The quality of elections in Africa demonstrates considerable progress from the early attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to the increasingly democratic era following the end of the Cold War. In terms of scope, 46 of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa now select the most powerful public offices (i.e., the executive and/or legislature) via elections, and reserved power domains have become relatively uncommon. In terms of choice, single-party elections, once so common across Africa, have now all but vanished from the continent. However, the integrity of elections still varies widely, ranging from elections with serious irregularities to elections that are fully free and fair. Even so, considerable progress is apparent over the last three decades. A full 47% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa now hold elections that are free and fair or only involve minor irregularities. Equally important, electoral interruptions in the form of coup d’état, civil war, or annulment of elections have become very rare. Africa is also a continent where the contemporary trend of elections generating broader democratization is particularly palpable. By providing opportunities for citizens to remove incumbents from office and generating expansion of civil liberties after elections are over, stimulating citizens and other actors to increase pressure for more democratic freedoms, elections seem on average to have been conducive to democratic developments in Africa. Elections also increasingly lead to turnovers, especially elections of high electoral integrity, where on average 34% are associated with alternations in power. Taking a long-term view on developments from 1960 until 2017, African elections have seen an impressive increase in quality over time, and provide a much more significant contribution to democratization in sub-Saharan Africa than is often acknowledged in the literature.
Carolien van Ham and Staffan Lindberg
Even though it may be challenging to determine both someone’s sexual orientation and the time of their coming out, or sometimes even their gender for that matter, taking all those as the starting point for analyzing the proliferation of out LGBT parliamentarians will offer intriguing insights into a country’s political life. When following over some 40 years the developments in two European countries with a multi-party system, but with different proportional representation voting systems, such as Germany and Finland, one can notice interesting differences begging for closer scrutiny. In Germany, the list voting combined with constituency voting has allowed openly lesbian or gay candidates from all parties to enter the Bundestag, whereas in Finland only candidates from younger parties have made it to the eduskunta through the open list system. In both countries, gay men have been able to benefit comfortably from their incumbency advantage, whereas lesbians have faced far more difficulties in sustaining their political careers. Thus the descriptive representation and political careers of out lesbians and gays present themselves as highly gendered. This can be explained partly by the prejudices held by party selectorates, and partly by the gendered differences in symbolic representation of politicians in the media, which affects the electorate. It remains to be seen what effect the changing political meaning of politicians’ coming out will have in relation to substantial representation in an era when being lesbian or gay becomes ordinary, but, at the same time, LGBT issues get politicized and remain contested.