Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Institutional Accountability Amid Protests

Ukrainian citizens continue their impressive, largely peaceful, occupation of the streets, squares, and key buildings in Kyiv. While President Yanukovych admonished citizens to wait until the 2015 elections to express their preferences, the people are using mass mobilization in an effort to hold officials accountable.

At the same time, politicians also took action within Ukraine's institutions. Parliament held two important votes earlier today within a couple hours of each other. The first summoned members of the Cabinet of Ministers to the legislature, and the second was a vote of no confidence in government. The summons passed with overwhelming support, the no confidence vote failed.

The roll call votes on the table below show united opposition parties, unanimous in their commitment to a no confidence vote, with a handful of deputies not voting or absent during the summons. The Communist Party was also united, supporting the summons and not casting votes on the confidence motion. The behavior of the Communists is consistent with their past actions challenging government, but failing to back outcomes that the more Western-oriented opposition supports. Ten years ago, when protests against the regime were in their nascent stage, Communists also opposed then-president Leonid Kuchma. But, their protest activities were distinct from other opposition actors. The Communists also supported electoral reform to adopt a proportional representation system (when that change occurred about a decade ago). They further supported constitutional reforms to reduce the power of the presidency when it seemed increasingly likely that the opposition could win in the then-upcoming presidential election of 2004. Summoning government, but not voting to oust it, is in line with past behavior.

The Party of Regions, which had been accused of improperly coordinating votes in the recent past (by having deputies cast others' votes in the electronic system), showed variation in behavior on the summons. While the modal vote was "yes," with 147 deputies supporting the summons, 23 did not vote and 35 were absent. The no confidence vote saw deputies voting with their feet; only 5 voted no, with 100 not voting and 87 absent. A lone defector supported the no confidence motion. This behavior does not seem to represent the splintering of the Party of Regions that many speculated about over the last couple of days.

Non-affiliated deputies now include former Party of Regions stalwarts who voted with the opposition, such as Inna Bohoslovska. But, like the Party of Regions, other non-affiliated deputies seemed to be hedging as well (eleven deputies were absent for both votes).

Although the opposition is understandably disappointed with the results of the no confidence vote, elements of legislative accountability worked today. Parliament summoned government to ask "uncomfortable questions" (Schedler 1999), and ministers responded. For the no confidence vote to have passed, more defections from the regime were needed. The tipping point has not been reached, however. While prominent politicians abandoned the Party of Regions, most rank-and-file members seem willing to wait out the protests, hedging their bets by not casting votes on the confidence motion. In that way, they may be able to land more softly if things turn against the regime, but they also risk little if the regime prevails.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is #Євромайдан the Second Orange Revolution?

Nine years ago, I was in Kyiv during the early stages of the Orange Revolution. Large-scale fraud in  the second round of the presidential election mobilized hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens to take the streets and squares in Kyiv's center, drawing upon support from across the country. The negotiated settlement led to an opposition victory in the presidential election, constitutional reforms, and lessons learned by the losing side. The massive protests in Ukraine over the last couple of days, prompted by the government's decision to halt progress on an Association Agreement with the European Union, looks like these protests in some ways. But, many ingredients that propelled the Orange Revolution forward may be absent this time.

Role of Security Forces. When I boarded a train in 2004 to return to Kyiv from my observation deployment in Kherson, a train on the next track was being loaded with young crowd control troops and dogs heading north. Rumors of special forces being mobilized to break up protests were on everyone's lips, but the repression never materialized. As I walked around the city, I was surprised to find security services noticeably absent from the streets. The mayor of Kyiv allowed protesters to set up camp and the limited police presence was not intimidating. In 2013, security services have used force and seem willing to engage in moderate-level violence (tear gas, truncheons) in an effort to clear the squares and streets. They have not used overwhelming force yet (firearms, large-scale detention), but the level of violence already exceeds what occurred in 2004.

Clear End Game. In 2004, the options and outcomes were clearer than they are today. Protesters demanded a repeat second round of the presidential election, understanding that a clean contest was highly likely to yield a victory for Viktor Yushchenko. The current protests call for Ukraine to move closer to the EU via an Association Agreement during the November 28-29 Vilnius Summit. For many in the opposition, this outcome implicitly includes the release of Yuliya Tymoshenko from prison. But, what if EU leaders permitted an Association Agreement without her release? What if an alternate agreement, short of an Association Agreement, were reached? While many key EU politicians have indicated that signals about an end to selective justice are a necessary condition of the Association Agreement, the protests and government repression may have affected preferences. Could a peaceful end to Euromaidan, without punishment of protesters, be enough for the EU now? If it is, what are the implications for continued protest?

Regime Role in Negotiation. Another important difference between 2004 and 2013 is that the regime position nine years ago was being managed not by one of the candidates, but by then-President Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma's goals differed from Yanukovych's at the time; he wanted some institutional reforms to weaken the presidency that he had failed to secure earlier, and likely a golden parachute for his personal post-presidential situation. Kuchma was ready and willing to sacrifice Yanukovych and his ambitions for these outcomes. Rumors at the time suggested that Yanukovych preferred a repressive response to the protesters that Kuchma rejected. This time, Yanukovych and his team are in charge of the regime's response, and may have more to lose politically and personally in defeat (or retreat).

The Regime's Options. One alternative is an escalation of repression in an effort to quell protest. However, it is unlikely that Ukrainian citizens demanding change will go quietly; repression will have to be large scale and severe to be effective. For dissent to be quashed in this manner, the regime would need a full commitment by security services to conduct large scale operations and a willingness to arrest, detain, and commit violence unseen in the recent past. This alternative - the path taken by other post-Soviet states like Belarus and Azerbaijan - would be game-changing for Ukraine. While Russian partners would be unlikely to oppose this move, Europe would consider it beyond the pale. The return of Ukraine to a fully authoritarian society does not seem to be a likely outcome; I certainly hope that it is not even a possibility.

Another alternative is that the regime backs off and waits out the protesters. Winter is coming, as they say, and it does not seem like the logistical preparations for occupying the streets are as strong as they were in 2004. After Vilnius, no obvious mechanism exists to alter the policy course in the short term. While this option may cause longer-term challenges in elections coming in 2015, the levers of manipulation and fraud can be put in place by that time.

A third option is that the regime capitulates and finds a way to sign the association agreement. It may be possible to get the EU to agree to a signature without Tymoshenko's release if protesters are not harmed. If the release is still required, this alternative would generate even greater challenges for the regime in the longer term. Whether or not she is able to run for office, Tymoshenko is a force of nature whose skill set is especially suited for opposition activity. An EU agreement will cost Yanukovych, his business allies, and the regions of his core support dearly in economic and political terms if Russia decides to punish the country. Russia could make Yanukovych pay in many ways. But, the ace up Yanukovych's sleeve is that as much as Putin may dislike him, Putin may prefer Yanukovych to other viable alternatives.

Ukrainian citizens have demonstrated their readiness to mobilize and take the streets to challenge regime efforts to undermine their hard-earned progress toward democracy. As I strolled through the protesters' encampments in 2004, I asked many people, young and old, why they were protesting. Their consistent response was that they wanted to live in a "normal" country. The preference to live in a society where the rule-of-law prevails and officials can be held accountable for their actions persists in Ukraine. While it is unclear if mobilization in 2013 will achieve this outcome through an Association Agreement, the willingness of Ukrainians to take direct action to hold officials accountable may be the great legacy of the Orange Revolution and the primary way that Euromaidan is its successor.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Counterfeit Goods and Election Observation

The European Stability Initiative (@ESI_eu) recently published a provocative report about election observation, focusing on the potential implications of Azerbaijan's presidential election. The report details disputes between ODIHR and other European election observers, describes the activities of many accredited monitoring groups with dubious methodologies, and concludes that professional election observation is at great risk of losing its value.

The report notes that fifty groups observed the election, but only one (ODIHR) issued a critical assessment.* ODIHR was openly challenged at its press conference, in part because it could be portrayed as an outlier among international observer assessments. But, ODIHR also uniquely deployed well-trained long-term and short-term observers, and relied on clearly articulated principles to guide its analysis and assessment.

ODIHR's problem is analogous to manufacturers whose products are counterfeited and distributed all over the world. In markets across Eurasia and elsewhere, consumers can find "brand name" products, but they are quickly exposed as cheap knock-offs. The materials and manufacturing lack quality and detail, and they deteriorate at a faster pace than real goods. Scholars in economics, business, and marketing have assessed this problem, emphasizing issues that can counteract counterfeits such as strong branding, advertising that helps consumers identify fake products, reliable customer service that allows consumers to resolve problems with authentic goods, and the regular introduction of new, innovative products to undermine cheap copies (see, for example, Yang and Fryxell 2009 and Qian 2012).** These lessons are also valuable for the election observation community.

While ODIHR produces extensive reports (although it could do more - see below), its contribution is too easily summarized as a simple judgment: free and fair/not free and fair. The media may prefer this concise sound bite, but the oversimplification of an extensive process allows other organizations to offer competing judgments that can be perceived as equivalent when they are not. It may be useful to present a more nuanced summary of compliance/lack of compliance with international standards in multiple categories. Long-term observation permits assessments of ballot access and competition, voter registries and suffrage, media access, and dispute adjudication. Short-term observation permits assessments of the process in the polling stations and the compilation of votes at district/territorial commissions. The OSCE could easily disaggregate its assessment, indicating what parts of the process meet or do not meet international standards. While the text of its reports often make these connections, it could also develop a summary table/figure that addresses the components of the electoral process. Most other organizations are not well-equipped to provide these assessments, distinguishing the depth and scope of ODIHR's efforts.

On a related note, ODIHR should consider more aggressively comparing and contrasting its methods and conclusions with those of other organizations. While it is a diplomatic group that tends to avoid direct confrontation, the organization's ability to conduct election observation will be hindered by the proliferation of observation reports that are of lower quality (especially if ODIHR does not directly challenge them).

ODIHR's election observation model has not changed much over the years, and many aspects function well. But, perpetrators of fraud have been much more nimble and flexible, altering their on-the-ground tactics to be less visible by STOs deployed to polling stations. Opportunities exist to adapt methods and innovate in the face of the changing landscape.
  • Make data available to the public. ODIHR must protect the identity of poll workers who could be at risk of punishments, but it could strip identifiable information out of reports and publish the raw data on polling station assessments. Not only would public release of data permit others to evaluate how the polling-station level observations are translated into final reports, but it would set a new standard for every other organization. The scrutiny may be uncomfortable at first, but it could yield more precise measurements as data gathering instruments are improved.
  • More explicitly take advantage of random assignment to produce a representative sample of polling stations. I have served as an STO on several observation missions, and my assignments were never randomized. To be fair, logistical considerations (terrain, distance), concerns about deterring improper behaviors, and other factors influenced the visitation schedule on election day. Based on my interactions, STOs also seem to prefer polling stations with fewer ballots in close proximity to the territorial commission for the overnight vote count. Whether or not these anecdotal observations are indicative of a wider tendency among STOs in site selection, managing STO itineraries to approximate random selection would improve the quality of reports designed to present an accurate picture of the election process across the whole territory of the country.
  • Better exploit data on the back-end to develop more rigorous assessments. ODIHR has talented statisticians who work for it on observation missions; their capabilities should be more fully utilized. Data visualization and more sophisticated analysis could support ODIHR's assessments. For example, data from past elections could be compiled and scaled so that each election could be placed on a range of outcomes for observable items, such as the proportion of observed polling stations reporting problems in the vote count.*** While more extensive analysis and visualization could not be completed in time for preliminary reports that are issued the day after the election, they could be incorporated into final reports. 
  • Add technology for data gathering to complement the work of official LTOs and STOs. I have co-authored a working paper that uses data from crowdsourced reports**** collected and vetted by Ukrainian NGOs. The Ushahidi platform is becoming more widespread, and adding this layer of information to the arsenal (with all of the attendant caveats)***** could be another useful innovation. ODIHR, or other organizations, could recruit and train citizens who would document and report findings via mobile phones, websites, or other means of communication.
The bottom line is that the perpetrators of fraud have a diverse and changing arsenal at their disposal. Organizations dedicated to assessing election quality must also update and modify their tactics to maintain the integrity of election observation.

* The US State Department was also critical, but refers to the ODIHR mission as the primary source material for its assessment.
** My summary of the literature is cursory as it is not my specialty. But, I found many articles related to the issue of counterfeits in various journals and other publications. The issues I note above were raised in the pieces cited and in other papers. I suspect that my limited assessment of the literature has missed some nuance and additional findings.
*** While it is true that observer teams may vary in their assessments of "problems", and these observations could vary across time and space, it would be valuable to present these types of visualizations and openly discuss any problems of cross-national and temporal comparisons.
**** Please see notes in the paper about the definition of "crowdsourcing" and its implications.
***** We also address issues with data reporting in the paper.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Authoritarian Electoral Process in Tajikistan

Tajikistan's electoral process, culminating in the re-election of Emomali Rahmon as president, provides a case study of how control of the administrative apparatus and the choice set guarantees the regime's preferred outcome. While five minor "opposition" candidates were on the ballot, the only challenger who could have made the election interesting did not obtain ballot access. Candidates must gain 210,000 signatures for ballot placement, and Oynihol Bobonazarova did not meet that threshold. Bobonazarova was not likely to win, nor was she likely to head any mass mobilization against Rahmon's rule, but she would have brought interesting elements to the campaign. Her resume seems to be authentic and clean, and she was endorsed by both of the main regime opponents: the Social Democratic Party and Islamic Renaissance Party. The OSCE highlighted the lack of competition and other issues, including evidence of election day fraud, in its preliminary post-election report.

With no real competition, efforts to commit fraud on election day were most likely to be focused on turnout to demonstrate that the incumbent enjoys a high level of public support. Because many Tajiks work abroad, their participation is especially important to gauge. The regime signaled the value of this constituency through a parliamentary press release highlighting an MP visiting Russia to meet with Tajik migrants and stump for the president and rules permitting early voting. Anecdotal evidence suggests that ballot box stuffing and proxy voting may have inflated turnout; it was over 80% two hours prior to polls closing. Tajik citizens spoke on camera about casting multiple ballots for relatives in a matter-of-fact way, perhaps unsurprising in a country where free and fair elections have not been held and citizens are not likely to have been educated about private and secure voting.

Unfortunately, Tajikistan does not make election data available online; the Central Commission for Elections and Referendums does not even have its own website. This lack of transparency prevents further analysis of the results.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Analysis of Georgia's Presidential Election

Last Sunday, Georgia held presidential elections that were generally praised as competitive, free, and fair by international observers (see, for example, the OSCE preliminary report, PACE statementIRI press release, and NDI preliminary statement).* Analysis of the data was delayed by the CEC's initial decision to post only images of protocols and not the raw results in easily readable electronic form (It appears that full results are now posted on the official site along with the protocol images). JumpStartGE set up a crowdsourcing effort to convert the images to usable data, and the data were completed a few days after the election.** The data include results from 3,655 polling stations in Georgia and 52 outside of the country.

Not only is it valuable to assess Georgia's data on their own, but it is also instructive to compare them with other elections. Several indicators in Georgia differ from elections held in the South Caucasus region this year that were assessed less favorably by the observer community.

The election protocols provide three time points for turnout: noon, 5pm, and final turnout.*** The distribution of the polling station data are displayed below. Turnout is near-normal in its distribution in all three time periods, with the mean shifting right and variance increasing over time. Notably absent is the "hump" in the right side of the tail (which I pointed out as suspiciously present in Azerbaijan's data).

Distribution of Turnout, Georgia PECs
Comparing turnout to candidate performance suggests moderate tendencies for Margvelashvili to perform better at higher turnout levels, and the opposite for Bakradze (Burjanadze's data suggest no trend). As I noted in the post about Azerbaijan, this outcome could be produced by legitimate or illegitimate mobilization, or other methods. However, the data do not reveal other markers of engineering, notably polling stations with perfect attendance and complete, or near-complete, support for a single candidate. Variation in performance is also reasonably wide, whereas it was much more limited for the leading candidate in Azerbaijan.**** In the Armenian case, the slope was more pronounced, and outcomes favored the pro-regime candidate. While Margvelashvili won a substantial victory, his performance varied across polling stations.

Proportion of the Vote by Turnout

Effects of Turnout, Invalid Ballots, and Polling Station Features
Regressing the results for the three main candidates on polling station-level explanatory variables can show how multiple features are associated with performance. I used the proportion of vote received by Margvelashvili, Bakradze, and Burjanadze as dependent variables, and turnout, the proportion of invalid ballots, the natural log of polling station size, and participation by "special voters" as explanatory variables. As noted elsewhere, turnout could affect performance because of legitimate mobilization or other factors. Ballot invalidation should not be associated with candidate performance as one would not expect it to be systematically related to a candidate but rather random errors by voters.***** Polling station size could matter in a couple of ways. Smaller polling stations are more amenable to pressure on voters as officials are more likely to know individuals and they are also more likely to be in village settings (or special precincts). However, polling station size could also serve as a proxy for rural/urban location which could be connected to legitimate variation in candidate support. Special voter participation is indicative of mobile voting, and these voters are potentially vulnerable to coercion. Like station size, an alternate explanation is that special voters also serve as a proxy for the elderly and disabled who are more likely to request special conditions (and these features could also be related to legitimate candidate support). In short, the variables may have more or less benign interpretations associated with them.

Because the data include outliers, I assessed the results in several ways (standard OLS with and without the outliers, robust regression, and tobit). The significance of the coefficients and their signs did not vary across the models (except in one case noted below). For Margvelashvili, final turnout and the log of polling station size is positively associated with performance; the proportion of invalid ballots is negatively associated with performance. Special voting is not statistically significant.

For Bakradze, turnout is negatively associated with performance and the proportion of invalid ballots is positively associated with performance. Polling station size is negatively associated with performance, but is not statistically significant in two of the models. In the Burjanadze models, only polling station size had a statistically significant coefficient, and it was negatively associated with performance.

The substantive effect is not particularly large for any of the coefficients in the assessment of Margvelashvili's vote (and the model included outliers). The first figure below shows the predicted effects of invalid ballots on the expected votes for Margvelashvili. While an increase in invalid ballots is associated with lower levels of performance, the upper end of the range is unlikely to occur. The mean outcome for invalid ballots at the polling station level was 1.8% (s.d. 1.7), with a range of 0 to 49.6% (The high end is an outlier worthy of further investigation).

Predicted Outcome for Margvelashvili, Varying Invalid Ballots

The second figure shows the predicted outcome for Margvelashvili as the natural log of polling station size varies. Logging flattens the results, but nevertheless, polling station size has a small effect on outcomes. I did not even place the figure showing the effects of turnout on outcomes in this post because they are equally unimpressive substantively.
Predicted Outcome for Margvelashvili, Varying Polling Station Size
In short, while some features that could raise eyebrows are statistically related to candidate performance, their substantive effects are small.

Distribution of Digits
I have noted in previous posts that assessing the distribution of digits can be instructive in uncovering anomalous results. The distribution of the final two digits exceeds expectations from 1-1 on up, declining to around 4-0 where it returns to the expected range. The magnitude of the discrepancy (with 3% or so of the results at 1-1 whereas we would anticipate around 1%) is lower than in Azerbaijan (where 1-0 was over 7% of the results).

Distribution of the Last Two Digits

The international community has praised the election process while noting areas for improvement. The initial assessment of data aligns with these observations. Many of the troubling signals from polling station data in other elections seem to be absent, or at a lower level of magnitude, in Georgia.
  • Turnout data approach a normal distribution, with the mean and variance changing over time in ways that reasonably conform with "normal" election processes.
  • While some candidates perform better/worse at higher levels of turnout, the data are widely dispersed and do not show suspicious results where perfect (or near-perfect) turnout and vote outcomes for a single candidate converge. Moreover, in the multivariate analysis, the substantive effect of turnout was small.
  • Other features, such as the proportion of invalid ballots and polling station size, are associated with performance for some candidates. But, the effects are substantively small.
  • The distribution of digits shows some evidence of anomalous outcomes, but the scale of the anomalies is not large.
Manipulation and fraud occur in most elections, and it would be an overstatement to indicate that data reveal no evidence of anomalies. However, the data do not present markers of large-scale, systematic fraud, suggesting that any problems that might have been present are likely to have been sporadic and not decisive.


* The organizations made recommendations for improvements and expressed concerns as well, but the overall sentiment was positive.
** I participated in the effort, entering data for around thirty polling stations.
*** I restricted this part of the analysis to polling stations reporting 100% or less turnout. Ten polling stations reported higher than 100% turnout. Two were overseas stations and two were small (under 50 voters). The remaining six deserve additional scrutiny. It is likely that absentee certificate use elevated turnout in at least some cases.
**** Recall that Ilham Aliyev received over 50% of the vote in every polling station. Margvelashvili's results are more widely dispersed.
*****We could come up with a causal story, relating voters more likely to cast invalid ballots (less educated and/or older) with a specific candidate. But, this causal chain requires a bit more evidence than can be mustered with polling station data.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Few Thoughts on Azerbaijan's Presidential Election

As expected, President Ilham Aliyev was awarded a third term in office after Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission announced his convincing victory (officially garnering 84.55% of the vote). The OSCE issued a strong statement challenging the democratic qualities of the process which the CEC deemed an "insult." Delegations from the CIS, Pakistan, and others indicated that the process was democratic. PACE statements came under scrutiny, especially on Twitter and among bloggers, with Rebecca Vincent's excellent Al Jazeera post noting the differences in professional credentials between OSCE and PACE delegations. Several other bloggers, including Arzu Geybullayeva and Katy Pearce and Farid Guliyev at the Monkey Cage, provided valuable accounts of the election process and its implications. A PR firm even weighed in at the Monkey Cage to express concerns about the lack of attention directed to Azerbaijan's "progress" in its elections.

In this post, I return to a few questions that I posed on election eve and provide a preliminary assessment of the data. OSCE reports, which tend to be based on the most thorough data collection efforts among international observation organizations,* suggest that fraud was evidenced among officials in the election apparatus, and also among citizens via vote buying and other forms of improper voting.

Turnout not only provides a sense of citizen participation, but can also provide some evidence of malfeasance. If ballot boxes are being stuffed, or voters are being directed in "carousels", turnout will be inflated. The official turnout at the national level was 72.31%, according to the CEC. The average turnout at the polling station level was 74.4%. Of the 5,492 polling stations, 68 (1.2%)  reported 100% turnout and 177 (3.2%) reported 95% or higher turnout. These results are consistent with the 2008 presidential elections.

Turnout Across Election Day Reporting Periods, CEC Data

The figure above shows the distribution of turnout across all polling stations at each reporting period on election day. At 10:00 a.m. and at noon, the distributions are bimodal, with the major mode centered around 20% and 40%, and minor modes around ten percentage points lower. As the day progresses, the distributions smooth out. The most interesting transformation is between 5:00 pm and the close of the polling stations at 7:00 p.m. The mean at closing is slightly higher than at 5:00 pm, but variance increases and a "hump" appears close to 100%. Could all of these changes happen naturally? Many of them could, especially if voters continued to come to the polls throughout the day. My cursory scan of webcams in the late afternoon showed little activity, but I was not able to systematically assess traffic. In principle, voters could have continued coming to the polls, altering the distribution and generating polling stations with near perfect attendance. But, the "hump" near 100% is suspicious as the tail should be much smaller.

Proportion of the Vote by Turnout, Aliyev and Hasanli

If we look at the distribution of votes for Ilham Aliyev and his main challenger, Camil Hasanli, alongside turnout at the polling-station level, Aliyev tends to perform better where turnout is higher. In an earlier post on Armenia's election, I noted that the relationship between turnout and performance was quite striking: the regime's preferred candidate secured a higher vote proportion at higher levels of turnout whereas the main challenger's totals were smaller at higher levels of turnout. The results are positively correlated for Aliyev (0.334, significant a the .001 level) and negatively for Hasanli (-0.050, significant at the .001 level).  These outcomes could be explained by strong mobilization efforts or by illicit actions. It is especially notable that President Aliyev did not receive under 50% in any polling station.

Invalid ballots are related to turnout, especially if one adopts a more sinister interpretation of high turnout. If ballot boxes are being stuffed, they are not being stuffed with invalid ballots, but rather those that help the preferred candidate. Just over 40% of the polling stations in Azerbaijan reported no invalid ballots. While no research precisely identifies the "natural" level of invalidation in a democratic election,** it is not uncommon for voters to make mistakes rendering their ballots invalid. The absence of invalid ballots in 40% of polling stations is notable.
Election forensics rely on expectations about the distribution of digits in naturally occurring data, and assumptions about human behavior,*** to provide some insights into anomalous results. My colleague Fredrik Sjoberg posted the following figure on Twitter, noting that the distribution of last digits suggests human intervention. The general expectation is that the last digits should be uniformly distributed, but zeros are inflated in the data from Azerbaijan.
Fredrik Sjoberg's Last Digit Analysis via Twitter @fsjoberg
If we look at the last two digits, the expectations and results are similar. The last digit combination of 1-0 is especially high given expectations (whereas we would anticipate 1-0 to appear in around 1% of the results, it instead appears around 7% of the time).

Distribution of the Last Two Digits
This outcome is likely driven, at least in part, by the marginal candidates who receive just a few votes in any given polling station. Eyeballing the data, one can notice some outcomes that appear to be peculiar, such as the frequency with which minor candidates receive the same results in some regions. For instance, if one looks at the data from District 1 in Nakhchivan, the consistency of the vote across many polling stations is notable, especially where the final three candidates receive 10, 11, and 6 votes. This is essentially an anecdotal presentation of some data, and it could be produced by chance or nature (humans seek out patterns, and randomness can produce outcomes that appear to be patterns). However, it is also notable that the results are consistent across several polling stations where the total number of votes varies - in other words, the primary variation in outcomes is the amount allocated to Hasanquliyev and Aliyev (Hasanli, the opposition candidate, receives few votes here). 

Polling Station Results for District 1 in Nakhchivan
Nakhchivan is a special place as I have noted before, and has produced unusual election results. But, a deeper spatial analysis will have to wait. My current map of Azerbaijan's districts that I developed for the last election is no longer accurate since some of the district areas have been re-drawn. I hope to have a chance to develop a new shapefile to display some of the data spatially, but it must wait for other projects to be completed first.

What are the take-aways from the preliminary data?
  • Election day turnout displays some unusual outcomes, notably the "hump" at the tail of the distribution. The distribution shows an elevated concentration of polling stations with perfect or near-perfect turnout.
  • Higher turnout is associated with a higher proportion of the vote for President Aliyev, and with poorer outcomes for Hasanli. This is consistent with mobilization and/or illicit methods.
  • Election forensics show that the last digit and last two digits are not distributed as anticipated (with the expectation being a uniform distribution). These outcomes are consistent with human intervention.
An important caveat with any assessment of election quality is that no single test constitutes a "smoking gun." However, unusual outcomes are consistent with the explanation offered by the OSCE's report that presents evidence of various forms of fraud.

* The OSCE generally has delegations large enough to gather samples across a country's territory, conducts training so that observer activities should be relatively consistent, and has a thorough questionnaire that provides the data used for the assessment. Observers are not deployed randomly, however, and the convenience sample may over-represent urban areas and problematic polling stations.
** Invalidation rates depend on many factors, including ballot design and the electoral system.
*** Most notably, the expectation is that humans are not especially talented at falsifying data. Instead of creating digits randomly, they fall into patterns that suggest manipulation. I have discussed Benford's Law and its applications in previous posts, and the basics apply here as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

OSCE Assessment of Azerbaijan's Presidential Election

At the OSCE press conference in Baku earlier today, the organization issued a negative report citing widespread problems on election day and during the vote counting process. Reports indicate that the press conference was disrupted by hecklers challenging the findings (including a candidate getting involved). Some of the OSCE's observations included:
  • Improper opening procedures in almost 20% of observed precincts.
  • Improper vote counting procedures in 58% of observed precincts.
  • Ballot box stuffing in 37 observed precincts.
  • Voters not checked for invisible ink in 19% of observed precincts, voters not inked in 11% of observed precincts, and voters "inked" by another station casting additional ballots in 7 observed precincts.
  • Voter lists or results protocols altered in 15 observed precincts.
Even observers from afar could find evidence of polling stations that did not seem to be following standard operating procedures. The screencap above is from a CEC webcam feed that I was watching, showing a ballot box open and ballots being counted 10 minutes after the polls closed. Many steps must be taken before ballot boxes may be opened and this commission (along with others I observed online) clearly took shortcuts.

In my assessment of the last presidential election (published in Comparative Political Studies), I noted that the data suggested evidence of "true" votes recorded by citizens, as well as the intervention of officials in manufacturing the results. Activities seemed to be decentralized, but resulted in the regime's preferred outcome. The process seems to have been even more uncoordinated during this election.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Re-Election Eve for President Aliyev

In just a little while, polls will open in Azerbaijan for an election that incumbent President Ilham Aliyev will win. Five years ago, I was in Baku for the 2008 election and my election eve observations are essentially unchanged from that time. The questions that will be interesting to resolve are:

1) What will be the level of recorded turnout (as well as its temporal and spatial distribution)?
2) How will results vary spatially for the losing candidates?
3) Will forensics tests reveal any anomalies, and if so, what types of anomalies?

My friend and blogger Arzu Geybullayeva (also Meydan TV) reported a couple of hours ago about a mobile app produced by the Central Electoral Commission that has received attention because it purportedly reveals the results of tomorrow's election (screencap below from Arzu's blog). Some reports have indicated that the app not only provides the national totals for candidates, but also detailed results about other aspects of the vote.

I have some lingering skepticism that this is a smoking gun for a couple of reasons. First, if the results were predetermined at this level of detail (especially if the additional reports are accurate), it would require substantial back-end "cleaning" efforts to ensure that results are "properly" reported tomorrow. This level of coordination did not seem to be present in the last presidential election. Second, it would be an inefficient way of winning. It is likely that President Aliyev will receive more legitimately cast votes than his opponents, especially due to the carefully controlled choice set. Tomorrow's vote will likely provide a strong baseline from which to manufacture any needed additional support in polling stations, district commissions, or at higher levels, to top off the win (using bureaucratic fraud, or other methods).

The CEC's Infocenter will be posting information on election day and afterward. Webcams are also online.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

20th Anniversary of a Game-Changing Constitutional Crisis

Twenty years ago, Russia faced a turning point in its nascent democracy. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, Boris Yeltsin embarked on economic reforms, putting aside political reforms for the future. Legislative institutions were still dominated by deputies elected during the Communist era, and they opposed most of Yeltsin's economic agenda. Over the course of 1993, conflict escalated between the executive and legislative branches* and encompassed not only economic decisions but basic questions of constitutional order and the rule of law.

From October 2-4, 1993, the crisis escalated: legislators occupied the Russian "White House", attempted to take control of the main television tower, and engaged in firefights in the streets of Moscow. On October 4, government forces attacked the White House with tanks and special troops, leading to a victory for Boris Yeltsin. But, the win was Pyrrhic for democracy, as Yeltsin set the precedent for extra-constitutional means to trump constitutional provisions.** He could have embarked on wide-ranging political reforms in the early days after the USSR's demise. But, Yeltsin did not recognize how important it was to create democratic political institutions and abide by them, nor did he recognize how political and economic institutions are intertwined in a democratic society.

RFE/RL has a retrospective of the main players and the implications of this tragic event.

*The Russian Constitutional Court notably supported the views of the legislature, even ruling unconstitutional measures proposed by Yeltsin in a public speech.

**At the time, the communist and nationalist affiliations of the legislators were "proof" that they were the "bad guys" and that Yeltsin, who defied Soviet authorities and helped bring about an end to the USSR was the "good guy."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Plan B for Azerbaijan's Opposition

Preventing opposition candidates from gaining ballot access is a standard practice in the region, but the main opposition candidate in Azerbaijan's upcoming presidential election made it easy. Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission rejected Rustam Ibragimbekov's application to contest the election (stories in Eurasianet and RFE/RL among others). The CEC decision notes that his dual citizenship and residency practices over the last decade render him ineligible. Article 100 of Azerbaijan's Constitution indeed states that candidates must be "exclusively" [Note: in the English translation] citizens of Azerbaijan and reside in the country for a decade. Russia seems to be helping the Azerbaijani authorities make the case by failing to accept Ibragimbekov's petition to revoke his Russian citizenship. While the interpretation could be debated, Ibragimbekov's Russian passport and time in Russia certainly make the CEC decision defensible.

As the campaign moves forward, the opposition has several decisions to make. Ibragimbekov says that he will appeal, but an appeal is unlikely to be successful and may be a distraction. The opposition nominated an alternative candidate, anticipating the possibility of the CEC decision, but Camil Hasanli is not as well known. A boycott is also a potential response, but major opposition figures have boycotted before without making a strong impact. Not unexpectedly, the path now seems even clearer for President Aliyev's re-election.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Восток - дело тонкое": Suddenly, the Azerbaijan Presidential Election Became More Interesting

The hero of the epic Soviet film White Sun of the Desert warns us that "the East is a delicate [or subtle] matter." While I don't subscribe to the cultural determinism suggested by the quote,* the notion of subtlety certainly applies to the events unfolding in Azerbaijan. It is all the more apropos because the man who co-authored the film's screenplay is the opposition's consensus candidate for president.

Azerbaijan's recent political history provides some context for the upcoming election. The political opposition gained the presidency shortly after the collapse of the USSR, but its brief period of leadership is not remembered fondly. The term of President Abulfaz Elchibey was abbreviated and disastrous, with the Nagorno-Karabakh war turning ugly and mutinous units moving toward Baku. It ended in Elchibey's ouster and Heydar Aliyev's return to power.** The most prominent opposition politicians who have contested past elections can be associated with the Elchibey administration and this connection has not been helpful to them. Rustam Ibragimbekov, the National Council of Democratic Forces nominee, does not have these associations (at least to my knowledge). Rather, he is well known for his work in the film industry and his critiques of the current regime.

While Azerbaijan's electoral practices have not been rated as free and fair by international observers,*** the results suggest that the process is not fully manufactured. In my analysis of dissenting votes from the 2008 presidential election and 2009 referendum, published in Comparative Political Studies, I noted that the results provide some insight into citizen preferences as well as hints of elite interference. The minor opposition candidates who contested the 2008 presidential election performed better in districts where they had a local affiliation (e.g., represented the region in parliament). If results were fully manufactured, the regime has little incentive to suggest that the opposition enjoys pockets of local support. Further, peculiar patterns of ballot invalidation in the referendum suggest local elite involvement and not a centrally guided process of vote manipulation. The decentralization of influence on elections contributes to risk for the regime. 

At the moment, we have many subtleties to consider prior to the vote slated for October 16, 2013.
  • On June 21, Mehriban Aliyeva was nominated by the Democratic Azerbaijan World Party, a move that was later lightly retracted. Shadowy patronage networks arguably play an important role in the distribution of power and wealth, and it is not surprising that the announcement has been portrayed as part of a broader conflict among networks.**** The nomination of a single opposition candidate could enhance these divisions, but it could also serve as a catalyst for consolidation around a third term for President Aliyev if the opposition threat is perceived as a realistic challenge. While opposition mobilization could be undermined by consistent and credible threats (the trial of "Eurovision Plotters" is but one example), divisions in the elite could create a perception that opposition mobilization efforts could be rewarded.
  • Another interpretation of Mehriban Aliyeva's potential nomination is that she is a hedge - Ilham's popularity is unclear and she may be more popular. One of the challenges for leaders in an authoritarian system that does not offer tests of accountability or meaningful assessments of public opinion is that the ruling elite cannot gauge effectively the popularity of any politician. This uncertainty undermines their risk assessment and tactical plans regarding how much they should attempt to control the election process.
  • The selection of a single candidate presents both potential risks and rewards to the opposition. A standard tactic in the post-Soviet region is to prevent strong opposition candidates from gaining ballot access, or to encourage them to withdraw on their own. "Black PR" and allegations of a candidate's lack of legitimacy can be used to achieve both ends. If Ibragimbekov's ballot access is blocked, or if he gains access and is subsequently removed, opposition voters have no alternative but a boycott. 
  • If Ibragimbekov gains ballot access, retains ballot access, and remains healthy, a regime tactic to undermine his candidacy would be to enhance threats of instability. The opposition's plan to limit his time in office to two years is an unintended assist to the regime. While the opposition characterizes this two-year period as transitional with institutional reforms, it highlights uncertainty. If tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan were to be heightened, it once again would serve as a reminder of the dark Elchibey period. An environment encouraging citizens to support stability favors the regime.
  • If regime proponents perpetrate fraud, it is most likely that efforts would be focused outside of Baku. Ibragimbekov is more likely to garner support in the capital, but he has fewer obvious connections outside of the capital. Authorities may limit the activities of international observers to facilitate such efforts.
  • The near simultaneity of the Georgian presidential election (scheduled for late October) could enhance international attention to the South Caucasus. But, if the Georgian election appears to be hotly contested and Azerbaijan shapes up as less competitive, the limited appetite for coverage of post-Soviet regional elections could be directed to Georgia rather than Azerbaijan.
In sum, recent events render the upcoming presidential election in Azerbaijan more interesting than anticipated. While I would expect regime divisions to become quieter and President Aliyev to win a third term, conditions are more "delicate" than expected.

*Indeed, the use of this phrase is not limited to matters of the "East."
**Aliyev led the Azerbaijan SSR until he was removed by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
***With the exception of the CIS and related observer groups.
****The notion that the president's wife would contest the election was raised before, prior to the 2009 referendum that lifted term limits in the constitution. Some characterized it as an effort by the Pashayev group to assert itself.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The (Already Dead) Regional Reconfiguration Proposal in Ukraine

[UPDATE: As I was finalizing this post, President Yanukovych's office disowned the idea of regional reform, effectively killing it. However, it is still worth contemplating what these changes might have wrought.]

Politicians in Ukraine recently proposed consolidation of the existing 24 regions* into eight macro-regions and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (for a total of nine regions). Scholars have debated the best way to think about Ukraine's regional divide for many years. The simplest method separates Ukraine into East and West along the Dniepr River, and is generally the implicit approach in the press, especially at election time. Observers have also developed more nuanced divisions, separating Crimea and/or subdividing East and West into East, West, and Central regions. The purpose of these regional definitions is to better understand the underlying features that help explain party and policy preferences.

In 2004, Lowell Barrington and I published an article in Nationalities Papers about regionalism in Ukraine. The purpose of our article was to stimulate discussion about regional variation and to propose an eight-region division based on our understanding of shared historical, cultural, economic, and other ties. We presented a rationale for each region, although the arguments were stronger for some areas than others (e.g., the historic and cultural ties in Galicia render its orientation as a macro-region stronger than the combination of, say, Zakarpattya and Chernivtsy). The map of our eight macro-regions is below.

While this division is certainly not definitive, the similarity of these regions to the recent boundary proposal prompted me to reflect on the potential consequences of territorial changes.

Comparing the two approaches, three regions remain intact: East (Luhansk and Donetsk), South (Kherson, Mykolayiv, and Odesa), and Crimea.** The North Central region is partially merged with the East Central, yielding a region with Sumy, Poltava, and Kharkiv. In the western part of the country, several differences between our eight macro-regions and the proposed divisions are evident. The region that we labeled Southwest, including Zakarpattya and Chernivtsy, would be merged with part of the West (L'viv and Ivano-Frankivsk). The remaining regions in the western section of the country would be divided north and south (where we kept them together).

The underlying motivation for our effort was an academic exercise to group like-regions together and better understand Ukraine's politics. However, the proposed regional divisions seem designed to strengthen President Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.

1) The regions that do not vary between the two maps are those that exhibited the strongest support for Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election and the Party of Regions in local races. His area of strongest core support would constitute three of the nine regions.

2) Kharkiv, which was part of the East Central region in our scheme, is merged with parts of the North Central region. This division would couple an area of strong Yanukovych support and a major urban center with two regions that leaned to Tymoshenko (she garnered 54% of the vote in Poltava and 63% in Sumy). In our regional division, Kharkiv was linked to Dnipropetrivsk and Zaporizka, two other areas of robust Yanukovych support and another major urban center. Splitting off Kharkiv in this way would help the Yanukovych team dominate a fourth and fifth region.

3) In the western part of the country, the Galician region of L'viv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil would be broken into two regions. This 3-oblast area is the heartland of a particular brand of Ukrainian national identity and has a long-standing connection. L'viv and Ivano-Frankivsk would be merged with Zakarpattya, an area that has been dominated by the oligarchic SDPU(o) in the past and the Baloha family in the present. It would also be joined with Chernivtsy that selected split local leadership (see the map below), with the Party of Regions gaining control of the regional council. While the area would likely retain its pro-opposition character, it would be tempered by the inclusion of regions with more tepid opposition support.

4) The remaining western regions would be divided into two, with the strongest areas of opposition support (Volyn and Ternopil) located in different regions. One could imagine that the opposition would still perform reasonably well in this area given the results for Tymoshenko in 2010 as well as the results of regional elections that yielded many pro-opposition city councils.

5) The center of the country that we named the North Central region was highly contested during the 2012 parliamentary election and is likely to retain this status in the near future. The delay of the mayoral and council votes in Kyiv until 2015 was likely calculated to undermine opposition success and (potential***) cooperation prior to the presidential election also slated for 2015.

Consolidating the regions would produce fewer patronage positions, but the positions would have access to more resources. If local elections were maintained for councils, the Party of Regions could extend its reach westward (notably in the macro-regions that would encompass Volyn and Ternopil).

The regional reconfiguration is unlikely to move forward (and if it were to move forward, it is unlikely to do so quickly) because many interests could be threatened by the re-design. However, the idea suggests that Ukrainian politicians continue to think about how to re-design institutions in their favor. 

Result 2010
% Vote
A.R. Crimea
Kyiv Oblast

*Ukraine features 24 oblasts, two cities of special significance, and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
**Taking credit for getting Crimea right is cheating a bit since it has special status.
***Ukraine's opposition has proven ineffective at cooperation and consolidation in the past. While the current leaderships of the leading opposition parties promise to collaborate, healthy skepticism is generally the best position to take.