Asian Electoral Review: Advancing Electoral Democracy through Electoral Reforms

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE: "Asian Electoral Review: Advancing Electoral Democracy through Electoral Reforms"

The year 2024 has been dubbed as the year of elections with more than 50 countries and territories around the world set to hold national and regional elections.1 In the first quarter of the year alone, Bangladesh and Taiwan held general elections with Pakistan and Indonesia set to hold elections in February 2024. These elections are going to be held amid the backdrop of an ever declining state of freedom around the world.

In its 2023 Freedom in the World report, Freedom House said global freedom declined for the 17th consecutive year. However, despite the increasing threats to democracy, experts say that the "popularity of democracy as measured by public opinion remains high".2 Citing a September 2023 survey report by the Open Society Foundations, on average, 86 percent of survey respondents said they want to live in a democratic state.3

Already, the first two elections that took place in 2024 provided a tale of two opposite poles. The elections in Bangladesh was boycotted by the opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party and saw a low voter turnout and the heavy crackdown on opposition figures to stifle dissent and eliminate perceived threats to the continuity of the ruling party Awami League. Amid alleged election irregularities, Prime Minister Sheik Hasina won a fifth consecutive term.

In Taiwan, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, seen by China as a threat to its imposition of a reunification campaign, won a third consecutive presidential term.4 With a high voter turnout of more than 70 percent, the results of the Taiwanese elections were seen as a rebuff against China's rule. Taiwan has consistently rated well in freedom indices due to credible elections that are seen as competitive, free and fair.5

In a healthy and functioning democracy, the election is a process in which the electorate are given the chance to select representatives in government that composes and implements mechanisms and policies for the greater good of the people. The people are also free to express themselves including voicing their views and concerns and showing support for candidates and parties that reflect and embody their ideals and aspirations. People are also able to contest elections free from harassment and in an environment that is fair without undue advantage.

In light of this, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) is launching the Asian Electoral Review (AER) which seeks to better understand the electoral landscape in 15 countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste) in Asia.

The publication presents the issues and challenges these countries face as well as practical approaches in addressing them. AER serves as a resource material for policymakers, academics, and CSOs seeking to understand and address issues related to electoral reforms. While ANFREL has indeed accumulated a substantial amount of information and analysis through monitoring of electoral processes, AER seeks to expand and extend our existing efforts.

The new publication also puts together a set of electoral reform recommendations to counter the issues and challenges and further consolidate efforts to uphold and protect electoral democracy. In this way, the publication will play a crucial role in promoting electoral reform by serving as a region-wide advocacy campaign in tracking successes and milestones on the proposals on electoral reforms.

Alongside this, the publication is an attestation and commitment in line with the enforcement of the Kathmandu Declaration (the outcome document of the Asian Electoral Stakeholder’s Forum VI). As highlighted, the Kathmandu Declaration encourages the democracy workers to: a) Contribute to strengthening legal framework for elections to align with democratic ideals by pursuing technically sound and politically feasible reforms; and b) Publish regular progress reports on the implementation of electoral reforms, and provide transparent information to the public and international stakeholders, and conduct research to assess the existing electoral practices to support evidence-based policy making.

Summary of Main Points and Recommendations

Asia remains a pivotal battleground in the global fight for democracy and credible elections. Ongoing political transitions and economic changes pose challenges that test the resilience of both well-established and emerging democracies in the region. In many countries and territories in the region, these have led to the difficulty in contesting elections, uneven playing field and abuse of state resources. To a far greater extent, these issues and challenges have led to the inability of winning parties to form governments and the overthrowing of duly elected and civilian-led governments.

Amidst the challenges of democratic backsliding, robust and resilient initiatives within civil society, media, and election management bodies throughout the Asia region strive to safeguard democracy. These endeavors aim not only to uphold and broaden electoral integrity but also to foster more inclusive, transparent, and accountable elections. The overarching goal is to ensure that all citizens can freely exercise their civil and political rights.

The analysis of the writers explore the various political systems, electoral processes, and the evolving dynamics that shape elections in different Asian countries. Particularly, the writers delved into the following key themes, providing comprehensive analysis based on their own unique context:

a) Political Systems: Wide array of political systems of their respective countries from parliamentary democracies to presidential systems and hybrid models, and assessing their impact on electoral practices and governance;

b) Voter Participation: Analyzing voter engagement and participation trends, considering factors such as voter turnout, the role of technology in elections, and efforts to enhance civic education and awareness;

c) Electoral Integrity: Investigating the measures taken by their respective countries to ensure the integrity of their electoral processes, including safeguards against fraud, transparency in campaign financing, and the role of independent electoral commissions;

d) Emerging Trends: Identifying and exploring emerging trends in Asian elections, such as the influence of social media, the rise of youth participation, and the impact of geopolitical dynamics on electoral outcomes;

e) Challenges and Opportunities: Addressing the challenges faced by their respective countries in conducting free and fair elections, including issues related to electoral violence, minority representation, and the balancing between tradition, culture and innovations; and

f) Technically Sound and Politically Feasible Electoral Reforms: The publication explores opportunities for strengthening democracy and institutions through lobbying of electoral reforms. The papers presented data on the number of electoral bills filed and the actual number of electoral laws passed by their respective Congress/Parliament.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE: "Asian Electoral Review: Advancing Electoral Democracy through Electoral Reforms"

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  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/maggiemcgrath/2024/01/09/50-over-50-europe-middle-east-and-africa-2024/?sh=7573c1b42131 ↩︎
  2. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/4/the-year-of-elections-is-2024-democracys-biggest-test-ever ↩︎
  3. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/e6cd5a09-cd19-4587-aa06-368d3fc78917/open-society-barometer-can-democracy-deliver-20230911.pdf ↩︎
  4. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/1/13/taiwan-ruling-partys-lai-wins-presidential-election ↩︎
  5. https://freedomhouse.org/country/taiwan/freedom-world/2023 ↩︎
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