Corruption and Coercion: The Year in Elections 2017
Pippa Norris, Thomas Wynter and SarAH Cameron
Elections provide the main opportunities for citizens to participate in politics and hold leaders to account. When they work well, elections can deepen civic engagement, inform public debate, stimulate party competition, facilitate peaceful leadership transitions, hold governments to account, and allow the non-violent resolution of political conflict.
The problem is that too often contests fail to achieve these objectives. There is widespread concern about falling turnout, public disaffection, party polarization, and the failure of elections to ensure legitimate outcomes. Electoral malpractices continue to undermine contests around the world, from overt cases of violence and intimidation to more subtle disinformation campaigns, barriers to fair party competition, and the under-representation of women and minority candidates. Most election results are not rejected outright or overturned but they are commonly flawed.
The new report presents the latest results of the Perception of Electoral Integrity rolling survey drawn from 3,235 experts who evaluated 285 national parliamentary and presidential elections in 164 countries worldwide from July 2012 to December 31 2017. The latest release adds 44 election evaluations for contests held during 2017.
2. Highlights of the Results
The key findings are:
- The stubborn persistence of major electoral malpractices, particularly problems of money and media evident as the weakest stages of the electoral cycle across many countries.
- The problems of coercion and corruption, generating bloodshed, weakening legitimacy, and eroding democracy.
- The rise of new challenges, including from authoritarian-populist parties, cybersecurity risks of foreign hacking, and social media misinformation campaigns.
(Click on a country to highlight detailed scores)
3. The Year in elections: 2017
Major contrasts were observed worldwide in elections held during 2017.
Several Northern European countries continue to rank at the top of the PEI scale worldwide, scoring over 80%, including Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Austria, all scoring highly in the quality of their elections. At the same time, many of these contests saw growing strength for authoritarian-populist parties, which may have broader consequences for liberal democratic norms. Across Europe, the average share of the vote won by these parties for the lower house in national parliamentary elections in Europe has more than doubled since the 1960s, from around 5.4% to 12.4% today.
Several developing countries also achieved moderate levels of electoral integrity, including contests last year in Nepal and Bulgaria, as well as Albania, the Bahamas, and Liberia.
At the lower end of the spectrum, deeply flawed and even failed contests last year were in Honduras, Turkmenistan, Papua New Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo.
Many countries see stable PEI ratings from election to election, but others have seen sharper declines across successive contests. In Rwanda, for example, following a successful legislative election in 2013, the 2017 presidential election was far more problematic, particularly on electoral laws.
Democracy requires many institutions to work effectively – competitive political parties, an independent judiciary, a vigilant free press, oversight by parliamentary bodies, and constitutional checks and balances preventing the abuse of power by the executive. But elections with integrity are the core foundation linking citizens with the state, underpinning the accountability of office-holders to voters. The PEI Index is correlated with quality of liberal democracy, estimated by the Varieties of Democracy project.
4. Challenges of corruption and Coercion
During recent decades, problems of money in politics are in the headlines every day somewhere around the world. Flaws in political financing facilitate corruption as well as undermining citizen’s feelings of legitimacy, destabilizing regimes, damaging the delivery of public services, and hurting prospects for economic growth.
Electoral corruption involves malpractices such as kick-back schemes for supporters, vote-buying, or the bribery of electoral officials. Public concern over the abuse of money in politics has grown in prominence in recent years.
How widespread are these problems? Where do they occur? Rather than trade-offs, the PEI evidence shows that electoral coercion and corruption are often related, with the worst performance in Syria, Gabon and Uganda. The US is rated as one of the worst democracies for electoral corruption.
5. Highlighted contests in 2017 and 2018
Case studies describe selected elections in 2017 including major problems and deadly violence in Honduras and Kenya, and more modest issues arising in the United Kingdom and Germany.
The report also highlights forthcoming elections likely to be closely scrutinized in 2018: Russia in March, Egypt in March and April, Malaysia in May, Zimbabwe in July, Brazil in September, and the U.S in November.
5. Technical Appendix
The report provides full technical information about the methods, distribution and analysis of the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey.