How voting in Africa can get better - evidence from electoral contests in 2014

Tuesday February 24 2015

Supporters of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir

Supporters of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir (in portraits) take part in the first campaign meeting of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) at a stadium in Khartoum on February 24, 2015, ahead of the April 13 parliamentary and presidential elections. AFP PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY 

FERRAN MARTINEZ i COMA
By FERRAN MARTINEZ i COMA
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Forthcoming elections in Africa face many challenges. These include the postponement of general elections in Nigeria due to violence from Boko Haram and technical delays in issuing voter ID cards, the difficulties of establishing the first popular contests to be held in South Sudan, and elections with limited human rights scheduled to be held during 2015 in Togo, Egypt, Burundi, and the Central African Republic.

To understand what can go wrong – and what can be done to improve matters – we can look back at elections in the continent last year.

A new report has just been published,The Year in Elections 2014, developed by the Electoral Integrity Project(EIP) at Harvard and Sydney Universities.

This is based on the third release of the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity expert survey, which covers 127 national, parliamentary and presidential contests held from July 1, 2012 to December 31, 2014 in 107 countries worldwide.

Evidence about electoral integrity is gathered from a global survey of 1,429 domestic and international election experts (with a response rate of 29 per cent).  In Africa, 245 experts evaluated 30 elections in 28 countries.

Immediately after each contest, the EIP sent out an electronic survey about the quality of each election which is evaluated on 49 indicators.

Responses are clustered into eleven stages occurring throughout the electoral cycle and then summed to construct an overall 100-point expert Perception of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index and ranking.

The study will continue to roll out the survey in subsequent years and consequently covering more countries on the continent and worldwide.

Which were the worst and best African elections last year?

GRIM RECORD

During 2014, two of the five worst contests in electoral integrity were held in Africa. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and several other parties and groups were imprisoned, harassed, and restricted from running in the 2014 Presidential election, and General Al-Sisi obtained over 95 per cent of the votes.  

The election in Mozambique also performed poorly in integrity, and FRELIMO won with 57 per cent of the votes (compared to the 75 per cent in 2009).

In 2013, three of the elections with the lowest levels of integrity were also held in Africa: Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti and Zimbabwe.

A pessimist could say that the continent’s record is grim. And, indeed, at a first glance, the map points out to a not-very-attractive situation.

Electoral integrity is generally strengthened by three factors;democracy, development, and power‐sharing constitutions. As Pippa Norrisexplains:

“Longer experience over successive contests usually consolidates democratic practices, deepens civic cultures, and builds the capacity of professional electoral management bodies. Economic development provides the resources and technical capacity for professional electoral administration. Power‐sharing institutions, such as the free press and independent parliaments, serve as watch-dogs curbing malpractices”.

A glance at Africa, points out that the three factors are weak, compared to the rest of the world.

African countries ranked by electoral integrity

African countries ranked by electoral integrity (2012 - 2014). GRAPHIC | ELECTORAL INTEGRITY PROJECT

But an optimist could say that there are several important exceptions. First, for example, in the continent, Tunisian elections have been successful.

The results were hailed internationally for their viability as the only one of the major Arab Spring uprisings that is not convulsed by instability and turmoil.

South Africa received a largely glowing report of the quality of the election from the African Union. Not only that, but also, some countries have improved. Although we do not have data for the 2007 Kenyan election, and although far from a perfect contest in 2013, Kenya’s last elections were improved by avoiding extensive bloodshed.

Indeed, when comparing the African countries among themselves, we observe a very important variation as the graph below shows. Besides the good performance of the PEI Index of the two Tunisian and the South African elections previously mentioned, there are others that have been evaluated above the world average.

Among those are Mauritius, Namibia, Ghana, Rwanda and Botswana. Also, Sierra Leone, Comoros, Guinea Bissau or Mali are very close to the global average.

Second, a closer look at the problems of the region, points out that Africa’s difficulties of electoral integrity are very similar to the rest of the world, though at a different level.

PLENTY TO IMPROVE

A comparison of the problems around the globe in the table below shows that the most important problems globally are campaign finance and voting process. Those are also most important for Africa.

In the same line, countries around the world perform better in stages such as the results, vote count or electoral authorities and the judgments for Africa are accordingly also more positive.

Third, it is also worth it to mention that when looking at the evaluations by regions, the differences among the experts’ evaluations of the most important problems are not very dispersed. Hence, while the average campaign finance score in the world is 60 out of 100, it reaches a maximum of 66 for Western Europe and South Asia, but its lowest evaluation of 55 is for elections in West and Central Africa.

The same pattern appears with voting process and an average of 51. Excluding Western Europe, the dispersion is low. The most important differences appear, though, when comparing with the rest of the dimensions such as party and candidate registration or electoral procedures.

To conclude, African governments and parties still have a plenty of room to improve in many aspects of electoral integrity. However, many of the problems that they are facing are very similar, though in different degrees, to countries elsewhere around the world.

Dr Ferran Martinez i Coma of the University of Sydney is a Research Associate at the Electoral Integrity Projectwww.electoralintegrityproject.com 

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