severe economic crisis, with external financial interventions, Portugal is a political exception in Europe in two specific aspects: no extreme right-wing party has emerged, nor a new left wing one has been able to capitalise the crisis discontentment. The two major political parties are again competing for power in what seems to be a tight race. However, new political parties have been created in the recent times, especially on the left, some with quite charismatic political actors. With no threshold, there is an effective chance that these small parties can elect members for the parliament, particularly in big constituencies, typically in urban areas. At this level the competition is also high. These two aspects, combined, can increase the importance of the media coverage for the upcoming elections. 

Portugal has a strong regulatory framework on elections. The Portuguese Constitution establishes the general principles of electoral law (art. 113), foreseeing “equal opportunities and treatment for all candidatures” during the campaigns (n. 3, b), being this further replicated in each electoral law. It binds not only public entities but also the media, within the electoral period (about two months before the election day). Paid advertising is forbidden and a limited free airtime period is provided to all candidacies, on an equal basis, during two weeks before the election (the official campaign period). The EMB, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is the responsible body for media monitoring in the electoral period, i.e., from 60 days before the election takes place. This in line with common international standards, following regulatory patterns of countries such as Germany or France, towards equal treatment or equal opportunities on access to the media. 

Nevertheless, and despite the clear regulatory framework, if we look at the media coverage in the last 2011 parliamentary elections, namely news coverage time that televisions devote to each party, the figures seem to follow a pattern.

Table 1: Total time of news coverage to each party by RTP, public tv broadcast company, in the 2011 electoral period. Source: NEC, Portugal

Table 2: Total time of news coverage to each party by TVI, private tv broadcast company, in the 2011 electoral period. Source: NEC, Portugal

Table 3: Total time of news coverage to each party by TVI, private tv broadcast company, in the 2011 electoral period. Source: NEC, Portugal 

Looking at these tables, the question arises: is this the desired outcome and is this compatible with the general principle for equal media coverage? Is an equal level playing field being ensured to all competing parties? If the essence of elections is to provide freedom of choice, are citizens being duly informed of their available options? Should parties even be omitted from a 60-day media coverage period? Probably, the answer is no and the EMB has already raised the issue for several times.

The Council of Europe Guidelines for media coverage emphasize that in a PR system with low threshold “the case for equal access is stronger”, giving The Netherlands as an example[1]. Furthermore, regardless of the regulatory framework, the result to achieve should be a fair and balanced broadcast, with equal access for political parties. These would be specific obligations impeding on the media during the electoral period. 

Nevertheless, despite the clear legal framework, Portuguese media have been arguing that the existing regulation is too strict, as journalists are already bound by deontological codes of conduct (differently from media companies) and media freedom should prevail. But the question remains: are these outcomes of campaign coverage acceptable? 

It would probably help if we could place these questions within the electoral context, looking at the broader interests at stake. Media coverage has a paramount importance for fair and balanced elections, allowing voters and citizens to have an informed freedom of choice. 

Therefore, when looking at the Portuguese case, even changing the law will not change the principle and the need for balanced media coverage remains, also deriving from international standards. Furthermore, if with a strong regulatory framework the result is the above, one may wonder what the outcome of a non-regulated scenario would be. In 2015, with new entrants on the political area, many of them being small parties competing for the first time, and the tight competition scenario among the biggest parties, the demand may be higher regarding fair media coverage.

Regardless of the law, equal treatment by the media is foreseen by the Portuguese Constitution and also arises from international standards[2]. Equal opportunities to compete for power may well be the essence of elections, nowadays with the key role of the media. Broader public interests are at stake. Effective balanced media coverage during the electoral period will always be needed. Contrary to the excess of regulation argument, the OSCE 2009 Observation Mission even noted that the legal framework would lack a timely enforcement mechanism applicable to the media. So, maybe the answer is not amending the law towards a less regulated framework. 

Nevertheless, media coverage regulation being currently discussed at the Parliament, with a fierce opposition from media companies, threatening to boycott the campaign coverage, which already led to the withdrawal of a proposal presented by the major political parties. There is uncertainty regarding this outcome but the pressure is high and public debate rarely goes beyond the media perspective. 

With parliamentary elections taking place this autumn and presidential in the beginning of 2016, the scenario of potential legal reform is risky. It is already too close to the elections, and the strong opposition from the media may lead competing parties not to challenge their de facto power in the eve of two much disputed electoral cycles. The consequences of this tense context are still to be seen, but legal reforms in these scenarios are rarely desirable. 

It is probably for a reason that media coverage remains a problem worldwide. In nowadays mediated societies, no one seems to be willing to oppose powerful media and even the public debate seems to be misplaced. In the meantime, broader aspects like the public interest, the right to information and to be informed, pluralism, equal opportunities and fair access to the media seem to be missing from this very mediated discussion. Framing the debate on the specific electoral context could help to achieve a balanced answer, combining broader aspects at stake.

In the meantime, the quest for balanced media coverage remains. In the eve of crucial electoral processes, it is still to be seen who can successfully regulate the messengers. 


[1] Media and Elections Handbook. Council of Europe. 1999, p. 32, available at

[2] For instance, see the Council of Europe, in Resolution 1636 (2008), “Indicators for media in a democracy”, state that “political parties and candidates must have fair and equal access to the media. Their access to media shall be facilitated during election campaigns” (8.5).

Friday, 22 May 2015

Good elections in bad times: The Tunisian case

Alessandro Nai, May 21, 2015

The Lisbon Forum met in Tunis 28-29 April 2015 to discuss “Financing electoral campaigns: a challenge for the electoral processes in the countries of the Southern Mediterranean.” The event sought to understand the role of money in electoral politics in order to formulate concrete proposals which met the requirements of a democratic, transparent and equal electoral process.

Tunisia, cradle of the Arab Uprisings, is facing a hard time. Even though its economy seems on the way to full recovery and international investors and funds seem rather supportive, the country is still facing some major social challenges. Tunisia is often described a particularly fertile breeding ground for ISIS fighters, and by some estimates Tunisian fighters in Syria and Iraq greatly outnumber those of other countries and regions. Beyond the drama of the event itself, the deadly attack of the Bardo Museum in Tunis on March 18th revived the fear of a decline in tourism-related incomes, extremely important for the country's economy. Especially in a context where tourism was slowly recovering from the turmoil of the Arab Spring, the Bardo attacks will undoubtedly have severe repercussions for the fragile economy. Even if the Tunisian society is undoubtedly more tolerant and avant-garde than some of its neighbours about women rights, gender-related violence is still high in the country, and over the last four years since the 2011 revolution unrests and public outburst of violence have been rather common.

Against this background, the country has recently experienced one of the most significant social and political transformations of the decade, following a series of substantial political reforms. These led to the ratification of the 2014 Tunisian Constitution. The legislative elections on October 26th 2014 and the presidential election on November 23rd and December 21st 2014 were important tests for the transition from autocracy, and they were closely scrutinized by the actors of the political, civil and academic society.

Citizens were somewhat suspicious about the Tunisian electoral process in the months prior to the October-December contests. This can be illustrated by Tunisian data from the sixth wave of the World Value Surveys, based on a representative sample of 1,205 Tunisian respondents surveyed in 2013 (margin of error +/- 2.74%). The results show that a clear majority of Tunisians estimates that violence is a threat at the polls, that only about half of the respondents thought that votes in elections are counted fairly and that voters are offered a genuine choice (Table 1). At the same time, about the majority of respondents think that election officials are fair, and that journalists provide fair coverage of elections.

Table 1

How often in country’s elections…
Fairly or very often
Not or not at all often
Voters are threatened with violence at the polls
Opposition candidates are prevented from running
Voters are not offered a genuine choice in the elections
Votes are not counted fairly
Journalists do not provide fair coverage of elections
Voters are bribed
Rich people buy elections
Election officials are not fair
TV news favours the governing party
Source: World Value Surveys, 6th wave (2010-2014), N=1205 (original wording reversed for some items to ensure comparability)

This relative distrust comes as no surprise given the tormented recent history of Tunisian democracy.

What is more surprising, perhaps, is that expert indicators measuring the quality of the 2014 elections show relatively positive evaluations. As presented in the Electoral Integrity Project 2014 Year In Elections Report, experts in the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity index (PEI) rated the recent Tunisian elections quite favourably: in comparison with the 127 elections surveyed since June 2012, the Tunisian elections rank at respectively the 25th (presidential election, second run) and 34th position (legislative election) from the top. The overall quality of electoral procedures and laws, the role of EMBs, vote counting and party and candidate registration flirts with the one of well-established democracies such as Norway, Sweden and Germany. Only the financing of electoral campaigns was rated more poorly (57 on a 0-100 scale for both elections).

To provide a more grounded comparison, recent elections in Algeria (presidential election, April 2014) and Egypt (presidential election, May 2014), both countries who share with Tunisia a recent past of political and social turmoil, rank respectively 103rd and 115th on the PEI data. Within this context, « Tunisia stands out as a beacon of hope for democracy » (EIP, The Year in Elections 2014, p. 21).

The Tunisian case illustrates some of the factors that can enforce (or depress) electoral integrity. Data gathered within the Electoral Integrity Project allow for cross-sectional comparison between countries, and they are able to show that some strong dynamics are at play. For instance (see Figure 1 below), there is a strong correlation between electoral integrity (as measures via the PEI index) and the stock of democracy that, roughly, measures the « length of time [a country…] has been democratic from 1972 to 2010 » (EIP, The Year in Elections 2014, p. 13).

This being the case, overall patterns do not prevent the existence of outlier cases, and the most recent Tunisian elections clearly fall into this situation. Having roughly the same historical stock of democracy as Egypt and Algeria, Tunisia reaches a score of electoral integrity that goes beyond such patterns, one of the only real outliers among the 107 countries surveyed. The Tunisian case stands out as an exception even more when compared with countries having a stronger democratic traditions but having performed more poorly in the recent elections in terms of integrity such as, to name just the most prominent example, United States.

Participants at the event

The North-South Centre, financed by the European Union and implemented by the Council of Europe, organized the meeting in Tunis, following an official invitation from the Tunisian authorities.

The Electoral Integrity Project provided the keynote speech opening the meeting. Officially representing the EIP, Dr. Alessandro Nai gave a speech on the definition, components and implications of electoral integrity. The talk introduced the audience to the innovative approach of the EIP to measure electoral integrity, and provided a focus on the recent Tunisian elections.

The participation at the Forum was an excellent opportunity for the EIP to strengthen its ties with the policy stakeholders involved in electoral monitoring and engineering. Participants, coming from the civil and political society, showed unmasked eagerness to know more about the project, the proposed comparative measure of electoral integrity, and the prescriptive work that awaits the EIP in the upcoming months. The keynote speech was, furthermore, widely covered in the national press in Tunisia, and beyond.

Other participants at the initial introductory sessions were Mohamed EZZINE CHLEYFA (Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the Tunisian Republic), Jean-Marie HEYDT (President of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe), and Lora BORISSOVA (Democracy and Election observation, European External Action Service (EEAS), European Union). Later sessions saw the participation of, among many others, of Richard GHEVONTIAN (Member of the Venice Commission, Aix-Marseille University, France), Andreas GROSS (Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Head of the PACE delegation for the observation of 2014 legislative elections in Tunisia, former Chair of the Council of democratic elections - Venice Commission), Lamiaa KALAWI (Regional Coordinator – Middle East and North Africa Region, Transparency International), Dr. Mohammad AL-MASALHAH (Commissioner, Independent Election Commission, Amman – Jordan), Isabel MENCHON LOPEZ (Focal point for Human Rights defenders & for Election Observation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain), and Dr Quentin REED (Anti-corruption/ Governance Consultant).

Whether the experience of Tunisia can be consolidated and deepened further in subsequent contests, and whether the lessons spread to other fragile and poorer neighbouring states in the region, remains to be seen in these turbulent times. The new Tunisian government seems eager to prove to the world, and especially its neighbours, that the country is on the right path. The meeting of the newly elected President, Mr. Essebsi, with representatives of the US government is Washington on May 21st testifies of its good will to reinforce strategic partnerships with important allies, against the backdrop of tense relationships with some of its neighbours. Only time will tell if the 2014 elections were a clear turning point in Tunisian political and social history.

Addressing electoral integrity in Africa

By Andrea Abel van Es, May 22, 2015

On April 29th and 30th, the Electoral Integrity Project, represented by Dr. Andrea Abel van Es, took part in the first of a series of working group meetings organized by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), on the topic of “Addressing Electoral Integrity in Africa”.

Since the 90s, most African countries have held up to three consecutive elections; the focus of election assessment has therefore shifted from whether African countries are able to conduct regular elections to that of the quality and integrity of these elections. In the last 18 months, elections were held in over 14 African countries, of which a number of these elections led to disputed outcomes. The contests in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Malawi exemplify elections that were in the spotlight for different reasons, ranging from the technical hitches to allegations and suspicions of fraud in the management of voter registration and results tabulation.

Election observer missions have been limited in their ability to undertake an in-depth analysis of some of the complex phenomena and factors impacting the integrity of elections, because of the vagueness of existing instruments with regard to the terms that define the quality of democratic elections. Furthermore, while the instruments provide some sanctions against member states that fail to conduct democratic elections, the aforementioned limitation of observer assessment also limits the extent to which these sanctions can be enforced.  

Commonwealth observes Zambia 2011 Elections, Photo credit- Liesl Harewood

Election observation is undertaken by different groups and institutions on the basis of universally accepted principles that set the benchmarks for assessing elections. These principles are enshrined in different international norms and obligations that require states to conduct regular competitive elections. African states are subscribed to a number of regional and sub-regional obligations that include: the African Union Constitutive Act; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; the AU/OAU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa; the Guidelines for AU Election Monitoring Missions; The ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; the EAC Protocol on Good Governance; the ECCAS Treaty and the SADC Principles and Guidelines on Democratic Elections.

Since different regional and sub-regional organizations often have different obligations and conceptualizations of electoral integrity varying in detail, oftentimes different observer groups come to differing conclusions with respect to the conduct of elections, making it hard for those policy makers wanting to affect change and improve the integrity of elections to do so, and easy for those incumbents who want to maintain the status quo to do so.

EISA has commenced a research and advocacy project aimed at contributing to the assessment of electoral integrity and mitigation of electoral flaws that undermine democratic consolidation and good governance in Africa. The project further seeks to understand why election observation missions lead to differing results in terms of improved elections across Africa, and to consolidate the various assessment frameworks in to an appropriate basis for evaluating electoral integrity in Africa.

The meeting of the working group in April kicked off the one-year inception phase of the project focused largely on research to provide a context-specific framework for defining electoral integrity in Africa. The first phase seeks to publish selected case studies of recent elections (Namibia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Burundi, Congo Brazaville and Central African Republic), identifying the common trends and challenges faced and how they were addressed. Dr. Abel van Es, as the international expert on Electoral Integrity, gave a presentation on Global Perspectives on Election Integrity, to situate the context of the African continent.

The working group, composed of regional experts including Mr. Ayman Ayoub Ayoub (North Africa expert), Dr. Victor Shale (Southern Africa expert), Mr. Ibrahima Amadou Niang (West Africa expert), Professor Gilbert Khadiagala (East Africa expert) and Professor Alain Didier Olinga (Central Africa expert), as well as EISA staff.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Frequently asked questions about the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) Index

Figure 1: Electoral Integrity around the world (2012-2014)
Source: Electoral Integrity Project. 2016. The expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, Release 4.5 (PEI 4.5)

Part of the Electoral Integrity Project's mission is to to raise awareness about the important issues pertaining to electoral integrity globally. With this goal in mind we engage academics, practitioners, and the wider public through outreach events. Examples are the Lisbon Forum, the deliberations surrounding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN, the ECPR Joint Sessions in Warsaw, or the second Asian Electoral Stakeholder Forum in Dili. More information about previous and upcoming outreach here.

One task at such events is to present the EIP's annual report and explain the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) Index as a novel tool for measuring electoral integrity. One tool among many others, to be sure. 

A number of questions about the PEI and its methodology are asked repeatedly at such events. Enough to prompt us to collate the answers to some of the most common questions below. We keep a record of these FAQs here and will update these if and when new questions emerge. Please do not hesitate to contact us directly via electoral.integrity[at] with further questions.

Q: Who are the experts?

The identity of the country experts must be treated with confidentiality due to privacy issues. But in more general terms, an expert is defined as a political scientist (or social scientist in a related discipline such as sociology, economics, law…) who has published or who has other demonstrated knowledge of the political processes in a particular country. Specifically, we define demonstrated knowledge by the following criteria: (1) membership of a relevant research group, professional network, or organized section of such a group; (2) existing publications on electoral or other country-specific topics in books, academic journals, or conference papers; (3) employment at a university or college as a teacher. The selection sought to include a roughly equal balance between international and domestic experts. 40 persons per country were invited to participate in the survey. 

For more information about expert selection please also refer to:
Norris, Pippa, Ferran Martínez i Coma, and Richard W. Frank. 2013. ‘Assessing the quality of elections.’ Journal of Democracy. 24(4): 124-135. 

For a more detailed account of how the validity of the experts’ judgments was tested see:
Martínez i Coma, Ferran and Carolien Van Ham. 2015. ‘Can experts judge elections? Testing the validity of expert judgments for measuring election integrity’. European Journal of Political Research, 54(2):305–325.

Q: Why does the EIP not seek the opinion/assessment of domestic or international election observers?

There is no doubt that the reports of domestic election monitoring organizations are a crucial source of information about the quality of elections. Very important work is done by professional associations such as GNDEM or regional networks such as ANFREL to develop systematic indicators and standards. 

Nevertheless, there are reasons why one might want to supplement and triangulate several sources of information to make reliable and valid claims about the quality of an election.. Some of the shortcomings of election observer assessments are as follows: 

1) There are sometimes diverging assessments of election quality by different observer groups. Three examples can exemplify this:
  • One example is the Cambodian 2013 election: the invited group of observers of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) and the Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI) claimed that the process had been ‘free, fair and transparent.’ Yet, other groups such as the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) or the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) under the umbrella of the Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) asserted significant problems. 
  • In another example in the 2013 election in Azerbaijan observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded that there was “a free, fair and transparent electoral process.” By contrast, the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission, which consisted of 13 Baku-based international experts and 30 long-term observers, criticized the electoral process by concluding that it "was undermined by limitations on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association that did not guarantee a level playing field for candidates." 
It seems fair to say that there are observer groups of different standard, some of which might have partisan leanings, while others conduct their assessments with the utmost professionalism. Initiatives such as the Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring are crucial in generating common standards in this regard. In practice, however, given the lack of impartial accreditation of observer missions, the dividing line is somewhat slippery. Given this heterogeneity, one cannot rely solely on domestic observer organizations’ reports to assess the quality of elections.

2) In addition, it has not been clearly established whether observer reports are based on consistent standards over time, or whether expectations have altered with the expansion of international missions and developments in human rights thinking since the use of observers became more common in the mid‐1980s. Comparative evidence needs to be reliable across countries and across time.

3) The most severe restriction in relying on domestic election observer assessments is the fact that not all countries have such groups. When it comes to international observers, the pool of countries that are being observed is even more limited. What is worse, observers are more likely to go into countries that already have problems with elections, whereas in a large group of countries in the OECD world elections are not monitored by civil society group or foreign observers at all. For a comparative view on the quality of elections it is thus imperative to rely on evidence other than that of domestic observers, simply for the fact that otherwise one could not cover all countries in the world. It is for instance impossible to find civil society observers of elections in Norway, Germany, or France. But we would still like to get an idea about the quality of elections there.

Q: Why are one-party states such as Cuba or Vietnam included in the survey?

Some researchers might automatically exclude one-party states like Vietnam from the comparison, on the grounds that human rights in these countries are so deeply flawed as to make the elections just a façade disguising autocratic rule. We feel, however, that there are several reasons for documenting levels of integrity in all these diverse cases. 

1) One is that the degree of party competition varies substantially worldwide, as illustrated in Figure 2 below. Legal bans, while a major violation of human rights, are only one mechanism to restrict opposition. It is an empirical matter to measure the degree of party competition, such as by monitoring the seat or vote share won by the leading party in parliamentary contests, or the vote share of the winning presidential candidate. The PEI Index is designed to measure all the ways that party and candidate competition can be limited, for example through lack of a level playing field in access to party finance or state resources, partisan manipulation of district boundaries (gerrymandering), excessive legal requirements for ballot access, and high de jure or de facto vote-seat electoral thresholds. In several micro-states, small legislatures with majoritarian electoral systems also allow a clean sweep in a landslide victory for one party.

2) In addition, it is also important to monitor the contemporary quality of all elections worldwide to create benchmarks for future change, should states loosen legal restrictions on party and candidate competition in subsequent elections. 

3) Several aspects of electoral governance may still function relatively cleanly and efficiently even in states with restricted party competition and human rights. Indeed the quality of electoral governance may be higher in these cases than in several fledgling democracies with weak state capacity and insufficient resources to stamp-out malpractices and irregularities such as vote-buying, ballot-stuffing, or security threats. In Cuba, for example, during the nomination process some genuine competition is reported among rival candidates. Moreover, in the case of Vietnam, mustering the nation is a chance for the authorities to hone their mobilisation skills, check the efficiency of local leaders and get a snapshot of internal movements, and in all the logistical aspects may be well run.

4) The mean results also need to be read along with the confidence intervals which we publish, as well as the number of responses and response rates per country. Anyone is also free to exclude states with few expert responses to the evaluations. 

5) Finally this is a Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey and obviously perceptions differ, and they may be wrong, for example concerning Republicans believing in fraud and Democrats believing in suppression. If we second guess the expert responses, for example if we personally disagree with the face validity of the assessments in cases such as Cuba, Iran and Laos so that we drop these cases, then this invalidates the process of gathering expert views.

Figure 2: PEI by levels of party competition
Note: The seat share is calculated by the proportion of seats in the lower house of the national parliament held by the largest party following the election.
Source: Electoral Integrity Project. 2014. The expert survey of Perceptions of Electoral Integrity, Release 3 (PEI_3)

Q. Why is my country not included in the survey?

The PEI survey of electoral integrity focuses upon independent nation-states around the world which have held direct (popular) elections for the national parliament or presidential elections. The criteria for inclusion are listed below. Excluded from the universe of cases are micro-states, since it turned out to be excessively difficult to locate 40 experts for such small countries. Furthermore excluded are countries that do not hold direct national elections either de jure or de facto (see below). The elections analyzed thus far cover the period from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016. In total, PEI 4.5 covers 213 elections in 153 nations.

Criteria for inclusion in the survey
Definition and source
Total number of independent nation-states
Membership of the United Nations (plus Taiwan)
Excluded categories

Population less than 100,000 in 2013, including Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Seychelles, and Tuvalu.
Without de jure direct (popular) elections for the lower house of the national legislature 
Brunei Darussalam, China, Qatar,  UAE, and Saudi Arabia
State has constitutional provisions for direct (popular) elections for the lower house of the national legislature, but none have been held since independence or within the last 30 years (de facto)
Eritrea, Somalia, and South Sudan
Sub-total of nation-states included in the survey

Covered to date in the PEI 4.5  dataset (from mid-2012 to mid-2016)
87% of all the subtotal of nation-states containing 4.2bn people.
Table 1: Countries covered in PEI release 4.5

We will be covering more national parliamentary and presidential elections in independent nation-states around the world once these are held. For example, elections to be covered in 2015 include the UK, Canada, Nigeria, and Myanmar. The results of the survey will be published in subsequent reports in a cumulative fashion so that eventually the project will achieve global coverage.

Max Grömping
Sydney, 18 May 2015
(updated with reference to the PEI 4.5 data release on 26 September 2016)

Max Grömping is a researcher for the Electoral Integrity Project at the University of Sydney. His current research focuses on the impact of social media and domestic observers on electoral integrity. Prior to this, he lectured at Thammasat University, Thailand.