About the project

Whereas the number of countries holding elections have been on the rise in the last four decades, the phenomenon of electoral malpractice and manipulations has been spreading as well, showing the possible dysfunctional role of election for the democratic character of the political system. This makes it necessary for the political scientists to look inside the box of the institution of elections and electoral practices. It is then less common area of studies on political regimes – the focus is on the access to power through elections, not on the exercise of power, thus working of the regime.

The analysis of the electoral manipulations at all stages of the electoral cycle, and its impact on the political regime and the democratization process is the main goal of the research project no. 2016/21/B/HS5/00074 Between Fair and Rigged. Elections as a Key Determinant of the ‘Borderline Political Regime’ – Turkey in Comparative Perspective”, which is carried out in 2017-2019 at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, University of Warsaw within the National Science Centre’s funding programme OPUS 11. The particular focus of the research will be on the issue of competitiveness of elections which is indispensable for the existence of one of the electoral type of regimes – democratic or hybrid (competitive authoritarianism at the last resort). The case study selected to the comparative analysis is the Republic of Turkey as one of the “hardest” cases to indicate the electoral malpractices and their impact on the political system and as a result – the political regime.


Goals, research questions and hypotheses

Whereas the number of countries holding elections have been on the rise in the last four decades, the phenomenon of electoral malpractice and manipulations has been spreading as well, showing the possible dysfunctional role of election for the democratic character of the political system. This makes it necessary for the political scientists to look inside the box of the institution of elections and electoral practices. It is then less common area of studies on political regimes – the focus is on the access to power through elections, not on the exercise of power, thus working of the regime.

The analysis of the electoral manipulations at all stages of the electoral cycle, and its impact on the political regime and the democratization process is the main goal of the research project. The particular focus of the research will be on the issue of competitiveness of elections which is indispensable for the existence of one of the electoral type of regimes – democratic or hybrid (competitive authoritarianism at the last resort).

The case study selected to the analysis is the Republic of Turkey as one of the “hardest” cases to indicate the electoral malpractices and their impact on the political system and as a result – the political regime. The time framework will be the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) era  – in the years 2002-2015 (there were two parliamentary elections in 2015 – in June and November). It is a unique time of single party governments in Turkey, with consecutive elections increasingly marred by irregularities on the one hand, and rising authoritarian tendencies on the other. The last part of the research will be devoted to the reflection on the similar cases of the political regimes with the comparable scope of the electoral malpractice to find out if the research findings could be applied to other countries as well and what it can mean for the general tendencies concerning the regime changes as a result of electoral manipulations, thus enriching the theoretical scholarship on electoral malpractice.

The more specific goals refer to both the theoretical and practical dimension of the research.

In the case of the theoretical part, the specific goals are:

– To test the theoretical framework to date concerning the electoral malpractice – concepts, typologies, etc. (Andreas Schedler, Sarah Birch, Pippa Norris) as well as concerning political regimes – concepts of “defective/adjective” democracies, hybrid regimes (particularly Leah Gilbert’s and Payam Mohseni’s configurative approach) and new authoritarianism (such as Steven Levitsky’s and Lucan A. Way’s concepts of competitive authoritarianism) in order to prove that they are not sufficient to explain the current phenomena being a result of the extensive use of different kind of electoral manipulations;

– To enrich the existing taxonomy of electoral malpractice (basing on the case study of Turkey);

But first of all:

– To propose a new theoretical concepts filling the gap in the theoretical framework on the political regimes and electoral integrity/malpractice – including: 1) the model of changes of regimes depending on the scope of electoral malpractice, 2) the concept of “borderline regimes” balancing between the hybrid and authoritarian regimes and 3) the model of assessment of electoral integrity in particular types of regimes other than democracy.


As far as the empirical part is concerned, the specific research goal is:

– To  analyze the Turkish case (and later refer to similar cases in terms of the scope of electoral malpractices and type of the political regime) to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the key features of Turkish electoral process (electoral cycle)?
  2. To what extent are the practices used by the governing Justice and Development Party in accordance with three principal conditions of democratic outcomes of elections presented by Sarah Birch, i.e. inclusiveness, policy-directed voting and effective aggregation?
  3. How common are in this context the electoral malpractice in Turkey?
  4. How diverse are the practices (is the classic form of the electoral fraud-manipulation the dominant one?)?
  5. What impact do they have on the results of subsequent elections?
  6. What is the result of the electoral malpractice as far as the functioning of the political and party system is concerned?
  7. What is the impact on the political regime in the medium- to long-term perspective?
  8. Is there a risk of change of the political regime in Turkey from the hybrid to the one of the new type of authoritarianism due to the electoral malpractice?
  9. If it is the case, does it concern also similar states?


These questions will serve to verify the research hypotheses which are as follows:

H 1 – The increasing problem with the electoral integrity in states such as Turkey is caused by the deficits of the democratic culture of elites, enabling the development of the electoral “menu of manipulation”.

H 2 – Instead of dichotomy of electoral integrity vs. lack of electoral integrity (fair vs. rigged elections) there is a continuum between two poles – the scope of the electoral “menu of manipulation” determines the position within continuum.

H 3 – The intensity of the electoral malpractice affects the shape of a political and party system, and in result – a type of the political regime.

H 3.1 – A shift within the continuum to the direction of the pole of the lack of the electoral integrity as a result of the increasing malpractices leads to the enhancement of the dominant party system and slowing down of the democratization or even the de-democratization of a political system.

H 3.2- The dynamics of  the “menu of manipulation” causes the existence the “borderline regimes”, i.e. the ones balancing between hybrid and authoritarian regimes of the new type.

H 4 – Turkey and other states with “borderline regimes” are changing gradually from a hybrid regime into a new kind of the authoritarian regime – the situation influenced decisively by the consequences of the dynamic development of the electoral malpractice.

Significance of the project

Elections ceased to be considered as a primary benchmark of transition from non-democratic system  to democracy, and started to be considered one of many indicators of consolidated democracy.  Elections that have been held across the globe differ in quality – in some countries elections meet the criteria of the “free and fair” ballot with genuine competition between parties, whereas in an increasing number of countries, the elections are manipulated and rigged, with the “unevenness of the quality of elections” becoming a common trait of global politics.

While electoral malpractice and irregularities have existed from the very early stages of democratic development in the 19th century and also today still impair the electoral process in the Western, full-fledged democracies, the rapid development of multiparty regimes in the last decades has made the electoral malpractice a common trait of global politics and paradoxically, the democratization discussion. In electoral autocracies or competitive authoritarian regimes (regimes that are neither clearly democratic nor fully authoritarian), the electoral competition among political parties is only possible within a framework which heavily favors the ruling party. Under the electoral authoritarian rule, as pointed out by Schedler, “elections are broadly inclusive as well as minimally pluralistic (opposition parties are allowed to run), minimally competitive (opposition parties, while denied victory, are allowed to win votes and seats), and minimally open (opposition parties are not subject to massive repression, although they may experience repressive treatment in selective and intermittent ways).”

Consequently, at the beginning of the 21st century we can observe the increasing number of states (with different political regimes) in which elections are held but which do not meet standards of the liberal democracy. Because of this in recent years the theoretical studies (published e.g. by Birch [2012], Schedler [2006], Norris [2004; 2014] and Simpser [2013]) have started to focus on the issue of the electoral integrity vs. electoral malpractice, including their conceptualization, indicators and in the latter case – typologies. This shifted an attention of scholars a little bit within the research on elections from democracy to other types of regimes, reflecting better the current concept of elections and its implementation.

Simultaneously, we could observe for a long period of time the development of general studies on different types of aforementioned political regimes – defective democracies (“democracy with adjectives”), hybrid regimes and new types of authoritarianism such as the competitive authoritarianism – again, as the reaction to the new developments all over the world. In the case of the research abroad the texts of the following authors can be mentioned: Guillermo O’Donnel [1996], Fareed Zakaria [1997], and already mentioned Leah Gilbert and Mohseni [2011] as well as Levitsky and Way [2010]. In Poland it is about the publications of such political scientists as: Roman Bäcker [2014], Andrzej Antoszewski [2015, 2016] and Maryana Prokop [2015]. Although the institution of elections is an important issue analyzed with reference to the aforementioned types of regimes, the studies to date do not open sufficiently the box of different types of electoral practices. What is more, the existing scholarship does not sufficiently integrate the analysis on the electoral malpractice, which has been recently taken up by many political scientists, with a broader theoretical reflection on the regime changes which have been underway in many countries, reflecting the de-democratization trend and rising neo-authoritarianism. It is an important gap in research because the observation of the contemporary political life of many countries leads to the conclusion that there are many states with the increasing scope of electoral manipulation which contributes to the lowering quality of democracy (also in the European countries) or even to the gradual changes of regimes, mainly due to the problems with the competitiveness of elections. It is the issue relatively rarely analyzed in the political science literature. Although there are theoretical tools mentioned above, there is a lack of the thorough empirical analyses with the use of these tools. It refers first of all to the comparative studies.

Particularly interesting from the political science point of view is the case of the extensive use of different types of measures (legal, procedural and administrative instruments, financial resources, communication tools, first of all media and other measures influencing the voters) by the most influential political forces, usually the governing parties to decrease the equal competition between the parties and to enable the forces holding power to keep it for the next legislative period. In electoral autocracies or other regimes of this kind, electoral laws, as well as the procedures favor the ruling party, giving it a leverage over rivaling parties; there are limitations on voter and party registration; the dominant party is also favored as far as electoral campaign and the financial resources are concerned; there are irregularities in the voting process, including the counting of votes; and electoral officials lack impartiality and independence. The use of these measures in turn leads to the domination of the certain political forces within the party and political system in the long-term perspective. These process affect often negatively the working of the democratic regime.

Republic of Turkey is the best example of the state which reflects these phenomena. Turkey has had quite a long tradition of regular, competitive elections and multi-party democracy starting in 1946. However, in the last decade there have been some doubts about the electoral integrity in this state. First of all, there have been some concern about the changing number of registered voters as well as about the ballot irregularities. In subsequent elections the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been using different types of measures limiting their competitiveness. The main dilemma here is the limitation of the access of other, oppositional parties to different kind of sources which can decide about the electoral success – be it media (controlled increasingly by the governing party), financial and administrative resources as well as regulations and procedures determined by the governing party. This issue contributed substantially to the landslide victories by the AKP in subsequent parliamentary elections (2007, 2011 and 2015). When the party lost the majority to govern alone in June 2015, they used the existing procedures connected with the establishment of the new, this time coalition government to hold snap elections. This leads to the increasing domination of the AKP in the party and political system with the unfavorable consequences for the political regime due to the  noticeable “tyranny of majority” as Robert Dahl or Giovanni Sartori put it. The majoritarian understanding of democracy is shared by the AKP politicians. In this context another problem appears – elections have been repeatedly portrayed by the governing party as the only mechanism of governmental accountability.

The Turkish regime is then an excellent case for analyzing the ‘transitional’ countries that transform into electoral authoritarian regimes. Some scholars add to the electoral malpractice the steady decline in press freedom, the erosion of civil liberties on multiple fronts, and an increasing number of politically motivated imprisonments and argue that Turkey under the AKP government is transforming gradually into the authoritarian regime. Although Turkey is an excellent case study for surveying the “de-democratizing” trends on the one hand, and the flawed electoral processes leading to the fragmentation of the democratic regime, on the other, these issues have not been tackled sufficiently by scholars. There is a lack of consolidated research on these topics (monographs). The existing scholarship (for example Ali Çarkoğlu, Kerem Yıldırım [2015]; Sabrı Sayarı [2016]), which the principal investigator has a thorough knowledge of, concentrates rather on the traditional description of the elections, the results, implications for the inter-party rivalry, cultural or sociological aspects. The case of the Turkish political science is in this context similar to the Polish scholarship. There is a lack of comprehensive analyses of the electoral irregularities or more broadly, the electoral malpractice phenomenon here (with exceptions such as the collective volume edited by Jarosław Szymanek [2016]). The Polish academic output in this regard is rather of empirical character and concentrates on the Polish case study (for example works by Jacek Raciborski [1997], Radosław Markowski [2002] or Mikołaj Cześnik [2007]). As is the case with the sources devoted to Turkey, Polish literature also concentrates on the exegesis of the election results, electoral behavior and participation of Poles (see the output of the Polish General Election Study), as well as on political marketing – election campaigns. To sum up, the gap in literature illustrates the need for a cross-cutting research, which would bring together the two approaches – a more specific one on the electoral malpractice, and a more general on the transformation of political regimes.

The research project will fulfill this task being an up to date combination of thorough electoral studies and research on the political regimes, reflecting the important and intriguing political processes. It will have the significance both in the theoretical and empirical dimension. When it comes to the former, first, it will contribute to the development of the theoretical research on the electoral malpractice within the Polish political studies. Second, it will develop a rare theoretical perspective on the relationship between the malpractices and type of the political regime, proposing, on the one hand, the new concept of “borderline regimes” and their dynamics depending on the “menu of electoral manipulation”, on the other hand the theoretical model concerning the assessment of the electoral integrity in other regimes than the democratic ones. The results of this project will significantly contribute here not only to the Polish scholarship but also to the research abroad.

When it comes to the empirical dimension, the research project will, firstly, contribute to the studies on the elections and electoral practices in Turkey. It will be about a comprehensive research embracing subsequent elections since 2002, the electoral malpractice observed within these elections and their possible influence on the changes of the political system and, in result political regime in Turkey. Secondly, the analysis of the Turkish case as the “harderst one” will be combined with the studies of similar cases. The comparative studies is one of the main deficits of the research on the electoral manipulations – the fact pointed out by such scholars as Pippa Norris. Thirdly, the research project will include the proposal of the possible paths of developments of the “borderline regime”, basing the aforementioned theoretical model. This is particularly important for the general empirical studies on defective democracies, hybrid and authoritarian regimes, shedding new light on this topic and reflecting the current developments.

Research concept and plan

The project will start with the completion of the conceptualization of the research based on the initial studies. The first stage is aimed at working out the detailed framework to analyze at a later stage different types of the electoral malpractice which can be observed in the case of Turkey. Firstly, it is about defining clearly how we understand the electoral malpractice. There has been a growing scholarship on the “electoral integrity” on the one hand, and “flawed/manipulated/rigged elections” and “electoral malpractice”, on the other. However, the research goal is to investigate the phenomenon of “electoral malpractice” understood as the violation of electoral integrity, which means the violation of internationally accepted standards of elections throughout the whole electoral cycle, that is in the pre-electoral period, during the campaign, on the voting day as well as after the elections. There is a difference between this term and “mispractice”— the flaws in elections that are not done on purpose, but result from an unintentional error or other impediments.

The electoral malpractice may be traced not only right before the election day or on the election day, but concerns many more aspects, such as the election laws, electoral procedures, and boundary delimitation to the campaign finances, media, voters and candidate registration, voting process, vote count, and declaration of results. This means that electoral malpractice is a broader term than electoral fraud. The most frequent types of malpractice take the form of irregularities, deficiencies, or flaws in electoral management at different levels during the electoral process, which can be addressed and corrected if good will exists. Elections, as we understand it, are a continuous process, with all these aspects and phases of the electoral cycle equally important when assessing the electoral integrity/malpractice in a particular country. Flaws in one of the phases of the electoral cycle mean that the elections have been flawed. It is thus important to go beyond polling day and the vote count, to include the broad determinants of political competition.

Apart from defining the concept of electoral malpractice the conceptualization will include the taxonomy of electoral malpractice which is the starting point for the theoretical and empirical reflection, based on the Turkish case study in comparative perspective. According to Sarah Birch there are three main components of the electoral malpractice:

a) Manipulation of the law

This dimension deals with the manipulation of electoral legislation, such as gerrymandering and malapportionment; additionally, this could cover the manipulation of the criteria that determine the active and passive right to vote,  legislation concerning election campaigning, media regulations, financing of the electoral campaigns and standards concerning opinion polls. Manipulation could also concern vote-casting and counting process favorizing the incumbent.

b) Manipulation of vote choice

This dimension deals with the violation of the right of the voters to have access to adequate information about the policy proposals. Most manipulations of vote choice take place during the campaign. If the elections are to be fair, voters must have access to information to make a judgement on its basis, and they must be able to vote according to their political preference.

This component covers the problem of media coverage (unbalanced coverage of electoral campaign; favoring the ruling party/candidate), mishandling of resources (breaching of the regulations governing the use of campaign resources), vote buying and voter intimidation (for example inappropriate military’s involvement in the electoral campaign).

c) Manipulation of the voting act

This dimension deals with the violation of the principle that all votes must have equal weight. The dimension of “effective aggregation” includes the counting and tabulation of votes and their appropriate conversion into seats. This component may include the obstruction of ballot access by potential candidates; the manipulation of voter registration and/or the electoral register; failure to provide adequate polling arrangements; the manipulation of voting (stuffing of the ballot box with false votes; votes of ‘dead souls’), the manipulation of the process of counting and tabulation of votes; misreporting of the results of voting; the obstruction of observer access; maladministration in the adjudication of election related legal disputes.

This categorization of electoral malpractice benchmarks will help structuring the research in its initial phase.

At the same time the first stage of the research will include the working out of the complete list of questions to in-depth interviews and the persons to be interviewed.

In order to have the comprehensive empirical basis for the research with the use of the theoretical framework the second stage will be to analyze the issue of the political regime in Turkey in comparative perspective (looking for similar cases that can be useful in further research) as well as the role of elections in the Turkish political life and political culture – again referring this case to similar cases in Europe and beyond. This topic will be investigated partially through the interviews with the experts on the Turkish elections and democratization process.

First after these theoretical and empirical introductory studies, the main part of the research will start. It will consist of three parts, referring to the already outlined three main components of electoral malpractice and their detailed categories. The research will be aimed at investigating, which of these categories exist in the case of the Turkish elections. The presence of the elements which are not part of the Birch’s components of electoral malpractice can lead to the enrichment of the theoretical framework. Moreover, the analysis will include the explanation of reasons for the electoral manipulation. The initial results of the research will be worked out afterwards and consulted with the Polish experts on Turkey, elections, democratization and political regimes. The conclusions will be published on the project website.

Then further research will be carried out following the suggestions and commentaries of the experts. First, the research will include the reflection in which countries we can observe the similar phenomena than in Turkey. Basing on different data bases and reports (mentioned in the part about methodology) the comparative analysis will be focused first of all on the cases of East European and Latin American countries. Second, the theoretical studies will be developed concerning the concept of the “borderline” regimes and the comprehensive framework of the assessment of the electoral integrity of these regimes. Third, the forecast will be prepared, referring to the paths of changes of regimes depending on the scope of electoral malpractice. The full results of the research will be working out and consulted during a special meeting with the experts, including the Turkish academicians (from the list mentioned in the part about the methodology and interviews).


The investigators will use mainly the qualitative methods. The comparative analysis with a single case study of Turkey as the hardest one (so that if theoretical assumptions work in this setting, it will work also in other similar cases in terms of the electoral malpractices and political regimes) will be based in the theoretical sphere on the framework of categories of the electoral malpractice and types of the electoral manipulations. This shows the domination in the research of the new institutionalism which will be useful also in the context of the change of regimes influenced by the electoral malpractices, thanks to the possible use of so called “theories of institutional change”. As Adrienne Héritier indicates in her monograph from 2007, the rational choice institutionalism as well as historical and sociological institutionalism provide a useful framework to explain the determinants and reasons for the institutional change which can lead in the long-term perspective to the change of the political regime.

When it comes to the empirical dimension, a very useful tool will be first a set of different electoral and democracy databases and reports such as: Carter Center Database of Obligations for Democratic Elections, Perception of Electoral Integrity Index/Electoral Integrity Project, National Elections across Democracy and Autocracy, Quality of Elections Database (Kelley), Birch’s Index of Electoral Malpractice, World Bank Database of Political Institutions, Freedom House reports, Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy, Global Integrity Index, Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, International Foundation for Electoral System, World Value Survey, CIRI Dataset, Freedom in the World Political Rights, Civil Liberties Score, Polity IV, Quality of Government Institute or Election Quality and International Observation. They will help to identify the place of Turkey on the continuum – electoral integrity – lack of electoral integrity and to find the similar cases which will be analyzed in the last part of the research.

However, when it comes to the research on the main types of the electoral manipulations and their impact on the political system and political regimes the indispensible tool will be in-depth interviews with: the Turkish politicians; representatives of the international organizations monitoring the elections (ODIHR, Council of Europe); representatives of the organizations and institutions controlling and carrying out elections in Turkey (YSK, Vote and Beyond), experts in election law, elections and democratization in Turkey such as: Michael Wuthrich, Sabrı Sayarı, Ali Çarkoğlu, Yılmaz Esmer, Ergun Özbudun, Serap Yazıcı, Ömer Gençkaya, Ziya Öniş and Ali Resul Usul; Turkish journalists and experts on the political marketing.

An additional method will be the system method – when it comes to the role of the electoral malpractice in shaping different elements of the political system (state institutions, parties, civil society, media) and the decision method – in the case of explaining the reasons for use of “the menu of manipulation”. The decision method enables the researchers to take into consideration different categories of external and internal factors that determine the decision about the measures taken within the election campaign.