ANFREL Calls on International Community to address Opposition Leader’s Setha’s Arrest. OI asks: Is the Summit of Democracies the Venue?

Thach Setha, Candllelight Party VP

Yesterday, the OI blog reported on the controversial arrest of Candlelight Party leader, Thach Setha, alleged of  passing bad cheques, in 2019 – over three years ago. The freer media noticed discrepancies such as the cheques’ not being signed. Others noted the timing in the lead-up to the July 2023 national elections and that Candlelight has become the number one opposition party after an impressive showing in local elections last year.  The Cambodia People’s Party, headed since 1993 by  Prime Minister Hun Sen, denied any political interference.

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has issued an important statement calling for the attention of the international community. Sadly, such calls tend to get the answering service.


Our questions:

Is the world paying attention? 

The American-led Summit of Democracies will be held on March 29-30 in Costa Rica and the European-led Alliance of Democracies’ Copenhagen Democracy Summit on May 15-16. Will these summits make clear statements of support for opposition leaders, such as Thach Setha, facing irregular loss of freedom by their governments?

Will they name names and highlight the facts of opposition leaders who are the real frontline of democracy? There is no effective democracy without free opposition leaders.

It is not enough to swear allegiance to democracy. The call to duty requires helping those who make the deep sacrifices.

It’s not easy for the international community to help in every single specific case.  Unanimity is rare. Autocratic governments bristle at any outside  statement  about their “domestic affairs” or police actions   or legal  processes. To comment is not seen as diplomatic. There are too many cases to handle  usefully. Some are not well-documented and others ambiguous. The international media wants saints and heroes. Bigger issues can get lost by  focusing on victims.  Nuances get lost in the headlines. 

But as Nelson Mandela proved, individuals, even politicians, can rise to become symbols of great causes from anti-apartheid to genocide prevention to the right to cast a vote. People remember people better than the foreign communiques that supported their causes. But the foreign communiqués helped to keep these opposition leaders,  their aspirations and democracy alive. 

The world must take  these one step at a time. But we must speak out for one captive then another. 

So close to the national elections, jailing the Candlelight Party’ Thach Setha for pretrial detention, on charges that carry two to five years in prison look desperate on the part of Prime Minister Hun Sen, his party and his government. It stains reputation of Cambodia’s legal system.

Before these meeting in Costa-Rica and Copenhagen, let’s start bringing home democracy’s prisoners of war. The term POW may jar our ears. Listen to the autocrats’ language,  they speak with the tropes of war. 

Opposition International is compiling a list of opposition figures either in jail or facing  detention who deserve particular attention to their case.  It will be representative before it ever becomes  exhaustive, unfortunately.

Please send us any suggestions for individuals. All information will be handled confidentially. 

Meanwhile, we hope that we will not have to put Thach Setha’s name on that list. We call for the immediate release of Thach Setha of the Candlelight Party and fair proceedings in the Cambodia’s justice system.

Without a strong opposition voice that are actually heard, Cambodia will have difficulty claiming to be a democracy where elections are fair.

Cambodian Opposition Leader faces jail accused of bad cheques: Quiet Flows the Mekong

Thach Setha, a head figure in the Candlelight party, current leading opposition party, faces possible jail terms for bouncing cheques in 2019. No one will be surprised if poltical motives are behind charges. The current government for nearly 4o years has pursued through creative legal means any potential rival.

The curiosity is that millions of dollars have flowed into Cambodia for judicial and legal reform. What in the independence of the police and courts has changed when politics are involved? Which is just about everything in Cambodia.

As few answers are published, observers are excused if they form their own verdict.

Politics Alive in Vietnam, Pressure for Democratic Liberalization to Increase?

Vietnam remains in the grasp of a war-hardened Communist Party. It has the second highest restrictive Internet censorship, only North Korea exceeds it. A free press and a free judiciary are not planned for any time soon.

Yet, it’s semi-capitalist economy is chugging along well with investment capital transferred out of China, a younger and better educated workforce than most, a large diaspora send remittances and renewed expectations, a freer labour movement, and there is history. Vietnam was a democracy of sorts for a generation between French colonial rule and the last helicopter off the U.S. Embassy roof on April 30, 1975.

The Diplomat ran an insightful piece in 2021 on the background to the hidden debate about democracy in Vietnam.

The Fulcrum, the journal of the Yusof Ishak Institute, recently published an article by Le Hong Hiep, their Vietnam analyst, about the political drama surrounding the replacement of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Politics in the Poliburo does not portend liberalization. It does show all-too-human disagreement and indecision. To quote the Leonard, himself, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

One Year of Opposition International

Corporations Canada sends an email today reminding that Opposition International has existed for one year now and a tax return needs filing by March 14, 2023. Notification of any changes to the Board of Directors or bylaws should also be sent. Changes incur a $200 fee.

Over the last year OI has developed a small ardent group of supporters and has established a foothold in social media. We have a website blog, a Substack account, a podcast account, and Mailchimp coupled to Woo Commerce to help with fundraising. Effort is needed to get all these wonderful programs working. For example, I am working on using Openai’s ChatGPT to do a daily news agregation on the state of opposition politics on select countries. Initial tests still point to a need for further calibration of the question posed.

Direct contact with people on the ground is vital. We have established conversations with a growing number of individuals engaged with opposition research and analysis: in Africa — Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Botswana, C.A.R., Tunisia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Mauritius. In Asia, India, Oakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesis, and Philippines. Our Kazakhstan and Hong Kong contacts are active but concerned. In South America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti,with Costa Rica being a base for Central American countries. Our focus on Europe is in the South and East. Many organizations are active there so our focus for now is on assessment on advanced opposition research.

We are a way still from functioning as full scale media and information resource for and about opposition parties. Engagement, training, and potentially opposition-specific election-monitoring needs more in-depth planning.

A lot hinges on the resources available. The decision was made to hold off on targeted individual fundraising until we had a clearer pitch to disseminate. Far more effort is needed to solicit major donations from individuals and foundations.

It needs to clear where we stand. Initial donor perceptions of OI stretch from a traditional educational NGO to a political advocacy initiative. We are solidly non-partisan in that we will liaise and assist opposition parties left, right, and centre and issue-based ones. They should profess to the Rule of Law and democratic principles.

OI’s mission is build support for opposition parties in their traditional role as the key to democratic accountability. That idea lost favour due to concerns about partisan polarization and the allure of corporatist representation of identities. The constitutional centrality of the Opposition needs restatement and on-the-ground reinforcement in evolving democracies.

Personally, the year began in the snows of Toronto and ends in a typhoon in the Philippines. I am back in Toronto in March. Planned trips ahead are the United States, Bangladesh, and, if possible, the V-Dem Institute in Gothenburg, Germany and the Institute for Opposition Studies, Bolton, U.K.

Is it really possible? Financial and personnel stability, the gathering and availability of useful information, and a robust and appreciated outreach to opposition parties. People helping out at least say so. Thank you Patrick, Jeann Probashi, George, Tatina, Alair, Alejandro, William, Soo, Kenneth, Ade, Henry, Agnes, Iqbal, Zahid, Mahoud, Nazmul, Sajid, Saad, Kamran, Shahmeem, Sohana, Dighol, Forrest, Tricia, Thy, Kenneth, Alonzo, Dimash, Lianne, Yu-ming, Franckie, and others.

Best to all in 2023!

2022 Kenya Election: Kofi Annan Foundation Report – Stands Out as African Perspective

Kenya’s 2022 election attracted many observer teams from international agencies, large foundations, and a plethora of democracy groups. The Kofi Annan report stand out as among the best and critically as the leading African assessment.

Several court cases continue and their verdicts, while unlikely to alter the results, may provide fresh insights. Opposition International takes a strong stand on the right of opposition candidates to access the courts to determine if an electoral law has been violated. Having commissions adjudicate disputes, in essence, themselves, does not provide adequate safeguards. The courts grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.

Electoral integrity once a dusty, bureaucratic affair has come to dominate post-election discussion. The level of suspicion and belief in unseen forces has been called irrational by Harvard psychologist, Stephen Pinker, The Annan report addresses the challenge. Read the full report linked in text.

New Movie about Alexei Navalny: Russian Opposition Leader’s Life in Peril

Fast Facts About Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader, Navalny, is quickly becoming a household name in the world of politics. He has taken on the Russian government head-on, and has been arrested and convicted of fraud multiple times. Despite this, his popularity among the Russian people remains high.

Navalny’s history and background

Navalny was born in the USSR in 1976, in a small town called Kirov. His father was a factory worker and his mother was a seamstress. Navalny’s family was poor, and he did not have many opportunities to enjoy a childhood. However, he developed a strong passion for politics at an early age. In 1998, Navalny graduated from high school and began studying law at Moscow State University. As a lawyer, he became involved in the Russian opposition movement in 2006 after he witnessed widespread fraud during Russia’s presidential election. Navalny began his political career by organizing protests and showing solidarity with people who had been arrested or persecuted for their activism. In 2013, he founded the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which continues to be one of the most active Russian opposition groups.

Navalny has been arrested and convicted of fraud multiple times, but remains popular with the Russian people. In a 2018 poll, he was declared the most popular politician in Russia. Navalny’s popularity is likely due to his undying dedication to fighting corruption and his unwavering belief that democracy can work even in a corrupt society.

His imprisonment and convictions

Navalny has been arrested and convicted of fraud multiple times. His convictions for these crimes have led to lengthy prison sentences. In some cases, he has even been sentenced to life imprisonment. Despite the long jail terms, Navalny remains popular with the Russian people.

His future political plans are unknown, but he is likely to continue to be an influential opposition leader in Russia.

Brazil’s democracy is safe. The Opposition Leader needs to get to work on real issues

“Bolsonaro” supporters storm key buildings in Brasilia

A simple, and wrong, narrative dominated coverage of last weekend’s rampage through Brazil’s National Assembly, Supreme Court, and Presidential Palace in Brasila. The storyline: Democracy itself under attack. Disgruntled now ex-President Jair Bolsonaro supporters tried to take over the government just like some of ex-President Trump’s followers did on January 6th 2021. First off, the condemnation of the rioters for violence and the destruction of property was rightfully condemned, including by Bolsonaro, himself, in Miami. Leaders in the Americas and Europe criticized the actions as an assault on democracy. And its ethos.

The story is more complicated but no less sad. The majority of the rioters appear to have been poor people who live in the region and exist off the hand me downs of patronage, which is deeply entrenched in Brazil. The inchoate hooliganism of landless and now potentially jobless people cannot be condoned as just a economic protest. Likewise, a quasi-peasant revolt over lost subsistence wages is not an organized ideological assault on liberal democracy. If the protest was against democracy it was against practices, which leave thousands vulnerable to the whim of politicians.

The issue is not so much who to blame but what to blame. The foremost cause is a patronage system run by both sides of the political spectrum, which had led to the new, but previous, President Lula da Silva’s original downfall. Any transition of power leads to economically-driven civil unrest. A quick scan reveals similar protests when Lula lost before.

What to do? Corruption and patronage needs to be wrung out of Brazilian government and economy. Duh, you think. That is a long term homework assignment for the next two generations of Brazilian politicians of any hue.

More immediately, Bolsonaro, should he decide to stay engaged in real, as opposed to symbolic,politics, will have to go back to the trenches to take on one of the toughest and least rewarding job in public life — to be the Leader of the Opposition. In Brazil, that means walking the blurry chalk line between ineffectual remonstrance and insurrection.

That sounds more dramatic than the actual job. Most democrats countries broadly defined have corralled the existential struggle for power within a flimsy but resilient box of the legislative procedure, decentralized local power, and public opinion. The Opposition exists to criticize government actions and policies. Hold them to account. And keep doing it until they improve and meanwhile offer new ideas to tempt the public to their corner. Research, Communications, and people-to-people contact is a hard slog, but it is the sole to electoral victory. The only true victory.

Going forward, Bolsonaro can skip the pressure to issue baptismal vows of obedience to the goodness called democracy. Bolsonaro can legitimately ignore many, though not all, accusations. What he and his allied parties have to do is the job they are paid to do. Not bring down the government, but hold the government to account so that the people can decide. The challenge is to inspire through hope and vision and to provide clear and detailed answers to tough questions- — starting with taming corruption and patronage.

Stop abuse of taxpayer money to aid government parties in elections!

Transparency International Maldives deserves praise for its clear and fair reminder that political parties do not own state resources if elected. ANFREL, a wonderful resource, amplifies the point needed to be made across Asia. Opposition parties need to better monitor the use of state resources in electoral processes. The bureaucracy of voting is an obvious target of governments’ seeking advantages. The relatively new bureaucratization of electoral offices may have created new opportunities for behind the scenes manipulation. Independent election monitors should investigate instances where official agencies dare not look.

Youth without Representation— new book —Daniel Stockemer and Aksel Sundström

Whether it is structural gerontocracy or a lack of interest by younger people, elected politicians under the age of 40 are rare.

In a well-received new book for the University of Michigan Press, two Scandinavian political scientists set out to give the most complete picture to-date of the youth “gap” in politics.

“Officeholders in contemporary parliaments and cabinets are more likely than not to be male, wealthy, middle-aged or older, and from the dominant ethnicity, whereas young adults have an insufficient presence in political office. Young adults—those aged 35 years or under—comprise a mere ten percent of all parliamentarians globally, and three percent of all cabinet members. Compared to their presence in the world’s population, this age group faces an underrepresentation of one to three in parliament and one to ten in cabinet. 

In this book launch Stockemer provides a holistic account of youths’ marginalization in legislatures, cabinets, and candidacies for office through a comparative lens. He argues that youths’ underrepresentation in political office constitutes a democratic deficit and provide ample evidence for why he thinks that youth must be present in politics at much higher rates.

Two issues arise. One, should the political leadership reflect the socio-economic profile of the populace more closely? As an aspirational goal, the answer is “yes.”

Two, how should political leadership be more closely aligned to the characteristics of the population? The use of quotas to allocate legislative seats is a favourite answer of social planners. The result has typically been a corporatist legislature dominated by a strong executive able to divide and conquer any potential opposition.

A planned opposition sounds suspiciously like a tamed opposition.


Nigeria’s parliament (NASS) is covered extensively by the media outlet, Orderpaper. The executive director is Mr. Oke Epia, a long time journalist and civil society entrepreneur. As a online media product, it is rightfully an award-winning endeavour. As with everything, somebody has spent a fair bit of money to get the operation up and running. That said, to even the cynical casual reader, there appears no particular bias, the reporting is innovative and thorough, and well-presented.

2023 will be an important election year in Nigeria. will be a credible source of news.

Nigeria’s surprising opposition leader, Peter Obi

Harry Burns, a London-based analyst with Toronto’s Crestview Strategies, presents in this article an in-depth look at why Peter Obi, a long-standing opposition leader in Nigeria, has teamed up with the small Labour Party for a shot at this year’s election. Harry leads off our coverage of opposition parties in Nigeria. Several Nigerian commentators have agreed to contribute pieces setting the stage for one of Africa’s most important elections. A highlight of Opposition International’s coverage will be advocacy for the diaspora’s right to vote.

The Power of Opposition: Fiji Coalition forms Governnent

Frank Bainimarama, the preceding PM, did reasonably well in the parliamentary election in December 2022 securing a plurality of 26 seats in the 55-seat House for his Fiji First party. However, he could not dislodge the momentum of a unified, at least in spirit, opposition led by former PM, Sitiveni Rabuka. The policy content of the contenders’ platforms was vague. Communal tensions threatened to reappear. Both men have experience with coups. The international community invested heavily in the election machinery. What smoothed the contested result was a clear popular indication that it was time for a change. The election succeeded in its purpose. The Opposition now has to make their coalition work.


Three Fiji parties form coalition to unseat longtime government

Sitiveni Rabuka to be Pacific island’s first new prime minister in 16 years

People’s Alliance Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka leaves his polling station in Suva, Fiji, on Dec. 14. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas via Reuters)

December 20, 2022 19:17 JSTSYDNEY (Reuters) — Fiji will have a new leader for the first time in 16 years after a national election resulted in three parties putting together a coalition to form a government in the Pacific island nation, dislodging Frank Bainimarama’s Fiji First party.The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) announced on Tuesday it had decided to form a coalition with Sitiveni Rabuka’s People’s Alliance and the National Federation Party.The decision came after two days of deliberations and rival presentations by former Prime Minister Bainimarama and the People’s Alliance party, after a national election last week resulted in a deadlock.nullAt a livestreamed news conference, Rabuka thanked the people of Fiji.”They have voted for change and we have given them that,” he said.National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad told reporters, “Today the leaders of the People’s Alliance party, the National Federation Party and the Social Democratic Liberal Party agreed to form a new government.”He said Rabuka would become the new prime minister of Fiji under the deal, and a “strong and united coalition government” was a Christmas present to the people of Fiji.nullADVERTISINGnullA Pacific trade and transport hub with a population of 900,000, including a sizable Indian ethnic group, Fiji had a history of military coups until the constitution was changed in 2013 to remove a race-based electoral system.Bainimarama, who came to power in a 2006 coup, won democratic elections in 2014 and 2018.Bainimarama had a high international profile for climate change advocacy and has been chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, the regional diplomatic bloc, as it sought this year to manage rising security tensions between the United States and China.Rabuka is also a former prime minister and former coup leader.

NIKKEI ASIA APPGET INSIGHTS ON ASIA IN YOUR INBOXAbout UsContact UsSitemapHelpTerms Of UseCopyrightPrivacy & Cookie Policy AdvertisingNikkei Inc. No reproduction without permission.null

Guyana’s Leader of the Opposition, Aubrey C. Norton, his Facebook page, and brewing voters’ list dispute

Aubrey C. Norton was elected an MP in April 2022 by-election and sworn in as Leader of the Opposition. Starting out as a youth leader, he served as foreign affairs bureaucrat, party official, then a political appointee to the youth ministry. He won the party leadership of the People’s National Congress Reform in December 2021.It is an established left of centre party which has help power several times. While a multiethnic party, it has its roots in the Afro-Guyanese community.

In Guyana, the Leader of the Opposition is a constitutionally recognized position. The same is true in Canada, but evidently not throughout the Commonwealth. For example, I was surprised to learn it is not recognized in India. (Further study necessary but a possible advocacy project.)

On August 2, 2020, the People’s Progressive Party won the 2020 General Elections. Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, a senior development expert and former minister, was sworn in as President and appointed retired Brigadier General Mark Phillips as Prime Minister of Guyana. Guyana started out with a ceremonial president but that lasted through one incumbent. The President is elected at large and appoints the Prime Minister an MP.

Norton heads a coalition APNU+AFC which holds 31 out of the 65 parliamentary seats.

In September 2021, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition (OLO) started a Facebook page for the leader. It stands out for its regular postings, clean design, and community service as well as the usual criticisms of the government. it stands out as an example to other OLOs, whether an OLO uses Facebook page or another platform doesn’t make huge difference. There is a trade off between ease of use and options for customization.

The latest political issue in Guyana involves opposition protests as to the quality of the voters’ list. The Opposition in any country has reason to makes the integrity of the list a priority. The new head of the election commission GECOM, Vishnu Persaud, is a respected veteran electoral official, who has vowed to deliver an acceptable list.

Opposition International would welcome a correspondent from Guyana to help keep our readers abreast of the coming showdown.

A distinguished lawyer acquaintance in Toronto, also named Persaud (no relation to Vishnu) and who grew up in Guyana speaks highly of Guyana’s vibrant media. Anyone interested? Telegram @OPL137

PM Justin Trudeau in C-11 testimony defines Opposition’s true value

True North News reported on the Prime Minister’s recent testimony at the Public Order Committee – shades of Robespierre. Trudeau was defending Bill C-11, which deals with content on the Internet. Aside from the merit of the issues, He did describe with pith the role of the Opposition. The “clip” will go on our Quotes Page, if a new royalty not levied.

“Our democratic system is designed around the sharing of ideas and having an opposition whose job it is to find fault in those ideas, to force governments to think everything through and be able to defend its decision. The problem arises when disagreements are built on falsehoods or wrong facts because then it becomes difficult to have a real debate and genuine exchange of ideas,”

The first sentence gets to the core purpose of Opposition. The second, while true, invites the old riposte, “You stop telling lies about me, and I’ll stop telling the truth about you.”

Tunisia’s parliamentary Election and IFES Part I: The Validation of Electoral Integrity Is It Process over Democracy?

The point of this blog is to raise the title question, using as an example Tunisia in its upcoming parliamentary election. The follow up blog, after the election, will seek to provide some answers.

The elections, the first to be held under President Kais Saïed’s new electoral law, will see voters select individual candidates rather than party lists. Parties are forbidden from financing candidates who will face restrictions in any of their own fundraising. Major opposition parties have boycotted the election including the latest party founded by former minister Mabrouk Korchid.

The question restated, whether it helps strengthen democracy to observe meticulously bureaucratic electoral procedures while at the same time overlook the de facto disqualification of opposition parties.? Does it send a coherent message to do both at the same time both observe electoral process and criticize opposition restrictions? Answers will come in time. For now, keep an eye on the situation in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

On, December 14th, the Us Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with President Kais Saied of Tunisia. The meeting as reported by the official Department of State news service had no suggestion of serious discord over the upcoming parliamentary election December 17, 2022. “Secretary Blinken emphasized the importance of free and fair December 17 parliamentary elections, as well as inclusive reforms to strengthen democratic checks and balances and the protection of fundamental freedoms.”

The standing of the opposition parties, and parties in general, provides the flashpoint between the President and the Secretary. President Saied brought in changes that forbid parties from funding its candidates, imposed restrictions on electronic advertising, and the use of polls. He created a separate upper chamber with members likely to be appointed by regional councils.

The Washington Post at day’s end ran the headline, Tunisia’s leader defiantly rejects U.S. rebuke on democratic erosion.

The electoral campaign period kicked off on November 25, with 1,055 candidates standing for 161 seats. Despite the opposition party boycotts, dozens of candidates have united under a pro-Saïed initiative called “For the People’s Triumph.”

President Saied used his brief remarks before entering the meeting with Secretary Blinken to make a blunt defence of these electoral changes that in essence hobble opposition parties in parliamentary elections and gravely lessen the powers of elected representatives.

“And after the revolution and after the boom that Tunisia witnessed in 2010 and 2011, we have thought seriously of drafting constitution. But the – unfortunately the constitution that was drafted, it was quite customized to serve the needs of a specific category. It’s as if it was a garment or a pair of shoes, and that was the outcome of the election and the ballots that were adopted, which was the ballot on the list, by implementing the representative – the partial representativity and the biggest residue. And as (inaudible) said in France when we adopted this kind of ballot system, he said that it is the ballot of shame. We were voting in the dark, and nobody was aware of the outcome of these elections.”

At a meeting with the Washington Post editorial board, President Saied continued his defence of his actions against the Biden’s administration criticisms of democratic backsliding, which has resulted in a large cut to the proposed 2023 aid to Tunisia.

“Saied blamed “fake news” for widespread Western criticism of his steps to strengthen his presidential powers and denounced unidentified “foreign forces” whom he said were attempting to stir up opposition to his rule.”

A quick roundup of global stories support the views that President Saied’s regulations of parties and the media has eroded Tunisian democracy.

.France 24Tunisia awaits languid election for powerless parliament11 hours ago

ReutersCritics of Tunisian leader see little democracy in coming election3 days ago

Al JazeeraEx-Tunisian president warns of ‘Arab volcano’ ahead of elections4 hours ago

ReutersTunisia journalists union accuses election authority of harassing …18 hours ago

The Washington PostTunisian leader Kais Saied rejects U.S. rebuke on democratic erosion11 hours ago

Article 19Tunisia: New election rules threaten media freedom and …3 weeks ago

ReutersTunisia’s powerful labour union rejects December election, attacks …2 weeks ago

A case might be made to the public that Tunisia was on the verge of democratically-induced anarchy. Difficulty now is that if the public were to reject that case there is no clear path to reform and normalization.

IFES’s Role

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has worked in Tunisia since 2011.IFES receives its funding from both the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID. IFES describes its work as follows.

“IFES works closely with the High Independent Authority for Elections (ISIE) to build its professional capacity to autonomously manage electoral processes….

IFES’s innovative programming aims to:

  • Consolidate citizens’ confidence in the integrity of the elections by building the various stakeholders’ electoral capacities and supporting electoral reforms.
  • Promote inclusive and participatory democracy by implementing voter awareness and information campaigns targeting young people, women, people living in rural areas, illiterate people and citizens with disabilities.”

Earlier this week, IFES issued a guide “To help you understand this important electoral process, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) provides Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Elections in Tunisia: 2022 Parliamentary Elections.” Reading the guide gives no clear hint of controversy over the condition of democracy in Tunisia.

The IFES section on the crux of dispute over the role of parties and the media are as follows.

“Candidates belonging to political parties can campaign on behalf of their party only if they present an authorization to do so delivered in advance by the party’s legal representative. However, political parties are not allowed to finance their candidates’ electoral campaigns.

During the entire election period, candidates are prohibited from engaging in political advertising that uses commercial marketing techniques. During this period, it is also forbidden to publish the results of opinion polls and comments on those polls that relate directly or indirectly to the elections.”

The questions on the table are intriguing. Is IFES being played by the President to give an okay to the electoral bureaucracy while ignoring democratic substance? Is the sublimation of any direct criticism, the price IFES has to pay to be allowed to stay in country and thus at some distant future moment make a stronger statement? Is IFES just being the “good cop” to the State Department’s “bad cop”? Does a two-track strategy for strengthening democracy work? Or, will the temporary restrictions on opposition parties ultimately doom them? The Tunisia scenario sees parties replaced by divide-and-conquer corporatist blocs, youth and women wings, occupational, regional, and ethnic fiefdoms, such as used by the Soviet Union. Far more questions than answers at this stage.

The tendency for the local autocrats to outwit even the most experienced of election observers has been well documented and explained by Professor Susan M. Hyde, perhaps the leading new scholar of elections at the University of California, Berkley. She asked the question, if authoritarian rulers are going to rig the election anyway, why do they bother holding them and inviting international observers? Her answer: authoritarian regimes know they can outsmart the international EOM, and that democratic virtue-signaling brings more foreign aid and international prestige. That strategy worked as EOMs started to self-censor in response to home government pressures not to jeopardize “future relations.” Predictably, domestic monitors feel left out and resentful that the official EOM is not telling the “real story.”

A parallel trend has been, in the words of Professor Hyde, the “homogenization of election-driven democracy assistance.” Money has poured into the electoral instruments of democracy. Many overseas observers have stories about manipulations of voters’ lists, transparent ballot boxes, finger inks, and electronic voting (worthy of Andrew Roberts’ The Aachen Memorandum). Yet, the homogenization of aid put the focus on process, not results. The concern over the training and deployment of Election Day workers outranked an examination of the democratic quality of the electoral result.

The answers to the original question will have to wait for the election results to be announced. More germanely, observers will want to read closely the judgment reviews of the various election monitoring organizations, including IFES.