Susan Hyde, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at Yale University, visited BYU Wednesday to discuss election observation, pseudo-democrats and “exactly how international actors manage to influence politics and policies in other countries.”
Election observation, also known as election monitoring, is the observation by an international organization of an election to reinforce fairness.
Observers look for a variety of issues within the electoral processes. These include fair and balanced media time, violence against the opposition, voter education and issues with distribution of materials.
Hyde said that while observers have specific infractions they are looking out for, they are actually there to make sure that countries are following the guidelines they set for themselves.
“Countries commit themselves to standards,” Hyde said. “We are there, observing and we have to say to them, you have violated your own laws and commitments in these ways.”
Hyde also explained the meaning of pseudo-democrats within the context of her lecture, research and publication.
“Pseudo-democrats are a government that pretends to be a democracy, holds an election, but the individual has no intention of stepping down if the people don’t vote them in,” Hyde said.
During the meeting, Hyde discussed the reasons for monitoring and the effect it has on democracy in today’s world.
“There is something to this monitoring business,” Hyde said. “However, this is not universally good.”
Hyde said it might seem that an independent party monitoring elections would be a great tool, and lead to a more widespread trend of fair elections. However, Hyde’s research has shown that this is not necessarily the case.
“Countries that don’t invite international observers are labeled as non-democratic, which is why countries who normally don’t need to prove democracy are inviting observers,” Hyde said. “Wishing to avoid this label, we have country leaders inviting observers and then blatantly cheating in the election and being caught at it.”
Hyde claims that election monitoring has unintentionally become a norm. She described a norm as, “a shared standard of behavior appropriate for actors within a given identity.”
Because some countries feel that their level of democracy must be proven through inviting international election observers, pseudo-democratic countries see this new norm as an opportunity to be falsely legitimized.
“The countries that invited observers early on were almost all true democrats but now there are greater incentives for pseudo-democrats to invite as well,” Hyde said. “Direct forms of manipulation are less likely to be seen, indirect is more likely and concealing manipulation is something they [pseudo democrats] are trying to do.”
Some states have been successful in receiving a democratic rating after inviting election observers even though they were and are pseudo-democrats.
“Nicaragua is definitely one,” Hyde said. “That was one where you know there is some funny business going on, but it’s really hard to say where it’s coming from.”
Abe Collier, a business management major, started off the question-and-answer portion of the meeting and asked Hyde about the spread of democracy and whether it is a good or bad thing.
“In part, I don’t think we know the answer to your question yet,” Hyde said. “I think if you really push me I would say overall, on average, it is a good thing for most countries, but then, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Cambodia lately and they have multi-party elections but I think life is still pretty bad for most people most of the time.”
Jessie Hawkes, an English major at BYU, asked Hyde about the social implications of being a true democracy.
“That’s a big debate,” Hyde said. “Elections are widely agreed to be a necessary condition for true democracy to exist, but you could certainly find those that would argue, for instance, that adopting elections too soon after a civil conflict has a negative effect on the development of a variety of other things.”
Hyde said she is concerned about the implications of election monitoring and because it has unintentionally become necessary to be considered a democracy is a trend that Hyde is concerned with.
“The end result is, we might be producing a strain of autocrats that are immuned to international pressure,” Hyde said.