Elections to watch, perhaps to admire

In many contests, a recent trend in favor of an anti-corruption norm is showing up. It is all part of building “Planet Integrity.”

Demonstrators light up their mobile phones in Bratislava, Slovakia,on Feb. 21, the first anniversary of the murder of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova.

In Slovakia, the anti-corruption activist Zuzana Caputova, a woman largely unknown a few months ago, is expected to be elected president on March 30.

In Ukraine, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who is famous on TV for making fun of corrupt leaders, is leading in the polls for the first round of a presidential contest on March 31.

In Indonesia, current president and anti-corruption crusader Joko Widodo is expected to be reelected April 17. His main opponent, former Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto, is desperately trying to claim he can better tackle corruption.

And on June 16, Guatemala’s most prominent anti-corruption fighter, Thelma Aldana, could win the first round of a presidential election – if powerful oligarchs don’t interfere.

Many elections these days fit into a trend noted in a recent survey of 126 countries by the World Justice Project. It found more than half of the countries have seen improvements in “the absence of corruption.” This will be the second year that such progress has been recorded.

“We have an increasingly strong global norm against corruption,” says the group’s executive director, Elizabeth Andersen. “It is increasingly enforced by national governments, by international bodies, the World Bank ... and the like.”

Yet, Ms. Andersen notes, official reforms are being “reinforced by a pretty powerful civil society and people power movement.”These movements, which are often preceded by mass protests, recently helped bring about important transitions in power toward cleaner governments in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Malaysia.

In particular, many parts of Latin America have witnessed a shift toward a culture of integrity, a result of a massive scandal that involved the giant regional construction company Odebrecht. The scandal has galvanized the public and led to the fall of many elected leaders.

“Issues of impunity are being addressed as the Latin American political and business class are being held accountable for the first time in recent memory,” says Neil Herrington, senior vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The ricochet effects from the Odebrecht case, adds former U.S. prosecutor David Hall, “portend the beginning of more effective and fairer global anti-corruption law enforcement.”

All this makes it essential to closely watch many of the democratic elections these days, especially those in which candidates reflect popular demand for honesty, transparency, and accountability in government.

Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, puts it this way: The world has a historic opportunity “to combat corruption more effectively and build Planet Integrity.”

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