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Evaluating the Efficiency of Electoral Rights under the European Convention: A Cross-Regime Perspective

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier

What

My project will study how the European Convention of Human Rights affects the state of democracy in the continent. Almost all European countries are parties to the Convention. It obliges them to hold free elections to parliament that would reflect their citizens' opinion. At first glance, there is nothing to worry about as all the countries in question do hold legislative elections. Yet, there are reasons to believe that in some states the elections are not free and do not reflect popular opinion. Consequently, there is a growing number of election cases at the European Court of Human Rights. My project aims to determine how the resulting judgments affect legislation and conduct of elections.

Why

Political science scholarship suggests that elections have different meanings, depending on the context. In a functioning democracy, leaders are ready to accept their defeat at the polls and give up power. However, this not the case in many countries. Instead, rulers use a variety of tricks to minimize their chance of losing power. Consequently, elections are run in conditions that are far from an even playing field. Therefore, political scientists distinguish between distinct types of political regimes, depending on their attitude towards elections. Legal scholarship, despite its growing interest in international democratic rights, is yet to integrate the distinctions between political regimes. My project will bridge this disciplinary gap between law and political science.

How

The project will measure the impact of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the field of elections on countries with different political regimes. It will achieve that goal by investigating both the black-letter law and perceptions of the relevant stakeholders from the focus countries - Denmark, Finland, and several states of Central and Eastern Europe. The legal analysis will concentrate on election legislation and case-law of national courts. The perception will be gauged on the basis of interviews with judges, election administrators, and representatives of the non-governmental organizations.

SSR

Today the idea of electoral democracy is becoming increasingly contested. Aspiring authoritarians routinely deny a level playing field to their potential competitors. In established democracies, growing discontent leads to civic disengagement and claims of electoral irregularities. For a researcher, this means that democracy must be understood as a work in progress that requires further investigation of its basic features. Furthermore, it is necessary to consider a democratic contribution to addressing Grand Challenges, particularly by empowering marginalized groups. The project's interdisciplinary lens means that it will go beyond doctrinal law and engage in complex societal issues at the root of disputes in the courtroom. The comparative angle of the project will introduce perspectives that may be otherwise ignored. The project would not offer a ready solution for the current challenges facing electoral democracy. Rather, it can help better understand those challenges and equip policymakers facing them.