Over the past two decades, elections have increasing become accepted through most of Asia as the basis for legitimacy of political leadership, and, increasingly, these elections are meeting international standards. At the same time, elections do not in themselves guarantee that a fully competitive political process exists.
The Asia Foundation's approach to elections views these events as opportunities through which broader democratization objectives, including strengthening of civil society roles, can be advanced. Citizen monitoring of polls and facilitating regional observers has been one aspect of this. The Foundation has been developing increasingly sophisticated empirical survey techniques to pinpoint current citizen attitudes and knowledge, followed by nuanced and targeted program interventions. The Asia Foundation has implemented these types of elections programs in a large number of Asian countries.
While the immediate objective of most elections assistance programs has been to ensure that specific elections take place under conditions that are as free and fair as possible, there has also often been an investment in building in institutional capacity in the independent electoral commissions to conduct such elections in the future. Thus far, the largest long-term Foundation contribution in this regard has been in Afghanistan.
Election events provide the opportunity to focus the attention of both parties and the public on pressing social, economic, and governance reforms. This is especially important in semi-democratic countries where elections are unlikely to yield meaningful leadership, but may help to sharpen public debate and increase public demand for action on critical development issues.