Country Comparative Study on electoral accountability, civil society mobilization (societal accountability), and top down efforts

The research presented in this deliverable covers three types of approaches to mitigating corruption: electoral accountability, civil society mobilization (societal accountability), and top down efforts by a regime to deal with its own corruption. The main findings are:

  • Corruption does not, in contrast to what previous research suggests, always depress electoral turnout, which allows for more optimism regarding the potential of elections to curtail corruption. When parties make corruption a campaign issue, and in so doing give voters a means to express their frustration, perceptions of corruption actually enhance turnout. Moreover, when a plurality of parties exist, giving voters ideologically comparable options, voters are more likely to punish parties charged with corruption. Given viable options and recourses, in other words, voters in Europe do punish corruption (Section 1).
  • In addition, evidence suggests that new anti-corruption parties that gain power in Europe are by no means sinister opportunists who capitalized on popular discontent only to do nothing once in office. A number of new parties have been effective in curbing corruption, e.g. Res Publica in Estonia, New Era and Zatler’s Reform Party in Latvia and to some extent NDSV in Bulgaria. The GERB in Bulgaria, Public Affairs and ANO in Slovakia have, however, done little to promote change (Section 1).
  • Moreover, electoral accountability works well with respect to reducing corruption in the European contexts in the sense that increasing levels of corruption increase the electoral prospects of anti-corruption parties, as well as the removal of corrupt candidates and incumbents from the party lists of established parties. Incumbents who face corruption charges also lose vote shares compared to incumbents against whom no such charges are levelled, though the loss is seldom sufficient to trigger a change in government (Section 2).
  • On civil society involvement, we find evidence of anti-corruption activism in a number of European countries. In depth case study evidence suggests that their impact is still rather limited overall, though the degree of movements’ success varies considerably. Anti-corruption movements that have linked the issue to underlying issues of social justice and the distribution of power, such as the Indignados in Spain, and where the framing has been adopted by the political party Podemos, have enjoyed the greatest success. The strategy to graft the issue of corruption onto smaller and less enduring issues, such as in the case of Hungary, seems to have yielded less favourable results (Section 3).
  • Studies from outside the European context show that anti-corruption incumbents do not, however, in all cases bring about substantive reductions in the prevalence of corruption in their own administrations. Parties and movements that rise to power with an anti-corruption message may enact meaningful legislation and institutional reform with one hand, while quietly undermining change on the other. The Morales administration in Bolivia provides a case in point, having put in place measures to increase access to information, expanded participatory opportunities, and strengthened institutions of horizontal accountability. At the same time, he has appointed political allies to enforcement bodies, which has led to de facto amnesty for political allies, and also given privileged access to participatory arenas at the exclusion of outsiders. Moreover, little effort has been made to change the values and sense of integrity among government officials, a necessary component of meaningful change (Section 4).

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