ASEAN Has World’s Worst Elections

A new report has some pretty bad news for the region on this score.

Prashanth Parameswaran
ASEAN Has World’s Worst Elections
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Electoral Integrity Project based at Harvard and Sydney Universities has released a new report evaluating the state of the world’s elections, and there’s some pretty bad – though not entirely surprising – news for Southeast Asia.

In short, Southeast Asia – or, more accurately, the five Southeast Asian countries included in the study, namely Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand – ranks the worst out of any other region based on survey results of expert evaluations for six parliamentary and presidential elections held over a thirty month period (from 1 July 2012 to 31 December 2014). The region’s score in the survey’s Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) index is a dismal 56 out of 100 (compared to a global average of 64), placing it below the Middle East and West and Central Africa – hardly good company in this respect.

The results don’t get much brighter if you get down deeper into the weeds (which you can do via the full report here, and interactive map here). The report breaks down the electoral cycle into eleven stages to ensure that the results capture the pre-election period, the campaign, the polling day and its aftermath. If you assess Southeast Asia across each of the eleven sub-indicators that make up the PEI index and compare it with the other nine regions, it ranks the worst in five of them (electoral authority, media coverage, voter registration, electoral procedures and election results), and third worst in another five of them.

You can also break the results down by country and look at each of the five that were examined in order to compare them across each of the eleven sub-indicators. Max Grömping, the research assistant who worked on the report, has done exactly that in a much longer piece over at New Mandala. The takeaway point is that Cambodia and Malaysia rank well below the global average across all eleven sub-indicators, while elections in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand illustrate a more mixed picture.

Of course, like any survey, this one has its fair share of limitations, which the report goes into as well. Most glaringly for Southeast Asia, it might seem like a bit of a stretch to assess ‘the region’ with data which only includes five countries and six elections. But as Grömping notes, the numbers are similar to other problematic regions as well; the regional response rate among experts was actually higher than the global mean; and the experts from Southeast Asia did not differ significantly from those from other parts of the world either in their nature or in the yardsticks they used to measure electoral integrity.

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Alarmingly, the region’s poor performance could be even worse further down the line if future elections in Myanmar, Vietnam or Laos were to be included. While those familiar with the Southeast Asia will not find these worries especially new, the data from reports like these are worth reflecting on to put some numbers on the events and trends observed and to compare the sub-region to other parts of the world.