The Authoritarian Challenge of Politically Biased International Election Observation
This research aims to explore the phenomenon of politically biased international election observation (PBIEO) used by authoritarian and hybrid regimes, as well as flawed democracies to retain power. The project draws on unique data and evidence collected in the period between 2014 and 2022 in cooperation with international civil society organisations engaged in monitoring electoral processes.
Since the 1990s, international election observation has become a widely accepted mechanism of providing assessments about the nature of electoral processes. According to the “Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation” adopted at the UN in 2005, international election observation “assesses election processes in accordance with international principles for genuine democratic elections and domestic law”, and “has the potential to enhance the integrity of election processes, by deterring and exposing irregularities and fraud and by providing recommendations for improving electoral processes”.
While the leaders of authoritarian and hybrid regimes, as well as flawed democracies, often fail to hold free and/or fair elections, they nevertheless tend to invite international election observers to monitor parliamentary, presidential or other elections, as the reputation costs of not inviting established international monitors at all are higher than facing criticism of the conduct of those elections. The most influential and reputable organisations involved in international election observation in Europe and beyond are the OSCE and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which, since the mid-1990s, have conducted numerous election observation missions, and their evaluation of the fairness, openness and credibility of elections has become an important factor in assessing the level of democratisation of political systems in Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
At the same time, authoritarian and illiberal leaders have learnt to minimise – at least domestically – the negative impact of critical reports of the conduct of the elections held in their countries by taking countermeasures. First, those regimes would promote narratives of established international election observation organisations employing double standards to help their political opponents. Second, they would engage with lenient international election observers whose “services” of biased monitoring are financed either by the regimes themselves or by their agents.
The proposed research project looks specifically at the second type of the countermeasures taken by authoritarian and illiberal political leaders, and argues that, rather than being an imperfect version of credible election monitoring, PBIEO is straightforwardly a form of political activity performed by international actors and aimed at advancing the interests of politicians and political forces by imitating credible election monitoring during electoral processes.
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“The Rise and Fall of a Polish Agent of the Kremlin Influence: The Case of Janusz Niedźwiecki” (Berlin: European Platform for Democratic Elections, 2021), 79 p.
“Controversial ‘International Observation’ of the ‘All-Russian Voting’ on Amendments to the Constitution in Russia and Russia-Annexed Crimea” (Berlin: European Platform for Democratic Elections, 2020), 28 p.
“Problematic International Observation of the Azerbaijani 2020 Parliamentary Elections” (Berlin: European Platform for Democratic Elections, 2020), 26 p.
“Conceptualizing Malign Influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe” (Washington: Free Russia Foundation, 2020), 16 p.
“Fake Election Observation as Russia’s Tool of Election Interference: The Case of AFRIC” (Berlin: European Platform for Democratic Elections, 2020), 42 p.
“Foreign Observation of the Illegitimate Elections in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2019” (Berlin: European Platform for Democratic Elections, 2019), 29 p.
“Controversial ‘International Observation’ at the 2019 Regional Elections in Russia” (Berlin: European Platform for Democratic Elections, 2019), 23 p.
“Russian Connections to the Far Right in Europe” (Vienna: NEOS, 2019), 28 p.
“Russian Interference, and Where to Find It” (Berlin: European Platform for Democratic Elections, 2019), 35 p.