Report: KFG Book Workshop and Roundtable on Elections in the Developing World

Aug 05, 2015

Afghan man after election

Afghan man after election
Image Credit: "An Afghan man showing his inked finger, which was part of the procedure to prevent people from voting twice" by Staff Sgt. Christopher Allison (US Department of Defense), Public Domain Link

While elections are held in almost every country nowadays, they are still often plagued by fraud and violence and are frequently administered by weak institutions. Democracy depends critically on free and fair elections and peaceful transitions – yet these essential first steps are regularly thwarted in developing countries. Why are some elections violent while others are not? When do elections facilitate democracy? And how does international election assistance influence elections in developing countries? These questions were addressed in a book workshop and panel discussion taking place on 18-19 May 2015 at the Political Science Department at Freie Universität Berlin.

The lively discussion included as key participants Irfan Nooruddin (Georgetown University), Andrea Ruggeri (University of Oxford), Sarah Birch (University of Glasgow), Nikolay Marinov (University of Mannheim), Tess McEnery (USAID), and Inken von Borzyskowski (Florida State University & KFG postdoc fellow), who organized the two-day event. The book workshop and roundtable were generously supported by the department chairs, Tanja A. Börzel and Thomas Risse, with funds from the German National Science Foundation (DFG).

Book Workshop “Choosing to Fight: How International Organizations Influence Election Violence,” 18 May 2015

The first day of the workshop was dedicated to an in-depth discussion of the book manuscript written by Inken von Borzyskowski. Her book focuses on two common forms of international organizations’ (IOs) election support: technical election assistance and election monitoring. The book argues that IO assistance can change the incentives of domestic actors to engage in election violence, but that it is a “double-edged sword:” it can reduce election violence in some circumstances and increase it in others. The effect depends on the type of IO assistance (technical or monitoring) and the election phase (before or after election-day). She finds substantial support for the theory using statistical analyses, formal models, case studies from three continents, and the compilation of a new dataset capturing election violence worldwide since 1990.

The project benefitted greatly from the excellent feedback, suggestions, and constructive criticism by the discussants and Thomas Risse. The workshop allowed participants to talk at length about the work in progress and to influence its shape and direction.

Roundtable “Elections in the Developing World: Assessing the Challenges of Democratic Transition,” 19 May 2015

On the second day, the roundtable assessed the challenges of elections and international election assistance in developing democracies. We had a strong panel of speakers who shared their recent work, shedding light on these important questions. The roundtable discussion was based on five presentations. In the introductory presentation, Irfan Nooruddin discussed why elections have failed in the developing world, arguing that the success of elections in establishing democracy is conditional on domestic characteristics such as prior experience with democracy and conflict. Next, Andrea Ruggeri focused on electoral fraud and how the perception of fraud was related to protest participation after Nigeria’s 2007 election. Then, Sarah Birch reported on a new project to generate data about electoral violence from digital media, both in terms of macro panel data and more micro event-level data with a range of incident characteristics. In the fourth presentation, Nikolay Marinov discussed the role of social media, activism, and spillovers of democracy. Following these research presentations, Tess McEnery shared a policy perspective on the challenges of international election assistance in developing countries, including electoral security assessments and best practices in conflict management.

These presentations were followed by a stimulating discussion with the audience, which included faculty, postdocs, and students from other universities as well as FU affiliates. The ensuing debate raised a number of issues for future research and brought to the fore practical challenges in implementing election assistance. It also made clear what academics and practitioners can learn from each other (and what not yet), and the amount of effort still needed to bridge that gap in order to improve both research on and policy related to elections in developing countries.