IFES Regional Europe Office Launches Program with a Workshop Dedicated to the Abuse of State Resources
A level playing field among political contestants is a key condition of democratic elections. Yet, achieving and sustaining a level playing field is often a daunting challenge, particularly when ruling parties abuse state resources (ASR) during election campaigns. Drawing a line between the advantages of incumbency, for example extra media attention, and the misuse of state resources can be difficult. Generally, actions that significantly harm the fairness of the electoral process or the quality of governance can be said to amount to abuse. According to a recent report issued by the Electoral Integrity Project, “the regulation of money in politics deserves greater attention by domestic actors and the international community when seeking to reduce corruption, the abuse of state resources, and vote-buying, to strengthen public confidence in elections, and to ensure a level playing field for all parties and candidates.”
Given the extent of ASR in countries of the former Soviet Union, IFES’ Regional Europe Office featured the topic "Effective Monitoring and Reporting of Abuse of State Resources (ASR) During Election Campaigns" at its inaugural event on April 28-29, 2014. Participants, who came from countries of the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia—including Belarusian and Russian groups now forced to work in exile in Lithuania—represented corruption watchdogs, election NGOs, domestic monitoring groups, and media organizations engaged in investigative journalism.
According to an on-line survey conducted before the workshop, all participants identified ASR as a problem in their countries. Yet, only half indicated that they had engaged in monitoring specifically directed at ASR. And, of those who did, a majority confirmed that they didn’t coordinate with other groups. Among those who did engage in such efforts, election-oriented NGOs and domestic monitoring groups were more likely to coordinate, with coordination between those types of groups and media organizations or corruption watchdogs much less likely. The survey also found that 81 percent of participants said that their country had legislation enabling access to public information and data. While nearly half had never made use of their right under the law to access information or data that might aid in monitoring ASR, 54 percent said they had requested political finance data under such laws. Of those, 71 percent confirmed that they had received the requested information and 80 percent said they had received it in a timely manner. According to the survey, participants were eager to learn more about ASR and how other countries have dealt with this issue.
Following open remarks by IFES Regional Eurasia Director Catherine Barnes and Jan Kamínek of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IFES Senior Political Finance Advisor Magnus Ohman set about helping the group reach a common understanding of the various types of state resources (see figure 1. right); what constitutes an abuse in each case; and the most effective methods for monitoring each type of abuse. Representatives of Transparency Georgia, Transparency Czech Republic, and Internews Ukraine then presented monitoring case studies from their respective countries. The application of modern technologies to monitoring and reporting on ASR, such as crowdsourcing, mapping, and info-graphics was also explored.
In addition to structured presentations, the workshop featured open peer-to-peer discussions whereby all participants had an opportunity to share experiences and approaches, to talk about what has and has not worked, and to pose questions to and brainstorm with each other. The workshop also relied heavily upon practical exercises designed to help participants apply newfound knowledge and to enable the transfer of skills between groups with more experience. These exercises were dedicated to developing monitoring, communication, and coalition-building strategies; monitoring state budgets; and developing verification protocols for reported abuses received from citizens.
Results of the workshop evaluation and testing found that 100 percent of participants said that the workshop fully or partially met their expectations and seventy percent performed better on the post-test. At the workshop close, participants were also asked to commit to sharing and applying knowledge and skills gained from the workshop in their own countries. Commitments range from holding trainings modeled on the IFES workshop within their organizations and with partner organizations; elevating discussion of the issue online (via websites, blogs, social networking sites); building broader coalitions to monitor ASR and incorporating ASR into broader election observation efforts; and undertaking advocacy to place further legal restrictions on the use of state resources during election campaigns. To facilitate continued information sharing among participants, IFES has also set up a special Facebook page dedicated to ASR.