Thursday, November 24, 2011

How to get fair elections in new democracies

There are several opportunities for new democracies in the Middle East, and if it is done well, democracies could actually establish themselves for good. This can only happen if politicians respect electoral results and the voters can trust the results as well. How do you get this to work?

Takeshi Kawanaka and Yuki Asaba offer some suggestion looking at electoral administration systems. But how do you get an independent and competent electoral commission? This is not just a matter of resources, the incentives for politicians need to be right. The critical layer is the party in power, which can change statutes, allocate funds and appoint commission members. Having a fraudulent electoral commission makes it easy to get reelected, but it can become costly if election results are challenged in the street. Rather, the ruler may want to have a credibly independent and competent electoral commission, as a win would then remain unchallenged. The ruler may also be motivated by avoiding costly bribes.

One aspect the paper ignores is that politicians are careers driven. A politician that turned out to be competent and honest in local government may have a shot at higher office. This is why he should not be corrupt, and the electorate will only promote the non-corrupt ones. Thus, to build a democracy you ned to work from the bottom up, so that proven incorruptibles end up ruling the country. Sadly, American nation building does the exact opposite, and it fails, the latest example being Iraq. By choosing to first hold national elections, the corrupt politicians got a free pass to power, and they have not looked bad since.

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