Yale Bulletin and Calendar

March 7, 2008|Volume 36, Number 21|Two-Week Issue















Political scientist Susan Hyde (center) is shown with members of the delegation from Democracy International, which helped monitor the recent elections in Pakistan. Because of fears of violence, the delegation traveled with security guards at all times.

Yale expert on elections helped to
monitor ‘historic’ vote in Pakistan

There were expectations that widespread violence would erupt in Pakistan during the country’s parliamentary election on Feb. 18, but personal risk was not foremost on the mind of Yale faculty member Susan Hyde when she arrived in that nation just days before the event.

Most prominent in her thoughts was the question of whether the candidates running against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s own political party had any chance of winning in the nationwide election.

The answer to that question — whether the opposition has a shot at winning — is the one by which the legitimacy and fairness of any election is measured, notes Hyde, an assistant professor of political science.

Hyde was part of a U.S.-funded, 38-member delegation that traveled to Pakistan to observe the election and judge its fairness. The delegation was organized by Democracy International, a Maryland-based consulting firm that fosters democracy and governance programs worldwide, and was led by former U.S. Congressman Jim Moody of Wisconsin.

The group was comprised of experts on election processes and Pakistani culture and politics, among other relevant areas. Hyde was chosen for her expertise on international election monitoring, electoral fraud and elections in democratizing countries.

Through her affiliation with the Carter Center, a human-rights advocacy organization, Hyde had previously been an international election observer in Indonesia, Venezuela and Albania. She also worked with an international observer delegation in Nicaragua in connection with her own research. Of all of those places, she says, “the issue of election-day violence was, by far, the biggest concern for Pakistan.”

Tensions in the country had been running high since the December assassination of former prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto, and in the weeks leading up to the election, the country experienced suicide car bombings and other violence at political rallies and gatherings. The atmosphere in Pakistan had been expected to be especially volatile on Feb. 18. Some U.S. non-governmental election monitoring groups, in fact, had chosen not to send delegations to Pakistan because of security concerns.

While Democracy International had been monitoring the pre-election atmosphere in Pakistan over the past year, Hyde and the other delegates on her team agreed to go there on short notice, after another monitoring group withdrew. Her group was sent for “short-term observation,” which entailed monitoring events, practices and procedures, as well as the political atmosphere, in the days leading up to the election. In addition to meeting with candidates and other officials before the vote, the group’s work entailed visiting polling stations on election day, observing the tabulation of votes and monitoring the immediate post-election period.

“Other observers affiliated with Democracy International had already been assessing the larger framework — issues such as freedom of the media, the ability to campaign, access to resources by candidates, pre-election violence, voter registration, freedom of movement and assembly, and other matters that gauge whether the election process is open and democratic,” explains Hyde. “Our purpose was to observe the shorter-term process — how campaigns fared in the few days leading up to the election, the procedures at the polling stations and the vote tabulation.”

After arriving in Pakistan — where the delegation traveled with security protection at all times — Hyde and the other Democracy International delegates attended a number of briefings, at which they were brought up-to-date on the historical background of Pakistan and its politics, and learned about official election procedures, among other topics. Hyde also met with representatives from all of the political parties in the contest, members of Pakistan’s Election Commission and individuals from election-monitoring groups from Pakistan and beyond.

In the nine polling stations in Islamabad she visited with another international observer on election day, Hyde used a checklist to assess specific procedures and watch for any irregularities or fraudulent activities.

“Monitors go to polling stations early that day and watch them open, and we make sure that the ballot boxes are empty and properly secured,” Hyde says. Once the polling stations opened, she took note of voter turnout and the accuracy of the voter registry. In addition, she checked whether there were any unauthorized persons in the polling station and monitored the police presence outside of the station. Hyde and her team then observed the closing of polling stations and watched as ballots were hand-counted, twice — a process that included making sure that the number of ballots were equal to the number of voters.

“Overall, the process that I saw went smoothly,” says Hyde. “While voter turnout was low in the morning because the fear of violence was very high, it did increase in the afternoon, when the mood lightened” because the expectations of major violence did not materialize. She also observed that voter turnout among women was lower than that of men, and learned that women also registered to vote in lower numbers.

“At most of the polling stations in Pakistan, men and women are separated by gender by a screen,” Hyde says. “I was able to walk between the two areas, making it easy to compare the turnout between men and women.”

Hyde also saw some voters being turned away because their names did not appear on the voter registry, but acknowledges that “this happens at polling stations all the time, wherever you go.”

In one polling station, she and other members of her team were almost turned out during vote tabulation by a police officer who didn’t think they were allowed to be there, despite their credentials. After some back-and-forth communication with the police officer and the polling station official, the group was allowed to stay.

Hyde, a member of the Yale faculty since 2006, has been studying the role of internationally monitored elections since her student days, when she first became puzzled by why government leaders will invite monitors into their countries but then tamper with the election anyway. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of California, San Diego, explored the causes and consequences of internationally monitored elections. She has since written extensively on this topic.

On the basis of her research, Hyde has proposed that international monitors be randomly assigned to voting sites, as opposed to being sent only to particular trouble spots, to more accurately assess whether monitoring deters fraud. She tested the random assignment of monitors in an experiment in Indonesia’s 2004 election. Late last year, Hyde and Yale political science lecturer David Simon helped prepare a group of Yale students for their own election-monitoring trip to Kenya over the winter break.

Whether or not international monitoring is always effective in preventing election tampering, Hyde believes that procedure does serve an important purpose.

“One of the things that any type of non-partisan election monitoring can do is increase voter confidence in the process,” comments Hyde. “Even if elections are perfectly administered, if there is a perception that they are not fair, people will stay home on election day, thinking it is not worth their being involved in the process.”

While Democracy International, human rights groups and others that have been monitoring events in Pakistan have reported numerous problems with and flaws in the country’s Feb. 18 parliamentary election process — including charges that opposition candidates were arrested and harassed during their election campaigns — these organizations concur that the balloting and counting procedures on election day itself were largely conducted legitimately. Hyde agrees.

“The biggest indicator is that the final results of the election allow a transfer of power between the current government and a different coalition,” says Hyde, referring to the defeat of candidates in the party supporting Musharraf. The PPP and Pakistan Muslim League (N) picked up the most parliamentary seats in the election and have announced that they will form a coalition government.

“For me, it was interesting to be present in a country for a historic election — a key election in the democratization process in Pakistan, where the potential for chaos was quite high,” Hyde says. “In the end, all of the parties accepted the results, and there was no major violence. It was the best possible outcome.”

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