Managing Elections in Southeast Asia
Wed 14:00-15:30 Room 3.03
- Petra Alderman University of Birmingham
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Autocratic Electoral Management: Lessons from Thailand
Petra Alderman University of Birmingham
How can we ensure quality elections when the key institutions responsible for the organisation of polls are openly partisan and anti-democratic? In their 2017 paper, Birch and van Ham suggest that partisan EMBs do not matter for the quality of polls so long as effective alternative oversight institutions – the judiciary, the media and civil society – exist, are active and independent. These institutions can make up for the EMBs’ shortcomings and ensure that a relatively high-quality election is still achieved. Adopting a network-based approach to the study of electoral management (James 2020), I argue that Birch and van Ham’s notion of active and independent alternative oversight institutions is insufficient as it does not speak to the exact conditions under which this model works. Using the example of contemporary Thailand, I show that in highly polarised and politically charged autocratic contexts with deeply entrenched and interventionist conservative elites, no viable alternative oversight institutions exist that can compensate for partisan EMBs. Looking for alternative solutions to what are fundamentally political problems reflected in the workings of partial EMBs will thus yield few positive results in the long term.
Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC)
Michael Lidauer Myanmar Institut
The 2008 Constitution of the Union of Myanmar established the framework for a ‘discipline-flourishing’ constitutional democracy in which the armed forces retained a significant degree of power. Under this Constitution, the Union Election Commission (UEC) has been vested with significant authority to supervise elections, regulate political parties and electoral campaigns, register voters, suspend elections, and to make conclusive determinations in electoral disputes.
Between 2010 and 2020, the UEC oversaw three consecutive general elections and three by-elections. Following a term under the former military leadership, the country’s major democratic opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a resounding victory in the 2015 polls. In the years that followed, civilian-military relations were a source of tension, as the NLD attempted to reform the executive and legislative roles for the military guaranteed by the Constitution. These tensions became in particular tangible during the 2020 elections, which the NLD again won in a landslide victory. The military alleged the election was marred by fraud while the UEC rejected this allegation. On 1 February 2021, hours before the new parliament was to convene, the armed forces staged a coup d’état.
This paper reviews the powers, composition and performance of the UEC in its constitutional and political context. It identifies its institutional features, significant points in its brief history, and the impact of UEC leadership as a contributing factor in fostering confidence in the electoral process, before casting a spotlight on election-related debates and perspectives since the military takeover.
Rethinking Malaysia’s electoral management: critical perspective
Amer Saifude Bin Ghazali University of Malaya
Amerul Mohammad University Malaya
Awang Azman Awang Pawi University of Malaya
This paper examines the roles and functions of the Election Commission of Malaysia (EC), a sole body mandated by the Federal Constitution of Malaysia to manage elections in the country. After 64 years of its establishment, the structure of EC has never been changed and its roles have never been called into question. However, according to the most recent Malaysian survey, only 51% of respondents have confidence and trust on the EC and the need for changes in all aspects of election management has become more apparent. This paper investigates: (i) the appointment and composition of members of the EC; (ii) the functions of the EC in accordance with the Federal Constitution of Malaysia; (iii) the powers of the EC to manage free, fair and transparent elections; (iv) the needs for electoral reform in Malaysia including restructuring of the EC. The Election Commission must not only be independent but more importantly must be seen to be independent of any political interference. Slightest doubts about the credibility, efficiency and transparency of the electoral manager, would affect the outcome of elections and would erode confidence in the government formed thereto.
Success or Failure or Stagnation? Electoral Reform in Malaysia
Bridget Welsh University of Nottingham Malaysia
Researchers after researchers laud Bersih movement for bringing about electoral reform in Malaysia. The social movement started in 2007 brought together the opposition and subsequently led to the formation of a civil society movement that pushed for changes in electoral administration and greater professionalism in the management of elections. It further spurred efforts to expand the electorate, sparking greater enfranchisement of youth and the inclusion of 18-20 year olds in the electorate. Now, over 15 years later the movement toward reforms has slowed, stymied by bureaucratic resistance, unwillingness to engage in structural reform and vested political interests. The shift in engagement
strategies by the leadership of Bersih has also undercut reform momentum. This paper looks at the current state of electoral reform in Malaysia in 2022 and focuses understanding successes, failures and
stagnation in electoral reform.
Southeast Asia has some of the world’s lowest electoral integrity levels, but electoral management is an often-overlooked area of academic research in this region. Who organises elections, under what conditions and how matters not only to the region’s electoral outcomes but also to public trust in democratic governance and the legitimacy of electoral processes. The aim of this panel is to start a conversation on the nature of electoral management in Southeast Asia on the back of the regions’ increasingly contentious recent polls. Focusing specifically on the role of the region’s electoral management bodies (EMBs), the panel asks the following questions: What do Southeast Asia’s EMBs look like? How do they operate? And how committed are they to protecting their country’s democratic processes?