Asian Election Database
A Guide to Democracy and Elections in Asia
Asian Electoral Database
Holding free and fair elections are guided by various international human rights standards and instruments. These instruments can be in the form of declarations adopted by the United Nations or other inter state bodies or they can also be in the form of conventions.
Among the international instruments and regional declarations to which most Asian countries have signed and agreed to adhere to are the following:
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 General Assembly resolution 217 A as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.”
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
Article 25. Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (6) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country
Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections
The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers were developed through a multi-year process involving more than 20 intergovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations concerned with election observation around the world. The process began informally in 2001 at the initiative of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD) and included an initial meeting at the UN in New York and a meeting in Washington co-hosted by the OAS and NDI.
Democracy is a form of government where the sovereign power is vested in the people.It is through elections that the people exercise their sovereign power by choosing their leaders and, in many places, voting directly on legislation (sometimes called “direct democracy”). In a democracy, elections are held at regular intervals based on applicable law. The entire electoral process should be free and fair, conducted without favoritism to special interests, and free from violence, fraud and intimidation so that the results truly reflect the will of the people.
The holding of free and fair elections is a fundamental requirement of democracy. Without elections, there is no real democracy.
Various electoral systems are used to choose elected officials. Each electoral system provides the “rules of the game” and defines the level of representation.
Some of the electoral systems found in Asia and throughout the world are the following:
- Plurality electoral systems
Also called “first-past-the-post” or “winner-take-all” systems, plurality systems provide that the person receiving the highest number of votes wins the office, even if his/her share is less than a majority (50%+) of the votes cast.
- Majority electoral systems
Also called “second ballot” systems, majority electoral systems require a candidate to achieve a majority of votes in order to win an election. “Majority” is normally defined as 50%-plus-one-vote. If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of voting, then typically a second round of voting featuring the top 2 vote getters is held a short time after the first round.
- Proportional representation
Also known as “PR,” proportional representation refers to a class of voting systems that attempts to make the percentage of offices awarded to each political party reflect the percentage of votes that such party receives in an election.
The legal framework for an electoral system provides the rules governing it. The framework may be set out in constitutional, legislative, regulatory, and jurisprudential documents, so it may be necessary to read many different documents in order to comprehend the full body of applicable law governing electoral processes and the voting rights of citizens.
A state’s overall legal framework should be consistent with international human rights instruments and should provide for universal suffrage and guarantee basic freedoms. International standards state that the legal framework should provide for the regularity of elections, with intervals clearly defined.
Of course, the laws governing the conduct of elections should always be applied impartially and without discrimination.
Election management is the administration of elections by state officials specifically charged with conducting elections and, sometimes, by volunteer workers. Election management addresses the major parts of the electoral cycle: pre-election, election day, and post-election. The pre-election phase includes training of election officers, planning for election day, voter registration, and voter education. On election day, the focus is on making sure that voting is orderly, in accordance with electoral law, and free of fraud, violence and intimidation, as well as insuring that all eligible voters who come to the polls are able to cast their ballots and that the voted ballots are properly counted. In the final phase of an electoral cycle, management is focused on review of the earlier phases, resolving any lingering disputes, certifying results, and contemplating ways to improve the process based on lessons learned.
In many countries, Election Management Bodies (EMBs) are the institutions tasked to oversee and implement the electoral process. In one country, there may be a single body to manage all aspects of an election, while, in others, there may be two or more EMBs working on various responsibilities (e.g., implementation, monitoring, complaint resolution, etc.). As indicated in the Dili Indicators of Democratic Elections, EMBs have to be transparent and impartial, as well as capable, to be credible. Further, appointment of EMB officials should be based on a just and transparent process. Throughout their work, EMBs must maintain transparency and professionalism and be able to discharge their duties effectively and impartially without favoring or disfavoring any particular political party or candidate.
The ballot is marked by a voter to indicate his/her choices. To be considered a freely cast ballot, the voter must be able to mark it in secret to reduce the risk of intimidation.
There are various types of ballots depending on the country’s voting system. In a paper ballot system, voters physically mark a ballot which contains the names of all the candidates and/or parties (and/or logos of each party) participating in the election in the particular location. Occasionally, the electoral system provides that a voter may “write in” the name of a candidate or party which is not on the printed ballot.
In countries using the optical scan voting system, voters make their choices by filling in ovals or by inserting an arrow on the printed ballot next to their choices.
Some countries also use the electronic Direct Record Voting System (DRE) whereby voters indicate their choices by pressing a button next to the names of the candidates/parties on an electronic list of candidates/political parties or use a touchscreen interface to vote.
Electoral Dispute Resolution is the system of appeals through which aspects of the electoral process and its implementation can be legally challenged. Applicable laws and rules should be provided in the process of resolving disputes. The process should be done in an impartial, transparent, and timely manner.
The key actors and institutions usually involved in an electoral dispute are voters, candidates, political parties, election watchdogs, and election management body
Electoral Dispute resolution refers to the system of appeals through which every electoral action or procedure can be legally challenged. The whole system is based on the following principles:
- Rule of Law is recognized as essential to the fulfilment of human rights and representative democracy.
- Right to an Effective Remedy –
- Non- Discrimination and Equality before the law –
- The Right to a Fair and Public Hearing
Being this fundamental to build stable political systems and to build a regular legal system, the judicial resolution of electoral disputes has become a fundamental feature of any electoral democracy since it contributes to protect fundamental rights and to strengthen the democratic governance of any country
A number of key actors and institutions may participate in the resolution of electoral disputes:
- Voters, Candidates, Parties and NGOs are always the most important participants in the electoral process. A critical issue for these groups is who has the ability to bring an action to court.
- Election Management Bodies (EMB) are responsible of the administration of the elections but may also have an additional role as arbiter of election disputes.
- The Judiciary clearly plays in important role in the adjudication of electoral disputes. It must be independent and impartial.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms can provide a valuable means for a State Party to relieve burdens on the legal system and ensure that disputes are heard in a timely fashion.
Specialized Tribunals may be established for the resolution of electoral disputes, and offer many benefits, including the possibility of more timely resolution of said disputes, and adjudicators with strong experience and familiarity with the issues and law.
Campaign Finance is the use of money to advance the candidacy of a political candidate or political party in an electoral process. It can refer to both the amount of contributions and expenditures during a campaign. Most of these expenditures are used during campaign such as travel, public rallies, posters, and media advertisements, among others.
However, there campaign finance needs to be regulated in order to level the playing field. Many countries regulate campaign financing to ensure that money does not define the results of an election. In some countries, there are limits set by law to the total amount of contributions that can be given to a candidate or political parties, in some countries limits are set for total expenditures, and in others both have limits.
There are several discussions regarding reform in campaign finance as elections have always become an expensive exercise in several Asian countries. Most of these reform agenda also consider not only the total amount spent of each candidate but the source of money as well.
“Fair elections demand that there be adequate oversight of campaign finance. Governments and lawmakers must ensure that there exists a rigorous legal framework that fairly regulates political donations and campaign expenditures and allows for transparency of donations and expenditures.
Even where strong laws exist to oversee campaign finance, implementation can be lax, partial or ineffective. EMBs and governments must ensure that the laws are fully and fairly implemented, monitored and enforced. It is essential that violators be punished for their actions in accordance with the law.” – Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections, 2012
Certain groups of people face a heightened risk of being disenfranchised. In different ways, minorities, marginalized people and others facing particular challenges, including internally displaced persons (IDP), internal migrants, stateless people, homeless people and persons with disabilities, are at risk of being dispossessed of their right to vote by a number of systemic barriers. EMBs and other stakeholders should take affirmative measures to encourage the full participation of minorities, marginalized people and persons with disabilities.
For minority groups that live in remote locations, such as in mountains, forests or islands, the nearest registration center or polling station can be very far away, and the costs of travelling long distances and forgoing work can be enough to prevent potential voters from engaging in the election process. Minority groups can also suffer from lack of access to voter education, either because of their remoteness, a lack of access to media, or because campaigns are often not conducted in their native language. Efforts must be made to guarantee that minority groups can participate fully in the election process by ensuring that they have access to registration centers, polling stations, and voter education.
Since IDPs have often lost their identification cards and registration documents along with their registered addresses, they can have particular difficulty in exercising their right to vote. Internal migrants can face similar barriers when they are not readily able to register in their new place of residence. In both cases, governments must ensure that people are empowered to vote in their new locations by issuing new identification documents, updating the voter lists, and then conducting thorough voter education campaigns to inform people of their right to vote.
Persons with physical, sensory or intellectual disabilities can face a distinct set of barriers including lack of access to voter education, inaccessible registration centers and polling stations, and voting materials and procedures in inaccessible formats. Persons with disabilities encounter unique barriers as voter education must be in accessible formats such as sign language, Braille and large print. Persons with disabilities also encounter barriers to securing identification cards due to discrimination and lack of accessible information. Every citizen has the right to vote, and accommodations must be made for all persons with disabilities, including ensuring that the election law does not discriminate against persons with disabilities. Planning and budget should be allocated by EMBs for voter education, voter registration, casting a ballot at the polling station in secret, and, where it is authorized, advance voting and mobile ballot boxes. – Article 15, Enfranchising Minorities, Marginalized People, and Persons with Disabilities Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections,
A political party is a group of individuals organized for the purpose of winning political power through elections. Often, members of a political party share an ideology, but that is not always the case. In some countries, ethnicity or caste is the basis on which political parties are organized, and in others the parties may be organized by competing groups of elites who seek to gain political power simply to increase their wealth.
Political parties are, ideally, training ground for leaders.
Transparency is a hallmark of truly democratic elections. Domestic and international election observers can enhance the credibility and legitimacy of an election. Well-trained, dedicated and non-partisan election observers are a key tool for promoting the quality and integrity of the entire electoral process, and accreditation allows them to function more effectively. EMBs, subject to their prevailing laws, should ensure that all well-trained and non-partisan observer groups are permitted to observe all stages of election processes including observing the entire polling and counting processes at any polling station. (Article 18, Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections)
In a study conducted by UNDP in Asian countries, it says that defining election violence can be contextualized depending on the politics and local situation. However, after studies in countries have been consolidated and a thorough analysis, the following definition is derived:
“Any acts or threats of coercion, intimidation, or physical harm perpetrated to affect an electoral process, or that arise in the context of electoral competition. When perpetrated to affect an electoral process, violence may be employed to influence the process of elections — such as efforts to delay, disrupt or derail a poll — or to influence the outcomes: the determination of winners in competitive races for political office, or securing the approval or disapproval of referendum questions.”
The study further identified different components of electoral violence.
First, it is that it involves acts of physical harm. It can be in the form of assault or attack on candidate’s, voters, or other election stakeholders. “Gender-based violence, mob violence and political assassinations during the election campaign may force political contenders to leave the electoral process or prevent elections from taking place.”
Second, it can be targeted against objects or properties. One example provided is the destruction of campaign materials or election paraphernalia. In some countries, burning of houses of a party’s or candidate’s house is considered election violence.
Third, threats and intimidation, and other forms of coercion are also considered incidents of election violence.