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Explaining (Non-) Compliance with the ECHR through Laws on Elections

Helen Hardman

Electoral reform is a domain that political elites jealously guard and a process which governments are reluctant to initiate at the behest of the Council of Europe. This area of research therefore offers fertile ground for identifying which factors are crucial to mobilising the political will for compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK and Russian governments have demonstrated a lack of political will to implement European Court judgments in this domain, and the UK government defended their refusal to grant prisoners the right to vote in the interest of avoiding offense to 'public opinion'. In the case of Russia, a sudden upsurge in public debate about electoral fraud and the restrictive laws which prevent the political opposition from actively participating in elections resulted in mass riots (2011/2012) and galvanised some positive amendments to electoral laws during the Medvedev presidency. While a lack of public debate in the UK strengthened the government's hand not to act, in the case of Russia debate about electoral laws was instigated through NGOs. Needless to say, the Russian government has subsequently led an onslaught against the NGOs responsible. Since then, in October 2013, the judiciary has acted: the Russian Constitutional Court and the UK Supreme Court each issued decisions which stated that their respective governments are bound by the ECHR and must implement European Court judgments (Hardman, 2013, under review).This paper investigates the conditions under which governments amend electoral laws or practices and identifies which political actors, NGOs or members of the judiciary bring pressure to bear on governments to implement European Court judgments. Comparative research of the UK and Russian cases together with interview data from relevant stakeholders in Hungary and Romania, and desk-research of other cases, will try to better explain what secures states' compliance with the ECHR.

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