by Prof. Tim Anderson
March 16, 2015
A multi-million dollar
Australian Government funded
at the University of Sydney,
linked to Washington
A multi-million dollar Australian
Government funded project at the University of Sydney, linked to
spin doctors in Washington, is using a biased and secretive method
to help discredit elections in a range of ‘enemy’ countries.
The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP)
joins the United States Studies Centre (USSC), established in 2007,
as another heavily politicized initiative which compromises the
independence of Australia’s oldest university (see Anderson 2010).
A key target is socialist Venezuela, which is facing yet another
destabilization campaign, backed by Washington.
The recent rounds of violence began in
early 2014 and recently led to the arrest of several opposition
figures for murder and coup plotting. The pretext for the violence
has been that the government of President Nicolas Maduro is
somehow democratically illegitimate.
However the radical,
popular ‘Bolivarian’ governments have won 12 of
Venezuela’s last 13 elections.
Further, 80% of the voting age
population participated in the 2013 election, won by Maduro
(International IDEA 2015). That is a massive increase on 1990s
levels, when the Chavez phenomenon effectively sidelined the old and
moribund two party system. And the electoral system is secure.
Even the political journalist for
anti-government paper El Universal described Venezuela’s electoral
‘one of the most technologically advanced verifiable
voting systems in the world’, with protections against fraud and
tampering and scrutineered random recount mechanisms.
Sydney University’s ‘Electoral Integrity Project’ tells a very
According to their 2015 report, Venezuela’s
Presidential election in 2013 was one of the worst in the world,
ranking 110 out of 127.
They corroborate their data with a
survey claiming President Maduro only had a 24% popularity rating,
‘85% believing that the country was heading in the wrong
(Norris et al 2015: 31)
The EIP did not mention the
Polls, which have had Maduro’s popularity (during the recent crisis)
ranging from 39% to 52%; nor do they cite polls showing overwhelming
rejection of the opposition’s violent attempts to remove the elected
president (Dutka 2014).
The EIP produces an impressive forest of data to form its rankings
on the legitimacy of elections worldwide; but what is the basis for
all these numbers? Though it is not so easy to find, the method
involves selecting a range of criteria and then seeking ‘expert
opinion’, from a group of unnamed people.
That is, the numbers and rankings rely
on ‘expert opinion’, and those experts are anonymous. There is only
anecdotal recourse to more standard methods, such as actual opinion
polls, or actual participation rates.
Yet popular and expert perceptions are a curious thing. As most mass
media remains in the hands of a tiny oligarchy, for whom Venezuela
has long been a ‘black sheep’, image shaping is often distorted.
Surveys by the Chilean-based company
LatinoBarmetro (2014: 8-9) illustrate this point very well.
The image of Venezuela’s democracy from
outside the country is rather ordinary (seen as 41% and 47%
favorable, between 2010 and 2013), whereas within Venezuela it is
Venezuelans rate their democracy at 70%, the second
highest (after Uruguay) in Latin America.
Latino Barmetro (2014: 9) itself is
surprised by these results, saying:
“The five countries which most
appreciate their own democracy are countries governed by the
democracy of which citizens speak is clearly not the democracy
of which the ‘experts’ speak.”
Yet surely any democracy is best judged
by those who are able (or unable) to participate in it?
The opinions of expert outsiders seem of
little relevance. That is an elite approach.
The International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (Art 25) describes democratic rights this way:
right and the opportunity to take part in the conduct of public
affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives’.
refers to the right of citizens in a particular body politic.
Gauged against this principle, the
method of EIP project, relying on outside expert opinion, seems
Yet an elitist approach is consistent with the model promoted by
National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a US government funded body
launched by the Reagan administration in the second cold war of
The NED (usually through intermediaries)
funds a range of organizations in attempts to shape democracies or
‘civil societies’, to make them more friendly to or compliant with
One of the founders and first President of the NED,
Allen Weinstein, said in 1991,
‘A lot of what we do today was done
covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’.
Indeed, as with the ‘psy-ops’ of the
CIA, the NED has been implicated in coups and destabilization plans
in a range of Latin American countries, including Nicaragua, Haiti
and Venezuela (Kurlantzick 2004; Lefebvre 2013; Golinger 2006).
The NED idea of democracy has been
‘[a] top-down, elite, constrained
(or “polyarchal”) democracy [where] the elites get to decide
the candidates or questions suitable to go before the people’.
French researcher Olivier Guilmain
(in Teil 2011) says that the NED finances opposition parties in
numerous countries and provides special aid to exiles and opponents
of regimes targeted by the US State Department’.
Eva Golinger, whose book The Chavez Code exposed the
Bush administration’s involvement in the failed coup of 2002, has
documented the NED’s contribution to destabilization and coups in
In the last year or so the NED has spent
many millions on Venezuelan opposition groups,
‘including funding for their
political campaigns in 2013 and for the current anti-government
protests in 2014’.
She calls this,
‘the same old dirty tactics’ of a
coup in motion’
It might not come as a surprise then, to
find that there are indeed NED and other US Government links to
Sydney’s Electoral Integrity Project.
Chief investigator Professor
Norris proudly lists her work as a consultant for the NED, and
at least six of the project partners (without whose support the EIP
‘would not have been possible’) have direct US government funding.
The EIP method of relying on expert opinion seems quite consistent
with that ‘elite, constrained democracy’.
Worse, the EIP relies on anonymous opinion.
A member of the project clarified this
to me in these words:
‘we have to maintain the
confidentiality of our sources as part of our legal obligations
revealing the names of the experts could potentially risk
putting them in harm’s way in several states which do not
respect human rights and which suppress critics’.
Be that as it may, the opinions of
anonymous people provide no way to assess the legitimacy of an
It contradicts the principles of
openness and transparency, values the EIP claims to both assess and
Who are these anonymous experts?
Do they include opposition
figures in the countries whose governments are under attack?
Do they include the Washington
insiders who advise on destabilization and coup plans?
There is little indication the EIP takes
seriously the well-established principle of avoiding conflicts of
It is also alarming that the EIP, as an Australian Government (ARC)
funded academic project, whose subtitle (‘Why Elections fail and
what we can do about it’) suggests a measures of praxis, shares the
Washington phrase ‘failed elections [which] raised major red flags’,
mentioning several states, including Syria.
It is well known that a major
intervention in Syria was narrowly averted in September 2013, after
false claims that the Syrian Government had used chemical weapons
‘against’ children (for evidence of the falsity of these claims see: Hersh 2013 & 2014; Lloyd and Postol 2014; ISTEAMS 2013).
Does the EIP seek to associate itself
with ‘red flag’ military interventions, if countries fail to meet
its dubious criteria?
The project rated Syria’s 2014 presidential elections near the
bottom of its chart (125 of 127), on the basis of its anonymous
expert opinions (Norris et al 2015: 11).
The only rationale for this can be seen
in a brief note which observes,
‘the election was deeply flawed
because some areas of the country were not under government control,
so polling did not take place in the regions where insurgents were
strongest’, and the fact that ‘National Coalition – the main western
backed opposition group’ boycotted the election.
(Norris et al 2015:
While these are correct statements, they
do not tell the whole story.
Conflict in other countries did not
seem to bother the EIP or its experts quite so much when they ranked
the Ukraine election at 78 of 127 (Norris et al 2015: 10).
Yet the election monitoring group
International IDEA (2015), an EIP partner, puts participation rates
in the Ukraine’s 2014 presidential election at 50%, while in the
Syria’s 2014 presidential election it was 73%.
Clearly the US foreign policy factor is
Washington arms the ‘opposition’ in Syria and the
in Ukraine. Similarly the NED has directly funded the
Syrian opposition (NED 2006; Teil 2011; IRI 2015) while urging
military support for the Ukraine government (Sputnik 2014; see also
Finally we might observe that Israel’s 2013 elections were duly
reviewed by the EIP, leading to a very healthy 17/127 ranking
(Norris et al 2015: 8).
being a racial state, with
several million effectively stateless Palestinian people, held in
military-controlled territories and with virtually no civil or
political rights, has little impact on the EIP assessment.
Yet this is consistent with what the
Washington-Tel Aviv axis has long told us about Israel as ‘the only
democracy in the region’ (e.g. Goldman 2015, etc).
The double standards are breath-taking.
With the Electoral Integrity Project’s
US links and its elitist assumptions about democracy it seems the
project has little sense of conflict of interest, let alone
appropriate research method.
Anderson, Tim (2010) ‘Hegemony,
big money and academic independence’, Australian
Universities Review, Vol 53, No 2
Dutka, Z.C. (2014) ‘Polls Reveal
Wider Concerns of Venezuelan Public’, Venezuelanalysis, 11
Freedom House (2015) ‘Freedom in
the World 2015’, interactive map, online:
Goldman, Lisa (2015) ‘Bibi
Bother: Netanyahu’s Strategy in Washington’, Foreign
Affairs, 1 March, online:
Golinger, Eva (2006) The Chavez
Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela, Olive Branch
Press, Northampton, MA
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a Coup in Real Time’, Counter Punch, 2 February, online:
Hersh, Seymour M. (2013) ‘Whose
Sarin?’, London Review of Books, Vol. 35 No. 24, 19
December, 9-12, online:
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ISTEAMS (2013) ‘Independent
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Imagen de los pases y las democracias’, informe (report):
Lefebvre, Stephan (2013)
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Atlantic, with Significant Errors and Omissions’, Center for
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21, 2013’, MIT, January 14, Washington DC, online:
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