Thursday, December 31, 2009

Uzbekistan's Parliamentary Election

Uzbekistan held parliamentary elections on Sunday, December 27, 2009 to select deputies for five-year terms. The Central Electoral Commission reports that turnout reached 87.8%. Candidates received a majority in 96 districts, and repeat elections will be held in 39 districts on January 10, 2010. The remaining 15 seats in the recently expanded parliament (increased to 150 seats from 120 last December) are allocated to the new Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, and at least 30% of seats will be occupied by women due to a gender quota. The CEC has also published excerpts from some assessments of the election. The OSCE declined to participate in election monitoring.

Final results should be certified and published after the second round. While parties have challenged each other in the campaign, they all support President Karimov.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Effects of Election Monitoring via Webcams

Evgeny Morozov's commentary in Foreign Policy about Azerbaijan's use of webcams to monitor elections has prompted some pessimistic online commentary about the conduct of elections in the region. Indeed, Azerbaijan's election quality has been rated poorly by international organizations that monitor campaigns (with the notable exception of the CIS).

Morozov argues the following about the use of webcams:

I don't know how it would hurt, but I don't see how it would help either: unless there are enough cameras to cover the entire voting/counting areas, rigging the results would still not be too hard. If anything, the presence of a Web cam would probably give yet another excuse to validate the results...


His note focuses on the installation of webcams for upcoming municipal elections. However, webcams were in place for the last presidential election and referendum. I have analyzed turnout and outcome data, differentiating among polling stations that installed webcams and those that did not. Officially reported turnout was consistently lower in polling stations that had webcams. The presence of webcams had a less consistent effect on pro-regime outcomes.

What could produce these results? I speculate that election administrators have a reduced incentive to inflate outcomes - especially turnout - when they are being monitored. Some officials were punished for election violations in Azerbaijan's 2000 and 2005 elections. While these officials were likely scapegoated, their punishment potentially sends a message to administrators that they could share the same fate. Placement of a webcam in a polling station raises the possibility of being punished if the footage shows clear evidence of inappropriate behavior. With static cameras that show one view of the polling station, viewers could identify egregious inflation of turnout if the footage were observed consistently over time.

I address other possibilities, and present the statistical analysis, in a research paper available to anyone who is interested. Please contact me at: eherron at ku.edu and I will forward a copy.

A Long Semester

While the region has featured some important election developments in the last few months (e.g., controversial regional elections in Russia, Moldova's ongoing saga), my over-committed schedule has not permitted me to post regularly. However, I will be covering Ukraine's presidential election in January from Kyiv, and will be following up with some additional research commentary in the coming weeks.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Preliminary Results

Moldova's CEC has released the following preliminary results:

NamePCRMPPCDAMNPLPLDMPDMPSDPEMAVE
Moldova704876 (45.07%)29812 (1.91%)115288 (7.37%)224527 (14.36%)256570 (16.4%)197206 (12.61%)29322 (1.87%)6440 (0.41%)

The PCRM received 49.5% of the vote in the April election, falling off about 5% (or 55,263 votes). Perhaps the most striking difference is the drop in wasted votes. Around 15.2% of all votes cast were allocated to parties that did not pass the threshold in April, compared to 4.2% yesterday. Wasted votes magnified the PCRM's seat acquisition in April.

While the lower threshold in yesterday's election may have influenced the behavior of voters and parties, the number of contestants and distribution of votes tightened rather than increased. Indeed, institutional changes are less likely to have influenced the number of competitive parties than the unusual circumstances of this election and the consequences of the April protests.

If the preliminary results are certified, opposition parties should have 53 seats (and the PCRM 48). This would allow the opposition - if it could work as a cohesive group - to elect a speaker. The PCRM's opponents have a history of discord and strife, however. In my recent book, I sketched a portrait of the Moldovan opposition, noting that it behaved like its kin in many post-Soviet countries. While the opposition is united by a desire to challenge the party-of-power, it is divided on strategy and tactics. This disunity is manifested in a proliferation of parties, often headed by strong personalities, who cannot coordinate long-term cooperation. In cases where the opposition successfully ousts an entrenched government, as in Ukraine, the opposition quickly dissolves into warring factions.

With these results in place, Moldova's opposition coalition would fall well short of the 61 votes needed to select the president. While another early election cannot be held for a year, it is likely that partisan rancor rather than reconciliation is ahead. Victory celebrations may be held in Chisinau today, but the (metaphorical) knives are likely to come out soon as each opposition group tries to carve out its share of the spoils.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Voting Underway in Moldova

Moldova's re-do of its April parliamentary election is underway. Pre-election polling suggests that the PCRM will not obtain the 60 seats it desires, and that more opposition parties could enter parliament.

The CEC has reported 30% turnout at 12:45 p.m., about 5% higher than turnout was at the same point in the previous election. See Moldpress, Moldova Azi, and Imedia for coverage of election day activities.

Update (7/29 at 10:30 and 4:00): Thanks again to my colleagues at imedia, here is a breakdown of turnout by reporting periods:

April 2009: 6.6% (0945); 27.1% (1245); 43.0% (1545); 52.1% (1845); 59.1 (2145)
July 2009: 10.7% (0945); 30.0% (1245); 40.0% (1545); 49.3% (1845); 58.8 (2145)

Imedia is live-blogging the results in Moldovan and English. Preliminary results give the PCRM the lead. Votes for four other parties currently exceed the 5% threshold.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kyrgyzstan Presidential "Election" Update

Preliminary results indicate that incumbent President Kurmanbek Bakiyev received 89% of the vote, allowing him to claim an easy victory in the presidential election when the voting is certified. Citing fraud, Almazbek Atambayev (the leading opposition candidate) withdrew from competition on election day along with another minor contestant. Two members of parliament associated with his party were arrested, sparking a protest that was repressed by the use of substantial force. Officials have annulled the results of at least one precinct, noting problems with vote administration. The usual suspects declared that the election met international standards (CIS, SCO), while the OSCE criticized the quality of the campaign and the process of casting and counting ballots.

The Central Electoral Commission website is currently non-responsive. I have encountered problems with this site in the past; it is possible that the relatively high volume of traffic has temporarily shut it down. If data become available, I will post additional observations.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Polling in Moldova

A recent poll, conducted by the Association of Moldovan Sociologists and Demographers and assessed by imedia, suggests that the upcoming election could once again yield a PCRM plurality, but not a majority. According to the poll, respondents indicated the following preferences:

PCRM: 29.7%
Liberal Party: 13.3%
Liberal Democratic Party: 12.8%
Our Moldova: 7.9%
Democratic Party: 7.1%
Other parties: under 3%
Remaining respondents were undecided.

As imedia notes, polls prior to the previous election also yielded a high proportion of undecided respondents. Comparing polling results to the election outcomes, it appears that the PCRM disproportionately attracted undecided voters.

With the possible entry of four opposition parties to parliament, Moldova may be headed toward an ongoing governance crisis like its neighbor, Ukraine, or toward some kind of grand compromise. Acting President Vladimir Voronin's rhetoric points to both possibilities. While he has called the opposition "radical right-wing parties," Voronin has also claimed that the opposition's "ideology" has been changing to promote Moldova's interests and that a coalition could be possible. The overall tone of the campaign, and events in the spring, suggest that ongoing crisis is more likely than compromise, however.

Thanks again to imedia for extensive information on Moldova.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Omens

As late July elections in Kyrgyzstan and Moldova approach, disturbing developments have surfaced in several post-Soviet states.
  • In Azerbaijan, two young pro-democracy activists were beaten and detained. Harassment of the opposition is not unprecedented, but this attack occurred publicly in a popular restaurant. The official version of events has changed, while the attackers have been released and the activists were tried and convicted on the charge of hooliganism. Several youth movements have used the Internet to challenge - and poke fun at - the government. Open challenges to government authority have been met with repression in the past, but expressions of dissent seem to be tolerated to a greater extent than in several other post-Soviet societies.

    This provocation raises the possibility that opposition to authority will be met with harsher responses. A direct link to events in Iran is unlikely, but the capacity of the opposition to mobilize protesters in Azerbaijan's southern neighbor may have raised alarms in Baku and encouraged authorities to send a strong message to potential opponents.

  • While Kyrgyzstan's incumbent president Kurmanbek Bakiyev faces a legitimate challenger in the Social Democratic Party's Almaz Altanbayev, he is nevertheless expected to win. Opposition editors (1, 2) and journalists (1, 2) have been targeted in attacks that may be politically motivated. In addition, while Bakiyev has been courting religious voters, but some have allegedly been targeted as dissenters.

  • My imedia contact in Moldova has identified many important developments as the snap parliamentary election approaches. First, the election law has been modified, lowering the threshold from 6% to 5%, and lowering the turnout requirement from 50% (+1) to 33%. Second, the election is scheduled to take place on a work day (Wednesday, July 29). Moldovan elections are typically held on Sundays. Third, no more than nine parties (and no independents running) will contest. Actiunea Europeana just withdrew, and other parties could also drop out. None of this is disturbing news, and some of it - such as the reduction in the threshold - could be beneficial to pluralism.

    However, the campaign atmosphere has been stacked against the opposition, with state TV supporting the PCRM. My contact notes that the"...narrative is that [the opposition] tried to stage a coup with Romanian support and that if people don't vote for the Party of Communists, Moldova as a country will disappear." The opposition has failed to coordinate its challenge to the PCRM once again, rendering it at least partially culpable in its likely defeat. Some polling is due to be released, and I will comment more on Moldova's election as information becomes available.

Monday, June 8, 2009

While I Was Out

After my research trip to Lithuania, I traveled to Georgia and Kazakhstan. While I was unable to blog during my trip, political developments related to elections surfaced across the region.

1) The most notable development was the failure of Moldova's parliament to elect a president, forcing new elections. Frankly, I was surprised at the resolve of the opposition; only one defector would have secured the presidential post for the PCRM. Presumably, the rewards offered to a defector were great. But, the opposition also galvanized and made clear that defectors would be identified (If an opposition member were to defect, this action would be revealed by the MP entering the voting booth). The new election is likely to be quite contentious, with allegations of wrongdoing by the losers a guarantee. As I noted in a previous post, evidence of massive fraud was absent from the precinct-level data, based on my assessment. The opposition wants better control over voter lists to ensure that "dead souls" do not cast ballots. The battle over election administration will heat up over the coming weeks. In addition, as my imedia contact noted, the elections are likely to take place in the late summer or early fall. After this early election, parliament cannot be dissolved for a year. Barring a change in fortunes for one or more parties, the new elections may force the PCRM and opposition to bargain more seriously. Alternatively, Moldova will enter into a state of perpetual political crisis like its neighbor, Ukraine.

2) The party-of power won the hotly contested Yerevan council race, allowing it to win the mayoral seat. Mayoral positions, especially in post-Soviet capital cities, are important staging areas for politicians to launch national political careers. In addition, mayors generally determine who has the right to assemble, and hold sway over municipal police. Levon Ter-Petrossian, the former president and failed candidate in the last election was also unsuccessful in this contest. He and his allies allege that fraud was the primary reason for their loss.

3) European parliamentary elections were held in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and all other constituent members of the EU. Turnout varied across the Baltic states: Estonia's turnout jumped from 26.8% in 2004 to 43.2% in 2009; Latvia's increased from 41.3% to 52.6%; and Lithuania's plummeted from 48.4% to 20.9%. The financial crisis may have encouraged the increased turnout in Estonia and Latvia. The resolution of Lithuania's presidential election in the first round probably depressed turnout; the second round would have been scheduled for the same day as the EU poll. Six Baltic seats went to the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (1 Estonia, 1 Latvia, 4 Lithuania); four to the Socialist Group (1 Estonia, 3 Lithuania), six to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (3 Estonia, 1 Latvia, 2 Lithuania), five to the Union of Europe of the Nations (3 Latvia, 2 Lithuania), one to the Greens (Latvia), and four to other groups (1 Estonia, 2 Latvia, 1 Lithuania). More information is available on the EU's election site.

4) Protests against Mikheil Saakashvili continued in Georgia, with the opposition demanding his resignation and early presidential and parliamentary elections. During my visit to Tbilisi, I visited the protest site around parliament several times, and was able to speak with some regime opponents. My general sense - based not on scientific data analysis but rather impressions - is that dissatisfaction is deep, but no clear preference for an alternative leader exists. The protest site was occupied during the day, but only a handful of protesters quietly monitored the "cells." Regular evening protest events are more lively, and the opposition has mobilized large numbers in some protest actions. But, the inertia to oust Misha seems to be limited. While people are unhappy, the precedent of removing the president in this manner would likely set off a destructive cycle of protests by election losers.

5) Seven candidates were approved for the July presidential election in Kyrgyzstan, and eleven were rejected.

6) While there were no major election issues during my stay in Kazakhstan, I noted an interesting article in a local newspaper. As Kazakhstan prepares for its presidency of the OSCE beginning in 2010, it has begun staking out its plan for reform. Watch for challenges to the status quo on election observation missions.

7) Ukrainian politicians continue to fight over possible coalition arrangements while positioning themselves for the upcoming presidential election. More on this issue later.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Delaying the Vote

The showdown in Moldova was slated for today. However, according to my imedia contact, the PCRM met briefly and claimed that on a religious holiday (Ascension) politicians "should not be fighting." The vote was rescheduled for June 3. Clearly, the PCRM has not been able to woo any opposition deputy, an impressive show of resolve by the opposition. My imedia contact noted that the opposition has barred its deputies from entering the voting booth, effectively "outing" any defector if one were to appear. While the PCRM promises to negotiate with the opposition, no clear lines of negotiation have emerged, nor have any compromise solutions. As was the case several days ago, the PCRM lacks only one vote to elect the president, and the opposition hopes to hold out for new elections (or at least a better deal).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mayoral Election in Yerevan

In ten days, Armenia's capital city will host an interesting race: the thwarted presidential candidate, and ex-president, Lev Ter-Petrossian, will face off against the government's preferred candidate, and incumbent mayor, Gagik Beglarian. Onnik Krikorian, at the Caucasian Knot, has an interesting post on the upcoming contest.

UPDATE (5/22/09): The analysis connecting local elections to disputes among coalition partners on Eurasianet.org is worth a read.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Moldova Update

Moldova's president is elected by parliament, and requires 61 votes to secure the seat. While the PCRM dominated the parliamentary vote, it only obtained 60 seats. Vladimir Voronin, the former president, gained the powerful post of parliamentary speaker after the most recent election.

The opposition has thus far held firm and denied the PCRM's presidential candidates (the PCRM nominated two in the first round because the rules require a contested race). Not one deputy has defected or been bought out. The real showdown will be on May 28 in a contest with new candidates (the losing candidates in this round cannot run again) [CORRECTION - Losing candidates may contest again]. If no candidate wins, Voronin will be required to dissolve parliament and call a new election. The stakes will be high over the next eight days, and opposition deputies are likely to be tempted with an assortment of rewards for supporting the PCRM candidate.

Thanks to imedia for news and analysis used in this post.

Ukraine's Presidential Election Restored

Faction leaders have agreed to restore the January 17, 2010 date for Ukraine's presidential election. Barring unforeseen complications, never out of the realm of possibilities, President Yushchenko's preferred date is confirmed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Results are In

Overnight, Lithuania's CEC completed the count of over 98% of the ballots. Turnout rose from just under 50% to 51.67%. Dalia Grybauskaite has claimed 68.17% of the ballots. Her closest rival, Algirdas Butkevicius, received 11.70%. If the results are finalized, and no court challenges emerge, she will be the first female president of Lithuania.

At the election night event I attended, the commentary and analysis of the candidates suggested that Grybauskaite is viewed as "above" some of the local squabbles and is a skilled manager, especially due to her experience as EU budget commissioner. However, the most vexing problems for Lithuania - the economic crisis and the impending power problems with the closure of the Ignalina nuclear power plant - are matters that the president has less authority to manage. While the president can affect domestic policies, her portfolio is more strongly oriented toward foreign affairs.

Turnout in Lithuania

Lithuania's presidential election rules require a candidate to win a majority of votes to claim the post in the first round. However, if turnout falls below 50%, a second provision requires a winning candidate to claim at least 33% of all voters. Article 74 of the Law on Presidential Elections notes:

6. A candidate to the office of President of the Republic shall be considered elected if during voting for the first time in which at least half of all voters participate, he receives more than half of the votes of all voters participating in the elections. If less than half of all voters participated in the elections, a candidate to the office of President of the Republic shall be considered elected when he receives the most, but no less than one-third of votes of all voters.

As of 2pm, turnout was 26.57% nationally. In a polling station I visited today in Vilnius, turnout was around one-third at 3pm. The prospect of exceeding 50%, with polls closing at 7pm, seems grim. If turnout is low, the likelihood of a second round increases substantially.

UPDATE (11:oo pm Vilnius Time): Apparently, Lithuanians prefer to vote in the afternoon. The final preliminary turnout is just a hair under 50% - 49.69%. If these results are certified, a second round is almost a certainty. If the final turnout creeps above 50%, Grybauskaite will win in round 1. ANOTHER UPDATE: My interpretation of the turnout data was slightly errant. The precincts reported one hour before closing.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Election Eve in Vilnius

I arrived in Lithuania today, on the eve of the presidential election (early voting has begun, but the main day for casting ballots is tomorrow). Campaign advertisements have already been cleaned off bulletin boards around town, although a few strays remain. The streets of Vilnius are quiet, and the election is also expected to be a relatively quiet affair.

Several candidates planned to run for president, but only seven gained ballot access. The leader in reported polling is Dalia Grybauskaite, an EU Commissioner. While the sample selection in the most widely reported poll could be biased (as it seems small and focuses on urban areas), Grybauskaite's lead is substantial. While she has faced some challenges to her eligibility, this election campaign is less charged than the 2004 election that followed Rolandas Paksas' impeachment. Barring a Literary Digest-style fiasco, she is likely to win the most votes tomorrow. If she does not win outright, the second round will be held on June 7 along with European parliamentary elections.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Again Off Again

Ukraine's Constitutional Court overturned the Rada's decision to hold the next presidential election in October 2009. The date had been set for early 2010 initially, but parliament moved up the election date by passing a resolution. President Yushchenko challenged the decision in court, and the Constitutional Court's ruling adds to the already intense fighting among rivals in Kyiv. Discussions about simultaneous presidential and early parliamentary elections are again on the table.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Post-Soviet Elections at the Monkey Cage

The Monkey Cage, a blog that comments on a wide range of issues in political science, has added Joshua Tucker as a regular participant. Josh is well known for his excellent work on elections in the post-communist region, and he just posted a provocative entry on election fraud. In particular, it raises important questions about how fraud is coordinated, and why fraud is often massive. I am working on a project that will weigh in on this issue, and will post more about it in the future.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Several Updates

End of semester tasks have prevented me from posting lately. But, elections continue in the region. Updates include:

1) In Georgia, protesters continue to demonstrate against President Saakashvili, calling for early elections. See stories from Reuters, Eurasianet (here and here), Georgian Times, and Svobodnaya Gruziya.
2) In Russia, United Russia's candidate won the contested race for mayor of Sochi amid allegations of fraud. However, Garri Kasparov cleverly stole the spotlight. See stories from Lenta.ru, New York Times, and RFE/RL.
3) In Moldova, the recount confirmed the final results, with some minor changes in votes. The opposition continues to challenge the validity of voter lists. The amended results are available here.
4) In Kyrgyzstan, the party-of-power (Ak Zhol) has nominated Kurmanbek Bakiyev for a new term in the early presidential election scheduled for July 2009.

The Lithuanian presidential election approaches, along with the mayoral election in Yerevan. I plan to be in-country on election day, and will post from Vilnius.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Interrogating the Data

My good friend and colleague, Valentin Mikhailov, has reminded me that the main issue with election fraud is not its presence, but rather its scale. Systematic error - of origins both sinister and benign - is a common component of elections. While several political scientists have weighed in on methods to identify fraud, notably Walter Mebane, Misha Myagkov, and Peter Ordeshook, at best researchers can uncover data anomalies that are most plausibly explained by vote manipulation. As Mark Nigrini noted, forensic accountants tend to rely on a series of "data interrogation tests" to uncover improprieties. Even then, the existence of an anomaly does not reveal its cause.

When I evaluate precinct-level election data, I pay close attention to the performance of pro-regime parties, turnout, invalid ballots, and if available, other features like mobile ballot box use. In addition, I compare the distribution of digits to a Benford-type distribution. Several decades ago, Frank Benford re-discovered an interesting property of digits in naturally occurring datasets: ones are the most common first digit, with the probability of a digit being first declining logarithmically. His work has informed the accounting literature, as well as political science. Unfortunately, some properties of election data undermine the application of Benford's Law, such as the presence of zeros (Benford does not account for a zero as the first and only digit), and precinct size (precinct size varies, and it determines the "available" digits). Despite these complications, I have compared data from other post-Soviet states to the Benford distribution and found interesting results, especially in Ukraine.

While I have not performed a full and systematic analysis of the data (having only acquired it last night), the initial scan of data suggests that there is no "smoking gun." The first and second digit Benford test on the results for the PCRM reveals no major issues. While the number of ones is low (significantly lower than anticipated by Benford), the distribution of PCRM first and second digits is not statistically different from the Benford-type distribution. The PCRM performs exceptionally well in several precincts: it received above 90% in eleven precincts. But, no precincts report 100% for the PCRM (in many questionable elections, I have found precincts with regime support at 100%). Some precincts report extremely high turnout, based largely on voters added through a supplemental list (some of these are polling places outside of the country in embassies or consulates). In these precincts, the average vote for the PCRM was 35% - below what it received nationally. The rate of invalid ballots is not high (the mean is just above 1%). The highest invalidation rate was 9%; the PCRM received 43% of the vote in that precinct.

Tomorrow's recount will be an interesting, and unprecedented, exercise in the post-Soviet world. The opposition has decided to boycott the recount, instead hoping to have voter lists re-evaluated. The opposition claims that "dead souls" and other illegitimate persons were on the voter lists, allowing the PCRM to inflate its results. Based on the precinct-level data that has been released, evidence of large-scale ballot box stuffing is not strong.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Countdown to the Recount

Moldova's Constitutional Court authorized a recount of the parliamentary election, which is now scheduled to take place on Wednesday. On a related note, the CEC has made precinct-level data available, and I plan to acquire and take a look at the information soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Repression in Moldova

Several unpublished imedia reports note that the political opposition is being quietly repressed. While it can be difficult to separate rumor from fact, news agencies (imedia cites Unimedia) and NGOs (Amnesty International) have reported arrests of young people, or threats of harassment. Stories broadcasting evidence of abuse and the allegations of victims are on YouTube.

In addition, the use of Twitter and other methods to mobilize protesters has been undermined by spamming and contradictory messages. Further complicating matters, imedia also indicates that reporters from several international media agencies such as the BBC, Associated Press, and Reuters, as well as Romanian news outlets, have been denied entry into Moldova. Some reporters in Moldova have been detained.

Nicu Popescu's blog provides ongoing discussion of events.

[Thanks to imedia for several reports on events in Moldova.]

Friday, April 10, 2009

Chisinau and Tbilisi

In response to protest activities, President Voronin has called for a recount of Sunday's parliamentary vote. This decision would be rendered more transparent by public release of precinct-level data. It is interesting to note that links to turnout and voting data are no longer active on the CEC website. While protests have been scheduled for today in Chisinau, early activity is light, with no protesters assembled by mid-morning. Looking to the south, the opposition has increased its activities in Georgia, staging a large protest to call for an early presidential election (also see Eurasianet's story).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Protests Escalate in Moldova

In a scene reminiscent of Georgian protesters' occupation of parliament in 2003 and Kyrgyz protesters' takeover of the presidential administration building in 2005, Moldovan protesters attacked parliament to express their deep dissatisfaction with Sunday's election. An unpublished imedia report suggests that the opposition has not planned major protests, but may "organize 'mass protests' soon," perhaps spurred on by the demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday. Several sources, including imedia, suggest that mobilization has been decentralized, with young people organizing activities online and by using sms. Protest is difficult to organize and maintain, however. Facing an overwhelming gap between the PCRM and opposition parties' tallies at the polls, lacking clear evidence of widespread falsification and condemnation from international observers, and absent plans to stage long-term protests, the odds are stacked heavily against the opposition.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Post-Election Protest

Several thousand Moldovans protested the PCRM's victory in yesterday's election, alleging that vote fraud was a major factor in the PCRM's success (the OSCE's preliminary post-election report was generally positive, although some problems were noted). Reports indicate that largely young people were mobilized. Estimates of protest size range from 2,500 to 20,000; photographs certainly suggest that the number of participants exceeds the lowest estimates. More protests are scheduled for Tuesday.

The Results are In

With just under 2% left to count (98.08% reporting), the Party of Communists (PCRM) has 49.96% of the vote, with the PL (12.78%), PLDM (12.26%), and ALM (9.81%) trailing far behind. With roughly 15% of the vote wasted on parties failing to pass the 6% barrier, the PCRM will secure a majority in parliament. While the exit polls indicated a lower tally for the PCRM, it is likely within the margin of error (which was not reported). Hopefully, the CEC will release data aggregated at a lower level to facilitate more extensive analysis of the results.

[The graphic is posted on the CEC site.]

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Preliminary Results in Moldova

At the time of this post, it is a bit past 3 am in Chisinau, Moldova. The CEC is reporting results with 31.45% of the vote counted, and the Party of Communists leads with 53.87% of the recorded votes. While the CEC has posted information about polling stations, the current reports about voting are aggregated at the national level only. It is difficult to assess how the vote count is likely to evolve without a sense of what precincts have reported. With the previously mentioned BBC report on exit polls as a guide, we should expect the Communist tally to taper off as more results come in.

Turnout in Moldova

The CEC is reporting regional turnout data (but no precinct-level results seem to be available). As of 6:45 p.m., national turnout was 52.4%, ranging from a high of 73.28% in Basarabeasca to a low of 43.09% in Balti. Lenta.ru notes that the election officially passed the minimum turnout threshold of 50%. The CEC will also post preliminary results, but it is too early for information to be available.

UPDATE (4/5/09, 2:45 pm Central Time (US)): The CEC server seems to be down. A BBC report on exit polls indicates that the Party of Communists should enjoy a substantial win (46%).

UPDATE (4/5/09, 7:00 pm Central Time (US)): The CEC server is up and is reporting some preliminary results as well as updated turnout data.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Under the Radar

Moldova's parliamentary election is only two days away, but it continues to fly under the radar of Western news organizations (even those covering the post-Soviet region). The CEC has published documents related to the election (pdf in Russian), but its website provides limited information. Moldova Azi reports on CEC preparations and concerns about potential problems on Sunday. The OSCE has posted several preliminary reports. I will post additional information in the coming days, but I am currently attending a conference (limiting my ability to be attentive to the final hours of the campaign).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Moldova Gears Up

Moldova's parliamentary election is quickly approaching and a recent opinion poll by the Institute for Public Policy suggests that the Party of Communists should garner around 36% of the vote (see the Moldpres article for some details). Three other parties may pass the 6% threshold: the Liberal Democratic Party, Liberal Party, and Our Moldova Alliance. Our Moldova's polling numbers are the most problematic, with the point estimate below the threshold at 5.4% (the margin of error is 2.8%). An unpublished Imedia report notes that IPP polling has been criticized in the past, in part due to a perception of unreliability. A poll released in the month prior to the 2005 election underestimated the performance of the Bloc of Moldovan Democrats by around 19%, but the predictions for the Party of Communists and Christian Democratic People's Party were close to the final results. You can read more about the election at e-democracy.

[Thanks to Imedia for information on the polling]

Monday, March 23, 2009

Challenging the Political Opposition in Georgia

In late 2007, President Mikheil Saakashvili was accused of efforts to undermine dissenting voices through aggressive actions toward the media and a crackdown on opposition protesters. Prior to the ill-fated conflict with Russia in August 2008 his erstwhile ally in the Rose Revolution, Nino Burjanadze, surprisingly withdrew from parliamentary elections. Burjanadze has reappeared as a challenger in Georgia's politics, and her partisans now seem to be under additional scrutiny, with a report of ten party members arrested. Burjanadze plans a press conference to address the matter. I will post follow-up information as it appears.

UPDATE (3/23/09, 8:00 p.m.): Additional coverage from Eurasianet, RFE/RL, and lenta.ru.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

All Politics is Local

While national votes receive more public attention, the selection of representatives for local offices often has significant policy repercussions. Not only do local politicians make important decisions (e.g., in some post-Soviet states local officials make land allocation decisions), but local office can provide a staging ground for nationwide campaigns.

Several weeks ago, many Russian regions held local elections, and United Russia performed well in these votes amid allegations of fraud. Some commentaries suggested that the party-of-power's strength might be waning in some areas, however. Yesterday, President Medvedev replaced the governor of Murmansk; although the governor is a member of United Russia, he supported an independent candidate for mayor. In the south, the mayoral election in Sochi has received attention due to the identity of the participants and the importance of the city as host to the upcoming Olympic Games.

In Armenia, defeated presidential candidate (and former president) Levon Ter-Petrossian plans to run for mayor of Yerevan (also see Eurasianet's story). The mayoral post in the capital city is important symbolically and substantively. Because Ter-Petrossian's presidential loss was accompanied by protests and violence, the May 31 showdown is likely to produce high drama.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Early Election in Kyrgyzstan

According to Eurasianet, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling on March 19 requiring an early presidential election. RFE/RL reports that the election will be held on July 23, 2009.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Consent and Dissent

UPDATE (3/26/09): While double-checking my referendum data, I discovered that the original data I downloaded was not correctly labeled. Most of the precinct results were shifted over one column, except for the results of Q29 which repeated the results of an earlier question. I am not sure if the error was mine or the CEC's, but I have updated the information I reported earlier.

Azerbaijan's referendum has received praise and criticism, and you may review some of these voices here, here, here, and here. The final turnout was 71.08%, and all 29 questions received at least 87% support nationally according to the CEC.

This post does not review general conclusions about the quality of the voting process, but rather focuses on some of the data coming from Azerbaijan's CEC. The CEC deserves credit for transparency in publishing precinct-level turnout data and results quickly and efficiently. Moreover, just as in the presidential election in October 2008, the CEC installed web cameras in many precincts which allowed anyone to watch the proceedings.[1]

I combined the turnout data with the electronically recorded results protocols for all precincts (as I noted earlier, some precincts report incomplete data). Let's take a deeper look at results for question 21, the question receiving the strongest support according to official results:

101-ci maddənin V hissəsi aşağıdakı redaksiyada verilsin: «V. Müharibə şəraitində hərbi əməliyyatların aparılması Azərbaycan Respublikası Prezidenti seçkilərinin keçirilməsini mümkün etmədikdə Azərbaycan Respublikası Prezidentinin səlahiyyət müddəti hərbi əməliyyatların sonunadək uzadılır. Bu barədə qərar seçkilərin (referendumun) keçirilməsini təmin edən dövlət orqanının müraciətinə əsasən Azərbaycan Respublikasının Konstitusiya Məhkəməsi tərəfindən qəbul edilir.»

In 153 247 precincts, the question received unanimous support from voters (accounting for 66,039 122,037 votes, or around 2% 4% of all votes cast on this question). Some of these precincts were small, with 27 recording under 100 votes from voters. But several were large; 11 29 included over 1,000 voters. As I noted in a previous post, unanimous results - especially in large precincts - are questionable. Even if there is little dissent on a ballot issue, voters and election officials are not perfect. Voters make mistakes and sometimes render their responses (or entire ballots) invalid. The CEC reports that 3.64% of votes on question 21 were invalid, lower than any other question (question 16 had 4.64% invalid; all other questions were over 5%).

Indeed, many voters cast invalid votes on the question. Invalid votes could reflect mistakes, or intentional efforts to show dissent without recording a no vote. In 4,521 4,297 precincts (out of 5,367 precincts), at least one ballot was invalid ("etibarsız") on question 21. In 1,052 418 precincts, 10% or more were recorded as invalid, accounting for 124,796 50,176 votes (or a bit more than 3.5% 1% of the vote based on precinct returns). No precincts recorded a majority of "no" votes on question 21. In only one precinct did the sum of "no" and invalid votes exceed 50%.

[1] While Internet video monitoring increases openness, it also could influence less sophisticated or older voters who may believe that their presence at the polls will be recorded (inducing them to turn out and vote). But, this is a subject for another post.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Some Thoughts on Turnout in Azerbaijan

The CEC's preliminary results show overwhelming support for all of the questions in the referendum. In October's presidential election, the main question did not surround the outcome, however, but rather turnout. While no minimum threshold threatened the outcome, observers thought that President Aliyev's partisans would ensure a strong turnout to show support. Turnout measures mobilization and is the primary issue for the referendum as well.

The graphic to the left shows a simple box plot of the precinct-level turnout data published by the CEC. The CEC posted turnout data from 5,367 precincts, although some precinct-level data are incomplete (e.g., TEC 29 has three precincts with no results reported). As a visual representation of simple descriptive statistics, the box plot does not provide rigorous analysis. However, it shows some interesting results and suggests that some cases might be outliers. The 50th percentile is represented by the line in the rectangle; the 25 and 75th percentiles by the upper and lower bounds of the box. Observations outside the "whiskers" are outlying cases worthy of further investigation.

At 10 a.m., two precincts reported over 75% turnout (TEC 96, PEC 45 and TEC 98 PEC 27). These precincts are small, and could be located in special precincts where turnout can be managed. Turnout management could be benign (i.e., hospital patients may be transported to the precinct and may vote early) or questionable. At the closing of the polls, 60 precincts reported 100% turnout. These precincts also report questionable results. In TEC 41, PECs 37 and 38 both had 1,500 registered voters and all registered voters reportedly cast ballots. According to the published protocols, all of the voters in both precincts cast affirmative ballots for each of the 29 questions on the ballot. While not impossible, these results are highly improbable. Indeed, one would expect that among 3,000 voters, at least one voter might have made an error on a ballot with 29 questions, invalidating it.

This commentary begs the question: what is the normal pace of turnout? In my earlier post, I suggested that 30% could be a "reasonable" upper bound for turnout figures at 10 a.m. The figure of 30% was purely hypothetical; my main point was that a reasonable upper bound at 10 a.m. is lower than a reasonable upper bound at 5 p.m. (while the lower bound could always, in principle, be zero). As the day progresses, increasing variance in turnout reports is not necessarily surprising. No research, to my knowledge, has identified a pace of turnout that conforms with free and fair practices. Indeed, the pace of turnout is likely to be affected by many factors: the perceived closeness of the race, the level of citizen interest, and if election day is on a work day or holiday, among other factors. A forthcoming article by Pacek, Pop-Eleches, and Tucker in the Journal of Politics shows that the perceived importance of an election can strongly affect turnout in post-communist societies (my own research concurs with their finding). The referendum was portrayed as important enough for citizens to be motivated to show regime support. Yet, the preliminary data also raise some red flags about manipulation. I will post additional analysis as I look more deeply at the data.

Voting Underway in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan's CEC has reported 64.12% turnout at 5 p.m. The figures throughout the day show increasing variance in turnout levels at the territorial constituency level. This is not surprising as the upper bound for turnout increases as the day progresses (that is, a reasonable range for turnout at 10 a.m. might peak at 30%, but by mid-day the upper bound is higher.). The figure on the left shows turnout figures reported at each official time period and a regression line. The regression line puts final turnout around 85%, but the fit of a linear regression may not best represent the distribution. Turnout seems to be tapering off and may end up closer to 75%. The final turnout data should be reported at 7p.m. Azerbaijan time.

The CEC is also reporting precinct level data. In the district with the highest turnout at 10 a.m. (TEC 118), some precincts are reporting around 80% turnout at 5:00 p.m. I will look at the turnout data in more detail as the final results come in.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Election Eve

As the March 18 constitutional referendum quietly approaches, official bodies and news sites are covering the vote:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Democratic Constitutional Change?

Azerbaijan's Trend News reported that Michael Hancock, a British MP from the Liberal Democratic Party and a representative to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, supported the democratic credentials of the upcoming constitutional referendum, stating:

"If the nation wants to scrap limits on presidential terms, then this is democratic... I monitored the elections in Azerbaijan and they took place very normally... I do not blame the government, but rather the opposition in this case because they are not playing an active role in the elections. There were some problems during the elections in my country, as well." (Quotes from the March 6, 2009 Trend News article.)

The newly re-opened Day.az (for different treatments of the closure of Day.az see APA and Eurasianet) presented the comments in a slightly different manner, noting that Hancock called constitutional changes "normal and logical." Specifically, Hancock is quoted as stating:

«После распада Советского Союза в бывших союзных республиках были приняты новые Конституции, которые, несомненно, носили временный характер. Поэтому внесение изменений в эти законодательные акты нормально и логично» ["After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, new constitutions were ratified in the former Soviet republics that, undoubtedly, were temporary. Therefore, carrying out changes in these legislative acts is normal and logical."]

Azadliq has raised questions about the Western voices supporting the referendum. Without parsing every word that Hancock reportedly said, or possible reasons for his comments, it is worth assessing the issue of "democratic" constitutional change through referendums.

The requirements for changing constitutions vary cross-nationally; holding a national referendum is not unreasonable. In Hancock's own country, changes to the basic laws (the UK has no formal constitution) are within the purview of parliament. In other countries, constitutional changes must obtain legislative approval and pass another barrier (e.g., in the United States, barring a constitutional convention, national legislative approval (2/3 votes in both houses) is accompanied by approval in state legislatures (in 3/4 of states)). Azerbaijan's parliament approved the referendum, and it is scheduled to take place in ten days. In terms of formal institutional procedures, the process falls within democratic norms.

Hancock's comments about the opposition's failure to engage ignores important contextual issues. While Azerbaijan's opposition is fragmented and was disengaged from the last presidential election in October, past repression of protests undermines mobilization efforts (see the BBC documentary: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Opposition groups have challenged the referendum, but most referendums in the post-Soviet region (including those in Azerbaijan) tend to favor the sitting regime and tend to succeed.

Election day procedures in Azerbaijan may also appear to be normal. On election day in October, I observed a dozen polling sites in Baku and in most cases, the procedure was straightforward and orderly. However, government influence over the media, the dominant position of pro-government forces in electoral commissions and other critical choke points, and the lack of political diversity in formal political institutions renders the process suspect. Most of the problems with elections are not manifested on election day, but rather in the process that undermines competition long before ballots are cast.

The general principle of a legislature initiating a nationwide referendum for constitutional change falls within democratic norms. Codifying constitutions during the transition may confer a temporary character on them; it is not unreasonable to modify basic laws. But, for the constitutional change to be democratic, the institutions initiating change should be selected via free and fair processes, procedures should be open and transparent, and citizens (and political actors) should have access to alternate sources of information.

UPDATE (3/09/09): I neglected to note in yesterday's post that the Council of Europe has recommended a delay to the referendum. The CoE indicated that an upcoming Venice Commission report (due on March 13) will address questions about changes to local government authority. Some elements of the constitutional reform may contradict the European Charter for Local Self-Government.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Latvia's Government Falls

The worldwide financial crisis has claimed Latvia's government. As I discussed in an earlier post, economic challenges could change the election calendar in some post-Soviet states. Latvia's prime minister resigned on Friday, triggering speculation about the possibility of an early election. A new coalition agreement is possible, with several willing partners discussing alternatives. The likelihood of early elections seems low at the moment, but events in Riga over the next couple of weeks will determine if a new agreement is possible.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another Early Election in Kyrgyzstan?

Reports suggest that President Kurmanbek Bakiyev will engineer an early presidential election. Bakiyev has already announced his intention to run for office, and the Constitutional Court may move up the planned election date from 2010 to late 2009. Bakiyev used a constitutional referendum and early elections in 2007 to consolidate his support, but (divided) opposition to his rule seems to be increasing. An analysis by Erica Marat in the February 18 edition of the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor makes several interesting points:
  • The election timetable may be accelerated due to current relations with Russia. The recent decision to accept aid from Russia and end US access to a key airbase near Bishkek could help secure fickle Kremlin support. Moreover, Bakiyev could benefit from the Russian-backed construction of a hydroelectric power station that was a part of the aid package and is scheduled to move forward after 2009.
  • Bakiyev's strategies are similar to those of the ousted Askar Akayev who also used manipulated referendums and elections to his advantage. Unlike Akayev, Bakiyev may have stronger control over security forces, but also faces more challenging economic conditions.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another Upcoming Election

In addition to Azerbaijan's referendum and Moldova's parliamentary election, noted in yesterday's post, Lithuania will be holding a presidential election on May 17, 2009. Until this election campaign heats up, I am posting a (somewhat dated) Lithuanian plan to introduce Internet voting that is worth a glance.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Election Season Underway

The preparations for Azerbaijan's upcoming referendum have been relatively uneventful (the only exception is a prominent assassination that is unconnected to the upcoming vote). Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission has posted a useful summary of proposed changes to the constitution, including the most notable one: eliminating presidential term limits. The opposition plans to observe the proceedings and may organize protests.

The active campaign period has begun in Moldova, with the CEC beginning party registration. Unlike the CEC in Azerbaijan, Moldova's CEC has not updated its page with information about the 2009 contest. More than two dozen parties are registered with the Ministry of Justice, but it is unlikely that all of these groups will contest seats independently. RFE/RL has posted a brief summary of the issues facing Moldova's voters.

I will follow both votes and post regular updates.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More Protests

Citizens in Georgia and Russia have recently taken to the streets to challenge sitting governments. In Georgia, the opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili has renewed its efforts to oust him from the presidency and hold new elections for the executive and legislative branches. The participation of Nino Burjanadze, a respected politician and erstwhile ally of Saakashvili during the Rose Revolution, increases the clout of anti-government actors. Strong opposition leadership, along with the repercussions of the financial crisis and the brief war with Russia in August 2008, could facilitate mobilization efforts. If critical government institutions, such as the security services, are reticent to support Saakashvili, the opposition could make progress on its demands. However, people are notoriously difficult to mobilize.

In Russia, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations about the government's response to the economic crisis were held on Saturday in several cities. Anti-government protesters called for the ouster of Prime Minister Putin; pro-government protesters expressed support for the government's efforts to combat the economic crisis. Unlike the opposition in Georgia, Russia's opposition does not appear to have a unified, charismatic leadership. Moreover, the main government institutions and media continue to support the president and prime minister. Mobilization is undermined by government repression and limited access to the national media. However, economic crisis could be used as a pretense to hold early elections, providing an opportunity for the prime minister to return to the presidency (with extended term limits). For various interpretations of the events in Russia, see: BBC, Lenta.ru, RIA Novosti, RFE/RL, and the New York Times.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Other Elections in Russia

After holding national-level elections for parliament in late 2007 and president in early 2008, no major contests are officially on the horizon in Russia. Nevertheless, 2009 has already featured interesting voting opportunities.

The death of the Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch, Alexey II, prompted an election of his successor. Similar to the election of the Roman Catholic Pope, the voting procedure involves a limited selectorate primarily consisting of high-ranking Church officials (in this case, the 702-member Local Council that includes "bishops, priests, monks, and laymen"). In contrast to papal elections, the election featured a campaign that turned negative. In addition, the Local Council cast secret ballots with journalists present (only the deliberations were closed). Three candidates contested the position (although one withdrew before the final vote), and Metropolitan Kirill won 508 votes (72%). While elections of religious figures provide limited opportunities for analysis, especially because most of the data are not publicly available, some interesting work has been done (e.g., Colomer and McLean (1998), an article that applies social choice theory to early papal elections).

Some of Russia's regions are also holding local elections, including Kostroma and Bryansk. Svobodanews.ru has posted interesting commentary.

Sources for the Patriarch elections:
Moscow Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters
RIA Novosti

Photo courtesy of Reuters, Alexander Natruskin, January 25, 2009.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Potential Election Law Reforms in Russia

Vladislav Surkov, the first deputy chief of the presidential administration, announced yesterday that proposals to modify party registration and parliamentary election rules will be forwarded to the Duma. If the reforms move forward as outlined, signature requirements for party registration will be lowered roughly in half (to 100,000-120,000) with a final target of 30,000-35,000 (no timetable was set for the final reduction). In addition, the electoral threshold will be modified. While the 7% threshold will remain, parties receiving over 5% of the vote will receive token representation in parliament.

These potential reforms are similar to recent changes proposed in Kazakhstan; minor tinkering that may expand competition, but only on the margins.

Thanks to Johnson's Russia List for the story.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Opening Salvos

The major players in Kyiv are officially setting their sights on the upcoming presidential election. President Yushchenko has proposed a January 17, 2010 election date, a position supported by Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Yuliya Tymoshenko's parliamentary party has proposed an earlier election date, December 27, 2009. President Yushchenko is looking for the next plenary session scheduled for next week to resolve the timing of the presidential election; Tymoshenko's party plans to propose changes to the legislation on presidential elections.

These exchanges are the opening salvos in the presidential race. The timing could affect turnout, with BYuT's proposed date falling before the major winter holidays and the president's proposed date falling just after them (Старый Новый год will be on January 13, 2010). But, this debate is minor compared to the battles yet to come.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Two Updates

Several news sources are reporting that the People's Party, the main party in Latvia's coalition government, supports the idea of early elections (see, for example, the CBS News adaptation of the AP wire story, and the Baltic Times). A new election date has not yet been set, however.

Whereas the timing and outcome of Latvia's (potential) early election are unknown, Azerbaijan's referendum increasingly looks like a foregone conclusion. Azerireport cites an interview in Bizim Yol in which a Ministry of Education official reportedly notes that a new textbook on the constitution includes changes that have not yet been approved by the March 2009 referendum. If confirmed, this report suggests that Azerbaijan's government is dispensing with the pretense of a competitive vote this spring.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kazakhstan's Election Law Change

Kazakhstan's upper house (Senate) approved changes to the Law on Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan and Law on Political Parties (discussed in a previous post. Also see today's press releases by the Khabar News Agency and Associated Press). The main modifications include a provision to allocate seats to at least two political parties, even if only one passes the 7% threshold, and a reduction in the total number of signatures required for party registration to 40,000 (from 50,000) and a minimum of 600 in each region. Opposition politicians have advocated for a lower threshold (3%) and better representation on electoral commissions.

The primary audience for these reforms is external. By making changes that President Nazarbayev promised in the summer, Kazakhstan demonstrates that it is eager to claim the chairmanship of the OSCE and is willing to make modest institutional changes to mollify critics. Once signed by President Nazarbayev, these changes will have a limited effect on politics in Kazakhstan. The most likely outcome is for a second pro-government party to gain a modest number of seats in the next parliamentary election.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Financial Crisis and Elections?

A potential consequence of the worldwide financial crisis is early elections, as economic pressure undermines public confidence in sitting governments. In the post-Soviet region, several governments have been hit hard, but it is in Latvia where pressure for early elections has increased. Earlier today, a protest calling for new elections turned violent in Riga. The BBC reported that 10,000 people participated in the initial, peaceful protest, the largest political demonstration since Latvia regained independence. Also see the Baltic Times and Chas (in Russian) for coverage. Photo: Reuters/Ints Kalnins (Latvia)

UPDATE (1/14/09): The New York Times reports that President Valdis Zatlers may call a referendum on dissolving parliament and holding early elections.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

While last year's trends in the post-Soviet region were not solely negative, the year featured few bright spots for proponents of free and fair elections as the primary path to policy-making power. The use of electoral mechanisms to institutionalize authoritarian rule advanced in several post-Soviet states in 2008, and is likely to continue in 2009.
  • All three states in the South Caucasus held elections of dubious quality (Presidential elections took place in Georgia (January 2008), Armenia (February 2008), and Azerbaijan (October 2008). Georgia held a parliamentary election in May 2008 and a placed two referendum questions on the ballot during the January presidential election). In Azerbaijan, major opposition parties boycotted the presidential election and did not stage post-election protests. Next year's referendum to eliminate term limits will create conditions for a "hereditary dictatorship" (as a commenter on a previous post designated it).
  • Central Asia's electoral calendar was relatively quiet in 2008, save for the one-party "contest" in Turkmenistan (December 2008). Proposals for election rule tinkering in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan will not fundamentally alter the environment for political competition if/when they are enacted in 2009.
  • Three European post-Soviet states held elections in 2008. Russia's March presidential election and Belarus' September parliamentary election provided little drama. Next door, Lithuania's October parliamentary election and referendum were hotly contested. Several political maneuvers set the stage for decreased competition in the region. Last week, the proposal to extend presidential term limits in Russia moved forward as the Federation Council approved the bill following its endorsement by regional legislatures. On December 30, 2008, President Medvedev signed the bill which also extended the term of parliamentary deputies from four to five years. The regime's success in co-opting Nikita Belykh, the former leader of the defunct Union of Right Forces and (former) regime critic, underscores the lack of political space for the opposition in contemporary Russia. Moldova's rejection of a reduction in the electoral threshold, and addition of a vetting requirement for candidates via security services, undermines open contestation. While Ukraine has not yet moved away from competitive electoral politics, chaotic political machinations in the capital city, including the threat of an early parliamentary election and inability of the government to respond to financial, energy, and infrastructure crises, test the limits of the public's patience for democratic politics.