Elections are an important window on politics. Parties put out their wares and people decide which to pick. There are regulations governing how this is done, but with so much at stake – the keys to the public purse and setting the legislative agenda – not everyone plays by the rules.
Civil society has an important role to play in holding politicians and political parties to account, particularly during elections. That’s why Transparency International chapters actively monitor not only how votes are cast and if there is vote-buying or vote-rigging, but also how campaigns are managed and financed.
September and October were active months for election monitoring by our European chapters.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina focused on the 10 biggest political parties in the general election. It wanted to ensure that incumbents did not abuse their positions to get more television and press coverage or use resources not available to opposition candidates. For example, the chapter monitored the use of premises owned by municipalities and used rent-free by political parties. It published its initial findings before the elections and will publish the full report soon.
Types of electoral irregularities reported to Transparency International Bulgaria's hotline as a % of total calls for the 2013 and 2014 elections:
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Transparency International Bulgaria runs a hotline which was used to record election violations during the election period and on voting day. It received more than 270 complaints for the 2014 elections, showing a rise in vote-buying compared to the previous elections.
During the municipal elections in September, Transparency International Czech Republic monitored the transparency of campaign finances and demonstrated a significant lack of transparency in who funded the campaigns. Voters need to know what role special interests play in determining political leaders. This continued for the October local elections in collaboration with other civil society organisations. The goal is to map the electoral landscape: what parties are skirting the campaign financing rules, who is paying for votes, and how fair the elections are overall.
Transparency International Hungary monitored political party campaign financing in six of Hungary’s biggest cities for the municipal elections in mid-October. The chapter assessed the total spending of parties and candidates on political ads, media presence, direct marketing and opinion polling. The preliminary results are published here and show that the ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition accounted for almost half of the total spend of the nine larger parties and their coalition candidates.
The chapter also asked candidates to sign a pre-election transparency pledge. Forty-three of the winning candidates signed the pledge and Transparency International Hungary will follow up to ensure they make good on their commitments.
Ahead of the elections on 4 October, Transparency International Latvia joined forces with the Centre for Public Policy PROVIDUS and LURSOFT to provide independent information about those running for office on a publicly available website, Kandidatiuzdelnas.lv.
The project analysed information on 256 candidates from 10 parties, all the top parliamentary candidates, and included information related to unethical behaviour, poor governance practice, conflicts of interest, corruption and other criminal offences. The chapter said almost half of the party list leaders have reputational problems and significant debts. During the election period about 10 per cent of all eligible voters visited the website.
Transparency International Slovenia monitored the local election campaigns in five cities in September and October. The chapter launched an interactive map where people posted pictures and descriptions of campaign events, and monitored whether campaigns were following the new regulations governing political parties. It spotted several contraventions, some due to lack of understanding of the legislation and some with a clear intent. These included use of municipal budgets to promote incumbents. The chapter will compare its own findings with the official financial reports of campaign organisers when they are published.
A pre-election survey in September on party finance reform showed no party believed that combating corruption was a high priority, but that most parties are committed to increasing transparency in political party financing and whistleblowing legislation. Sweden usually ranks in the top five of the Corruption Perceptions Index, which may explain why there is little will to combat corruption directly. The good news, however, is that the Social Democrats, who have formed a coalition government, intend to assess the risks for increased corruption in the public sector and in publicly financed activities carried out by private actors. Transparency International Sweden intends to work with the MPs who have expressed this interest.
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