Home » About The Project » Significance of the project

Significance of the project

Elections ceased to be considered as a primary benchmark of transition from non-democratic system  to democracy, and started to be considered one of many indicators of consolidated democracy.  Elections that have been held across the globe differ in quality – in some countries elections meet the criteria of the “free and fair” ballot with genuine competition between parties, whereas in an increasing number of countries, the elections are manipulated and rigged, with the “unevenness of the quality of elections” becoming a common trait of global politics.

While electoral malpractice and irregularities have existed from the very early stages of democratic development in the 19th century and also today still impair the electoral process in the Western, full-fledged democracies, the rapid development of multiparty regimes in the last decades has made the electoral malpractice a common trait of global politics and paradoxically, the democratization discussion. In electoral autocracies or competitive authoritarian regimes (regimes that are neither clearly democratic nor fully authoritarian), the electoral competition among political parties is only possible within a framework which heavily favors the ruling party. Under the electoral authoritarian rule, as pointed out by Schedler, “elections are broadly inclusive as well as minimally pluralistic (opposition parties are allowed to run), minimally competitive (opposition parties, while denied victory, are allowed to win votes and seats), and minimally open (opposition parties are not subject to massive repression, although they may experience repressive treatment in selective and intermittent ways).”

Consequently, at the beginning of the 21st century we can observe the increasing number of states (with different political regimes) in which elections are held but which do not meet standards of the liberal democracy. Because of this in recent years the theoretical studies (published e.g. by Birch [2012], Schedler [2006], Norris [2004; 2014] and Simpser [2013]) have started to focus on the issue of the electoral integrity vs. electoral malpractice, including their conceptualization, indicators and in the latter case – typologies. This shifted an attention of scholars a little bit within the research on elections from democracy to other types of regimes, reflecting better the current concept of elections and its implementation.

Simultaneously, we could observe for a long period of time the development of general studies on different types of aforementioned political regimes – defective democracies (“democracy with adjectives”), hybrid regimes and new types of authoritarianism such as the competitive authoritarianism – again, as the reaction to the new developments all over the world. In the case of the research abroad the texts of the following authors can be mentioned: Guillermo O’Donnel [1996], Fareed Zakaria [1997], and already mentioned Leah Gilbert and Mohseni [2011] as well as Levitsky and Way [2010]. In Poland it is about the publications of such political scientists as: Roman Bäcker [2014], Andrzej Antoszewski [2015, 2016] and Maryana Prokop [2015]. Although the institution of elections is an important issue analyzed with reference to the aforementioned types of regimes, the studies to date do not open sufficiently the box of different types of electoral practices. What is more, the existing scholarship does not sufficiently integrate the analysis on the electoral malpractice, which has been recently taken up by many political scientists, with a broader theoretical reflection on the regime changes which have been underway in many countries, reflecting the de-democratization trend and rising neo-authoritarianism. It is an important gap in research because the observation of the contemporary political life of many countries leads to the conclusion that there are many states with the increasing scope of electoral manipulation which contributes to the lowering quality of democracy (also in the European countries) or even to the gradual changes of regimes, mainly due to the problems with the competitiveness of elections. It is the issue relatively rarely analyzed in the political science literature. Although there are theoretical tools mentioned above, there is a lack of the thorough empirical analyses with the use of these tools. It refers first of all to the comparative studies.

Particularly interesting from the political science point of view is the case of the extensive use of different types of measures (legal, procedural and administrative instruments, financial resources, communication tools, first of all media and other measures influencing the voters) by the most influential political forces, usually the governing parties to decrease the equal competition between the parties and to enable the forces holding power to keep it for the next legislative period. In electoral autocracies or other regimes of this kind, electoral laws, as well as the procedures favor the ruling party, giving it a leverage over rivaling parties; there are limitations on voter and party registration; the dominant party is also favored as far as electoral campaign and the financial resources are concerned; there are irregularities in the voting process, including the counting of votes; and electoral officials lack impartiality and independence. The use of these measures in turn leads to the domination of the certain political forces within the party and political system in the long-term perspective. These process affect often negatively the working of the democratic regime.

Republic of Turkey is the best example of the state which reflects these phenomena. Turkey has had quite a long tradition of regular, competitive elections and multi-party democracy starting in 1946. However, in the last decade there have been some doubts about the electoral integrity in this state. First of all, there have been some concern about the changing number of registered voters as well as about the ballot irregularities. In subsequent elections the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been using different types of measures limiting their competitiveness. The main dilemma here is the limitation of the access of other, oppositional parties to different kind of sources which can decide about the electoral success – be it media (controlled increasingly by the governing party), financial and administrative resources as well as regulations and procedures determined by the governing party. This issue contributed substantially to the landslide victories by the AKP in subsequent parliamentary elections (2007, 2011 and 2015). When the party lost the majority to govern alone in June 2015, they used the existing procedures connected with the establishment of the new, this time coalition government to hold snap elections. This leads to the increasing domination of the AKP in the party and political system with the unfavorable consequences for the political regime due to the  noticeable “tyranny of majority” as Robert Dahl or Giovanni Sartori put it. The majoritarian understanding of democracy is shared by the AKP politicians. In this context another problem appears – elections have been repeatedly portrayed by the governing party as the only mechanism of governmental accountability.

The Turkish regime is then an excellent case for analyzing the ‘transitional’ countries that transform into electoral authoritarian regimes. Some scholars add to the electoral malpractice the steady decline in press freedom, the erosion of civil liberties on multiple fronts, and an increasing number of politically motivated imprisonments and argue that Turkey under the AKP government is transforming gradually into the authoritarian regime. Although Turkey is an excellent case study for surveying the “de-democratizing” trends on the one hand, and the flawed electoral processes leading to the fragmentation of the democratic regime, on the other, these issues have not been tackled sufficiently by scholars. There is a lack of consolidated research on these topics (monographs). The existing scholarship (for example Ali Çarkoğlu, Kerem Yıldırım [2015]; Sabrı Sayarı [2016]), which the principal investigator has a thorough knowledge of, concentrates rather on the traditional description of the elections, the results, implications for the inter-party rivalry, cultural or sociological aspects. The case of the Turkish political science is in this context similar to the Polish scholarship. There is a lack of comprehensive analyses of the electoral irregularities or more broadly, the electoral malpractice phenomenon here (with exceptions such as the collective volume edited by Jarosław Szymanek [2016]). The Polish academic output in this regard is rather of empirical character and concentrates on the Polish case study (for example works by Jacek Raciborski [1997], Radosław Markowski [2002] or Mikołaj Cześnik [2007]). As is the case with the sources devoted to Turkey, Polish literature also concentrates on the exegesis of the election results, electoral behavior and participation of Poles (see the output of the Polish General Election Study), as well as on political marketing – election campaigns. To sum up, the gap in literature illustrates the need for a cross-cutting research, which would bring together the two approaches – a more specific one on the electoral malpractice, and a more general on the transformation of political regimes.

The research project will fulfill this task being an up to date combination of thorough electoral studies and research on the political regimes, reflecting the important and intriguing political processes. It will have the significance both in the theoretical and empirical dimension. When it comes to the former, first, it will contribute to the development of the theoretical research on the electoral malpractice within the Polish political studies. Second, it will develop a rare theoretical perspective on the relationship between the malpractices and type of the political regime, proposing, on the one hand, the new concept of “borderline regimes” and their dynamics depending on the “menu of electoral manipulation”, on the other hand the theoretical model concerning the assessment of the electoral integrity in other regimes than the democratic ones. The results of this project will significantly contribute here not only to the Polish scholarship but also to the research abroad.

When it comes to the empirical dimension, the research project will, firstly, contribute to the studies on the elections and electoral practices in Turkey. It will be about a comprehensive research embracing subsequent elections since 2002, the electoral malpractice observed within these elections and their possible influence on the changes of the political system and, in result political regime in Turkey. Secondly, the analysis of the Turkish case as the “harderst one” will be combined with the studies of similar cases. The comparative studies is one of the main deficits of the research on the electoral manipulations – the fact pointed out by such scholars as Pippa Norris. Thirdly, the research project will include the proposal of the possible paths of developments of the “borderline regime”, basing the aforementioned theoretical model. This is particularly important for the general empirical studies on defective democracies, hybrid and authoritarian regimes, shedding new light on this topic and reflecting the current developments.