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From Nominal to Substantive Democracy: The Role and Design of Election Management Bodies


  • Trebilcock Michael

    (University of Toronto)

  • Chitalkar Poorvi

    (University of Toronto)


The last quarter of the century has seen a wave of new democracies. However in many democracies, the electoral process is fraudulent and powerful incumbents manipulate elections. This calls for a distinction to be drawn between nominal and substantive democracies and this paper focuses on such nominal democracies, where elections are often a façade and democracy is rendered meaningless. Instances of fraudulent elections are rampant in the recent history of many developing countries, creating a need to reform electoral processes. Numerous factors must co-exist for the existence of free and fair elections but this paper focuses on independent and impartial institutions of election administration. An effective election management body (EMB) must be independent of the executive, operate without partiality to any political group, have a broad mandate and enjoy financial autonomy. Against this backdrop, this paper surveys the electoral experiences across five regions - Asia, Latin America, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle-East. Successful electoral experiences are found to be associated with independent and impartial EMB's that are vested with broad mandates. Such EMB's have succeeded not only in conducting free and fair elections but also enhancing respect for the electoral process. On the other hand, failures of free and fair elections can be traced back to poorly functioning EMB's that fall short of normative benchmarks. This paper proposes reforms to EMB's as a step towards establishing credible and legitimate electoral processes.

Suggested Citation

  • Trebilcock Michael & Chitalkar Poorvi, 2009. "From Nominal to Substantive Democracy: The Role and Design of Election Management Bodies," The Law and Development Review, De Gruyter, vol. 2(1), pages 192-224, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:lawdev:v:2:y:2009:i:1:n:8

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