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.