Understanding Electoral Violence in Asia

July 21, 2011, 8:35 p.m.

The United Nations Development Programme Asia-Pacific Regional Centre published a report, Understanding Electoral Violence in Asia, which analyzes seven different South and Southeast Asian countries providing electoral violence case studies on each one.  A main argument of the report is the need to look at democracy development as more than just elections taking place.  It is essential for democratic institutions to be firmly in place as well as a mindset within the populace to accept the results that come from an election. When focusing on elections and the causes behind violence it is essential to look at the various contributing factors. The independence and competency of the electoral management plays a large role in whether elections are declared and/or perceived as free and fair.  This then has a strong impact on whether electoral violence will then ensue.  A significant portion of electoral violence is a result of perceived corruption and fraud in the voting system.  Other major players in electoral violence are: political parties, the government, law enforcement agencies and the military, political party supporters, extremists groups, and youth.  Most election violence occurs the three months before and after an election versus on the actual day of the elections.

Drawing on information produced by these case studies, this report seeks to clarify key concepts of electoral violence, outline the state of electoral violence in the region, identify who the main actors involved in electoral violence are, and present a brief overview of each case study with recommendations for reducing violence in each country.

The key to preventing electoral violence is to strengthen the credibility of the election process and its outcomes. Doing so requires not only technical development and transparency but also political and legal reforms, broad public and civil society participation, and education. Taken from the case study on the Philippines, the following passage exemplifies the state of democracy and electoral violence across a number of countries in Asia outlined in this report:

The challenge remains for the Government, political parties and civil society to pursue reforms to counter public cynicism about the credibility of the election process. Fundamental reforms in the system are critical for areas as diverse as conflict management, gender representation and the development of political party systems. Without these, it will be difficult to safeguard the integrity of the election process, and reduce the use of violence and fraud.

Overall, the country studies illustrate that the key to understanding how each circumstance (fragile or not) perpetuates violence is to contextualize the politics and historical background of each country with its specific electoral and democratic institutions and processes. While the structure and design of the political system are important, understanding the enabling conditions of electoral violence (e.g. a system that promotes a winner-takes-all scenario) requires addressing other important drivers of violence that revolve around real and perceived fraud; corruption; clientelism; patronage; patriarchy; a belief that politics is merely a mechanism for solidifying business interests; and ethnic, religious and socio-economic conflicts and grievances.

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