Wednesday, March 25, 2009
[Thanks to Imedia for information on the polling]
Monday, March 23, 2009
UPDATE (3/23/09, 8:00 p.m.): Additional coverage from Eurasianet, RFE/RL, and lenta.ru.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
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
Friday, March 20, 2009
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.
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.»
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
 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
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.
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
- The Central Electoral Commission has made available voting lists and other administrative information. AzerTAg, the state information agency, notes that President Aliyev met with the "Ad Hoc Committee" that will observe the referendum and that the CEC Director met with the CIS observation mission. In total, around 170 international observers and 47,000 domestic observers are expected to participate.
- Day.az has an interview with a presidential advisor who promises that the referendum will meet international standards.
- Trend News has several articles about the referendum, including stories about the New Azerbaijan Party's confidence in high turnout and high levels of support and opposition plans to observe the voting process.
- The BBC has a video covering the basics of Azerbaijan's politics.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
"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.