Electoral Processes & Political Parties: Actors & Activities
InsidersDomestic groups and bodies are the key actors involved in electoral processes and political parties. These may include the ruling party, as well as the opposition party or parties, which are the main units around which elections are held. Ruling parties also may be involved in setting up electoral law.
Go to Constitutions
Where there is no decisive victory, as is commonly true in modern conflict, an interim government may be used. This structure is also involved in the enshrining of electoral processes and in their implementation.
Electoral management bodies are an essential actor tasked with effectuating the electoral process.
National and local civil society, including community-based groups, provides essential functions in civic and voter education, as well as in election observation activities.
Finally, the media provides information on electoral processes and may engage in both public and private campaigns and education programs for constituencies.
OutsidersIn peacebuilding, outsiders are frequently involved in electoral processes and political party development. In some instances, international authority may even be utilized. In such cases, elections may be organized by multilateral institutions, which take on roles usually filled by national electoral authorities.
Even where this is not the case, various bodies of the United Nations (UN)1 engage in these processes.
The Electoral Assistance Division of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA) has traditionally provided technical advice and assistance to governments conducting elections. Requests to organize or observe elections have decreased, so the UN now rarely observes elections and has been replaced in that role by regional organizations. Since the 1990s, the unit has been involved in major operations of essentially conducting elections as part of a broader peace operation.
Further, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works with countries and partnersboth national and internationaland provides technical assistance in four key areas:
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) provides guidance on the human rights aspects of elections and is involved in civic education and media programs.
Finally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) is engaged to facilitate the registration and voting of refugees and, more occasionally, displaced people.
History of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division
In its 46th session, the United Nations General Assembly mandated the creation of a small unit to support the new role of being a focal point for electoral assistance activities (UN Resolution A/Res/46/137 of 1991). The unit was established within the newly formed Department of Political Affairs (DPA) to support its under-secretary-general, who was designated as the liaison for electoral assistance activities.
In early 1994, the unit was transferred to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), when its under-secretary-general was designated as the focal point. The transfer was made in an effort to rationalize the functions of DPA and DPKO and to consolidate those Secretariat units working directly with the field. During this period, the unit was renamed the Electoral Assistance Division (refer to UN Doc. A/49/675).
In July 1995, the electoral assistance division was returned to DPA and the under-secretary-general for political affairs became the United Nations focal point. Since that time, the division has remained within DPA.
For more information: United Nations Department of Political Affairs
In addition to UN bodies, other international and regional organizations have been increasingly engaged first in election observation and now in the organization of elections, as well as electoral assistance (technical support, financing, and training). Some such organizations are:
International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and political foundations also have rapidly expanded their work both in election observation and democratic assistance. Party foundations have the longest experience. The most active NGOs and party foundations in this field are:
[Back to Top] 2 Political parties "may consolidate peace and stability by formulating their policies on the basis of aggregated interests and forming governments with otherwise opposing groups. Political parties therefore have the capacity to bridge or worsen cleavages in societies."3 As a result, those working on political parties in pre- and post-conflict societies generally pay close attention to the way they develop and become more stable and legitimate. Party assistance takes a number of different forms, including the financing of electoral campaigns. Given the complexities and tensions present in post-conflict settings, these programs require careful approaches.
Political party assistancePolitical party assistance programs seek to achieve one or more of the following objectives in a given country:4
Activities specifically targeting women are often undertaken with local womens NGOs and political caucuses. They include: 8
Campaigning and campaign financingMuch of the international assistance for party development has been tied to enabling old or newly established political parties to mount effective election campaigns. The limit of this practice is that substantial support given during electoral campaigns may overlook support needed to sustain a multi-party system between elections. Funding of campaigns, in particular, differs from more general party assistance. Campaign financing is specific to election-related events and not to the building and bolstering of political parties overall.It is therefore common that a multitude of political parties burgeon during the electoral period and quickly disappear afterward.
Technical and training assistance to the electoral campaign
The electoral campaign typically starts after parties and candidates are registered and validated and generally ends one or two days before polling, at which time a silent period (in which campaigning halts) may be used, in order to diminish potential violence.10 Assistance programs focus in particular on: strategic planning for effective campaigns, candidate identification and selection, message/platform development, voter outreach, media relations, campaign funding and budgeting, voter mobilization, opinion polls, poll watching, and vote counting. Kumar notes, "Intermediary organizations have also organized meetings and seminars to inform political leaders about the laws and regulations governing elections."11
Most international organizations recommend that regulations governing financing of electoral campaigns and the funding of political parties require transparency. It is common practice for candidates and political parties to be obliged to disclose funding sources and provide reports and accounts of their campaign expenditure.12 Laws relating to the financing of parties and candidates are sometimes found not in the electoral legislation but in separate laws.13
There are two main forms of funding of parties and candidates: public funding and private funding, with contributions sometimes coming from foreign sources.
Public campaign financing, which is gradually becoming the norm, may include:
Private funding may include:
[Back to Top]
19 That legal framework may be understood as "all legislation and pertinent legal and quasi-legal material or documents related to the elections."20 It is generally recommended that countries adopt one electoral law regulating all elections, but some may adopt separate laws.21
While the body responsible for organizing elections implements and facilitates many of the components detailed below, the legal framework establishes rules about such components. In addition, the electoral law defines how challenges to elections are managed. Often an electoral management body will be responsible for handling instances and complaints of fraud and problems with the electoral process. However, where the problem exists within this legal structure itself, or where there have been widespread violations, a constitutional court may have jurisdictional authority.
In post-conflict settings, in order to avoid the resurgence of violence, the use of pacted transitions (negotiated by elites and leaders rather than popularly elected) may mean that the electoral law is actually violated or at least bypassed for the sake of peace. Go to constitutions subsection. It may entail, for instance, offering a runner-up a position in government (as was the case in Kenya) or agreeing on a coalition government even though one party has clearly won the election. In some cases, those arrangements may start to be discussed before the elections, sometimes under pressure from some international actors. Practitioners know that, particularly in pre- and post-conflict settings, ultimately, these elite arrangements may be what count most, as they may play more of a role in the ultimate composition of government than do elections, particularly where elections are contested.
This was the case in Kenya in December 2007, where disagreement over outcomes and fractious violence around elections led a coalition government to be formed between ruling President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. A further example is the recent elections in Zimbabwe, where opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and long-standing President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF are working on a power-sharing arrangement as a result of highly contested elections, broadly thought to be subject to rigging by government authorities. Hence, in practice, agreements may ultimately be the most telling component of a process, reflecting the actual composition of government leadership.
Go to Constitutions subsection
Electoral systems for deeply divided societiesIn post-conflict settings, the type of electoral system selected is vital. In practice, this may require not only that this structure be given support but also that the system be (re)designed to better respond to post-conflict challenges. Just as electoral processes can often have a hand in intensifying cleavages, so too can they dampen the potential for polarization if appropriately constructed.
Electoral systems are complex and nuanced, thus they differ from one context to the next. Generally speaking, they can be broken down into four types, organized by 12 modalities.22 Each of these systems has rules governing mechanisms for determining the outcomes of elections, which are catered to the needs of the state. The details of that process are beyond the scope of this sub-section. In divided societies, policy makers and experts tend to support one or more of the four specific mechanisms, seen as particularly suitable in such contexts:
List proportional representation
The most common of the types of electoral systems is List PR. According to Peter Harris and Benjamin Reilly, "Most forms of list PR are held in large, multi-member districts that maximize proportionality. List PR requires each party to present a list of candidates to the electorate. Electors vote for a party rather than a candidate; and parties receive seats in proportion to their overall share of the national vote. Winning candidates are taken from the lists in order of their respective position."24
This system is conducive to consociational power-sharing arrangements.Harris and Reilly note, "The scholarly orthodoxy has long argued that some form of proportional representation (PR) is needed in cases of deep-rooted ethnic divisions. PR is a key element of consociational approaches, which emphasize the need to develop mechanisms for elite power-sharing if democracy is to survive ethnic or other conflicts."25 Many critics have noted, however, that such options can entrench rivalries around ethnicity, culture, religion, and so forth, rather than work to encourage inter-ethnic alliances.26 They also are inherently less democratic, given the elite-driven nature of their composition. It may be "a good strategy for deeply divided societies in transition, but less appropriate for promoting subsequent democratic consolidation."27
The AV system is often suggested as an alternative. It is "a majoritarian system used in single-member electoral districts that requires the winning candidate to gain not just a plurality but an absolute majority of votes. If no candidate has an absolute majority of first preferences, the candidate with the lowest number of first-preference votes is eliminated and his or her ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates according to the lower preferences marked. This process of sequential elimination and transfer of votes continues until a majority winner emerges."28 This "winner-takes-all" approach seeks to increase vote pooling and moderation by requiring support from groups outside ones own core ethnic group or political party. It allows the ranking of votes in order for a candidate to garner sufficient support to be elected.29
AV is thought to be problematic because it has the same features that inhibit all majoritarian systems; that is, in deeply divided societies, particularly where cleavages have been hardened by violence, populations and parties are less likely to accept losses. Once the "winner" reaches an absolute majority and is elected, the remaining groups are left out. This leaves a context particularly prone to encouraging spoilers and radicalizing extremism in groups left out of the process, which has been the case in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Israel/Palestine, to name but a few examples. In highly fragmented environments, this may prove problematic to sustaining peace.
In light of the drawbacks of both of the List PR and AV models, new attention has been given the preferential system of STV in post-conflict environments. STV is "a proportional system based around multimember districts that, depending on the number of members elected in each district, can allow even small minorities access to representation. Voters rank candidates in order of preferences on the ballot in the same manner as AV. The count begins by determining the quota of voters required to elect a single candidate. Any candidate who has more first preferences than the quota is immediately elected. If no one has achieved the 'quota,' the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences is eliminated, and his or her second and later preferences are redistributed to the candidates left in the race. At the same time, the 'surplus' votes of elected candidates (that is, their votes above the quota) are redistributed at reduced value according to the lower preferences on the ballots, until all seats for constituency are filled."30
This system combines some attributes of PR systems, in that multiple winners are voted into the legislature, thereby avoiding the issue of exclusion, and of the AV method, in that ranking is used, which requires vote pooling and thus tempers political extremism. However, this is still a relatively rare system and needs further exploration to determine its utility in peacebuilding.
Systems like AV and STV, which are both preferential, may be useful in peacebuilding, but they are not a cure-all. Preconditions exist for their success. For instance, STV may not be particularly useful where one party clearly has enough to meet the quota needed for elections. Similarly, AV may not be beneficial in a two-party or two-option election, as this makes ranking somewhat obsolete.
Methods to include minority communities
A different approach to elections and conflict management is explicitly to recognize group identity. There are different approaches for such processes.31 The main approach emphasizes the notion of proportionality, which can be used in allocating legislative seats as well as segments of public administration.32 This can take the form of overrepresentation of minority units or parity of representation (which equates to overrepresentation of minorities to the point of equality among units).33
Parliamentary versus presidential systems
A debate has emerged over the relative merits of the parliamentary system versus presidentialism in peacebuilding elections. Some argue that it may be useful to have a strong centralized leadership for decision-making purposes and in order to personify the state. Conversely, this may also overconcentrate authority in leadership, which can be dangerous if that authority ultimately wishes to undermine or exploit the democratic state, in particular in societies deeply divided by ethnicity, religion, and so forth.34 It should be noted that, regardless of electoral system design, allocation of specific seats in legislature might be negotiated as terms of peace agreements. Such pacted negotiations form coalition governments that help facilitate peace, though they may not always represent the most strictly "democratic" option available.35
The importance of local contexts
Many involved in the field of peacebuilding note that the vitality of catering electoral systems to context cannot be sufficiently emphasized and that it should not be overlooked. As emphasized by the United Nations Development Programme, "A given electoral system will not necessarily work the same way in different countries. Important determinants include the socio-political context in which it is used, such as, how a society is structured in terms of ideological, religious, ethnic, racial, regional, linguistic, or class divisions; phase/stage of the democratic process; whether there is an established party system or an incipient one, whether parties are embryonic or well formed, and whether supporters of the political parties are geographically concentrated, or dispersed throughout the territory of a country."36
Various ways are available in which electoral system design can be used for conflict regulation. This requires basing the structure on the limitations and experiences of local populations and actors. In addition, a number of key facilitating conditions are needed: (1) the presence of a core group of moderates, both in the political leadership and in the electorate at large; (2) continuity of experience,as in some cases, some electoral rules have been changed from one election to the next, creating disturbances both for the candidates and the voters; and (3) the social context in which elections are held appears all-important.37 According to Benjamin Reilly, "All this suggests that a key element of any electoral-engineering prescription must be a careful understanding of the prevailing social and demographic conditionsparticularly the size, and dispersion of ethnic groups."38
A significant literature has developed about which of the models of such bodies/commissions should ideally be used in peacebuilding.40 Some literature gives commissions a role within government, making them part of the executive or of the judiciary, or gives them a mixture of government responsibility that encompasses branches at different levels of government. Many experts stress that electoral management body (EMB) should be independent.41 This presents a paradox, as many western countries advise the use of an independent electoral commission when they themselves use a government or mixed system.42
Decisions must be made on the structure and composition of the body. An EMB may be non-partisan independent, wherein it comprises appointees on the basis of relevant professional experience, or partisan independent, wherein the EMB is made up of individuals nominated by political parties and candidates. However, party-based commissions have an almost inevitable tendency to split along party lines.43 It is also possible to have a mix of both partisan and non-partisan bodies.44
Determinations must also be made about how the body functions at various levels. According to the European Commission, "An EMB is usually headed by a commission, responsible for decision-making and supervision of the entire process. The EMB is likely to have lower-level supervisory bodies (especially in federal countries) that often reflect the different levels of local government (e.g., region, district, and municipality)."45
Although these are all potential modalities for elections, the establishment of local, independent electoral commissions is usually advised in post-conflict settings and considered best practice. The European Commission notes, "Their perceived neutrality and independence from political interference lends credibility to the electoral process, which is a crucial determinant of the success of any election. A truly independent commission is one that is able to operate effectively without direct ministerial control, including in terms of its financial and administrative functions, and is (ideally) comprised of non-partisan appointees."46 This is particularly important in peacebuilding, as an independent commission may be thought of as more trustworthy by voters, who may have experienced electoral fraud in the past.
In some contexts, the international community is instrumental in the organization of elections and may have members in the EMB, as well:47 "More often than not, international organizations play an important role as a means to increase public confidence in the process, given that within a post-conflict context, the issues of impartiality, transparency and trust are heightened, particularly given memories of earlier election fraud."48 Still, some point to the importance of local involvement, and note that a new institution for holding elections should be established first.49
Indeed, a local commission is more sustainable and replicable in the future than is reliance on international providers. If international administrations are used to hold elections, much money is put into what is ultimately a temporary solution. Financing a local, independent electoral commission that is created with the capacities of the local climate in mind will be much more useful in future elections and hence in democratic consolidation. In fact, donors have begun to prioritize support for the establishment of permanent electoral bodies.50
In terms of organization, the electoral administrative body generally contains:
Beyond this preliminary function, establishing boundaries serves other purposes, such as the allocation of resources. In some contexts, such as Sudan, boundary delimitation can be particularly contentious and the work of the boundary commission can be very slow for reasons other than the function of boundaries in establishing constituencies.53
It is recommended that delimitation take into account features such as:
Generally speaking, three principles of boundary delimitation may be applied. First, populations should feel that their constituencies are representative of their interests as well; that they have a voice in each delimited area.55 Second, most experts encourage attempting to create equality between population sizes in constituencies, resulting in "each voter casting a vote of equal weight to the greatest degree possible."56 Finally, to prevent manipulation of boundaries as much as possible, the legal framework for determining constituencies should be clearly laid out in electoral law and should support the non-partisan independence of the boundary commission.57
Updating electoral lists
It is vital for electoral lists to be updated in order to diminish the likelihood of fraud and flaws on election day.59 Like boundary delimitation, errors in registries can be a strong instrument of election rigging well in advance of actual elections, and demonstrates the need for long-term monitoring. It is important, therefore, both to ensure the removal of deceased populations from lists and to issue identity cards in order to prevent people from voting and registering twice.60 Furthermore, "a voter register has to be regularly updated to remain accurate. This can take place on an ongoing basis, at fixed regular periods, or only when an election is called. Whichever method is chosen, it should ensure that all electors who are eligible to vote on the date of the election are included in the voter register."61
Issuing identification documents
One of the paramount considerations in voter registration is the issuing of identification documents. As mentioned, in order to prevent multiple voting and registration, the issuance of identifying papers is necessary. This is a particular issue in post-conflict environments, especially where conflict has been long-standing and no form of documentation, such as birth certificates and identity cards, exists. This may exacerbate the question of defining "nationality" and citizenship (go to Constitutions subsection), as has been the case in Cte d'Ivoire. Voters may be identified actively by requiring proof of identity, which is often impossible, or passively "by relying on an oral or written statement to a voting station official by voters regarding their identity."62 It is not rare that in post-conflict societies, the electoral card becomes the first identification document people have ever had.
Facilitating the voting of refugees, internally displaced persons, and the diaspora
Voter registration becomes even more complex in situations with mass refugee and displaced populations. In post-conflict environments, particularly where violence has been long-standing and populations have been reshuffled through the movements of displaced populations and refugees, censuses often must be employed in order to determine eligibility. This presents a particular challenge where populations may live in refugee camps in neighboring states (as was recently the case in Southern Sudan). Unless these populations repatriate prior to elections, it is unlikely that they will be included in censuses.63 Where populations are displaced, this presents a serious obstacle to determining residency, and to registering voters on this basis.
In addition, it fundamentally means that repatriation of refugee populations is a prerequisite for a legitimate election representative of the overall population (particularly in cases where displaced populations are substantial in number). However, such processes, as well as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs, are often not yet implemented when elections are scheduled.64
The technology issue
A common error made in such processes is implementing updated technologies that are ultimately unsustainable. This is a costly procedure that entails training and funds to support capacity not only to build records but also to maintain them. By nature, in any context, voter registration "involves collecting in a standardized format specific information from a vast number of separate cases (i.e. voters), and then collating and distributing this data in a form that can be used at election time, to ensure that only eligible electors engage in the voting process and also to guard against multiple voting, personating and the like."65 As a result, voter registration is typically the most costly part of electoral processes in state reconstruction.66
Often, it may seem tempting to finance the newest technologies for voter registration given the complexities of issues at hand. Yet, "computerization of electoral registers and other related databases has to be balanced against the reality, particularly in the poorest countries, that optimum use of new technology may not always be the most effective way to ensure a workable and cost-effective register of voters."67 These issues point to the necessity of voter registration processes and technologies that are self-sustainable after the first electoral cycle.
Thus, like so many features of electoral design in post-conflict situations, it is necessary to customize voter registration systems to the capacity of the state, realizing that while censuses and such registration are vital for a representative election, implementing technologies that cannot be used in future election rounds may be a waste in the longer term and may make it more difficult for voting in the future, when new systems will have to be put in place without the level of support given by the international community in first-round elections.
Political party/candidate registrationCandidate and voter registration is enshrined in electoral law.68 It is usually a feature that the electoral management body (EMB) has responsibility over. Parties and candidates must be registered in order to campaign.69 For successful and legitimate electoral processes, parties and candidates may need to meet minimum signature standards in order to register, as well as have regional offices, internal codes of conduct, and a political platform and have paid a registration fee.70 In addition, the EMB should check to ensure that parties register within a certain timeframe and that parties and candidates ideally do not represent discriminatory platforms.71 One important challenge is the potential disqualification of a candidate, in particular if he or she has played an important role in the violent conflict.
Electoral campaigning and interactions between political partiesFreedoms of expression, assembly, association, and movement without discrimination are prerequisites for a democratic election process, within which the electoral campaign is a crucial stage. According to the European Commission, "For there to be an open and fairly contested campaign, it is crucial that there is opportunity for all candidates, political parties, and their supportersregardless of whether they are in favour of incumbents or oppositionto promote their policies, hold meetings and travel around the country. The electorate should be informed on their range of choice of parties and candidates. Thus, there should be equal opportunities for holding public rallies, producing and using electoral materials, and conducting other campaign activities, so that candidates, political parties and their supporters are able to present freely their views and qualifications for office."72
In post-conflict settings, any act of violence, the threat of violence, intimidation, or harassment, or incitement of such acts through hate speech and aggressive political rhetoric may be common and are under close scrutiny by the international community. The EMB provides additional regulations for the campaign. Political parties are generally invited to sign a code of conduct before the electoral campaign starts. The United Nations is often instrumental in crafting that agreement. The EMB also generally establishes mechanisms for interaction between contesting parties and candidates during the campaign period.73 This enables the stakeholders to exchange views with each other or raise complaints on violations of campaign provisions or codes of conduct with a view to finding a common approach to resolving them and containing electoral violence.
For purposes of clarity, it is useful to elaborate on the meaning and scope of voter and civic education. Although the terms may be used interchangeably, a distinction exists between these components, wherein "voter education is focused on the particular election and should inform voters of when, how and where to register to vote, and when, how and where to cast their votes"74 and "civic education is a longer-term process of educating citizens in the fundamentals of democratic society and civic responsibility. It may focus on the choices available to the voter and the significance of these choices within the respective political system."75 Hence, voter education may be framed as a component of the wider program of civic education. Some organizations (in particular in civil society) may choose to focus more on one or the other.
In the short term, it is important to encourage voter turnout and give to the population as much information as possible on voting procedures and political parties and candidate platforms. According to the United Nations Development Programme, "As election day nears, these activities have the main goal of getting out the vote to help ensure as high a turnout as possible both to legitimize the first post-conflict election and help ensure its credibility with a presumably divided population."76 Conversely, civic education is vital in the long term to enhance political participation.77 Citizens need "relevant information-- through education and the use of various creative media-- to defend their rights, promote their interests in electoral and other democratic fora, and contribute to society through civic actions. Particularly in post-conflict societies, this kind of information is usually conspicuous by its absence, and well designed voter education programmes can thus play an important role in the broader inculcation of democratic practices to a newly-enfranchised electorate."78
Programs in this area often include:
The main voter education campaign is generally provided for and organized through the electoral management body. However, supplementary activities are generally conducted by non-government and international organizations.80 Go to Civil Society section
Election reporting and media coverageSpecial rules regulate media coverage. Election reporting is an important component of the process, as media can play the role of a watchdog, reporting problems and possible violations of the rules and publicizing instances of fraud and violence.81 Media coverage of elections also contributes to voters access to information. Ross Howard notes, "For citizens to make well-informed decisions in an election there must be a free media. But the media must be more than free. It must be reliable. It must be trusted. It must have opportunity to form independent and diverse views."82 This is also an important component of freedom of expression,83 and it is the responsibility of the government and/or international administrators to ensure that freedom.84
Post-conflict environments pose particular problems as they are often characterized by strong control over the media either by the party in power or by private interests linked to the main political parties. The challenge in that case is to ensure that the government media is impartial and mainly dedicated to providing voter education.85 Independent media should be impartial and accurate.86 All must ensure non-discriminatory access to media by the different political parties and candidates, as well as equal treatment. Coverage of government activities during an electoral period also raises additional difficulties, as it may be hard to differentiate between publicity being put forth around new activities going on during elections and media outlets reporting and covering these activities. Therefore, "monitoring both the medias coverage of an election and the freedom of the media during an election period in a systematic and objective manner" is a critical component of election observation.87
Another set of difficulties lies in the fact that in peacebuilding environments, media may often lack professionalism and may have been used to channel hate speech so as to incite violence in the past. The transition toward free, impartial, and accurate media coverage is often difficult and may take time. In additional to general training as part of programs supporting media in a peacebuilding process, journalists generally need specific training on the election rules, how the electoral commission operates, and how the voting will be conducted. 88 Go to Media subsection 89 As such, it can support the vast range of activities elaborated upon as components of electoral organization, including electoral observation and monitoring.
Electoral assistance has evolved substantially in the recent past as electoral assistance providers have learned a number of lessons drawn from experiences in the past decade. For instance, an increased emphasis has been placed on building the capacity of local organizations to handle the various elements of organizing elections.90 This reflects a growing awareness and perception of elections as one feature of a much longer-term process rather than as one-time events.91
In addition, electoral assistance providers have been increasingly encouraged to no longer limit their involvement to election day, but rather to support processes in advance of elections and to maintain support to "national authorities in creating an appropriate post-electoral environment in order to ensure acceptance of results and government formation in a peaceful atmosphere."92 Some donors also consider the possibility of maintaining a technical assistance presence after elections in order to assist the government with any reform need for the electoral administration.93 This has encouraged institutions to move toward capacity-building projects, namely providing technical tools and training experts to use these tools locally.94 These tasks are often framed and organized by electoral management bodies.
It can be particularly challenging to capitalize on these efforts where there is a provisional electoral commission. A good deal of tools garnered in the first election may have to be entirely reorganized in future elections. Donors expectations are sometimes unrealistic, as they expect that assistance to one election should suffice to ensure effective and independent electoral institutions and inclusive electoral processes in the long run.95
The development of local capacity in modern assistance projects may include training and outreach programs to parliamentarians in post-conflict states.96 It is also increasingly ensured through support to NGOs and civil society organizations involved in electoral processes, in particular but not exclusively in civic and voter education. Such support may also be provided to the media.
As part of the same evolution, there has been a decrease in calls for electoral observation and a move toward support of local monitoring processes through the provision of long-term assistance, with the aim of establishing systems that are self-sustaining in future elections.97 Donors have also put forth the wish to ensure that "where both assistance and observation are required, they should be complementary."98
The application of this principle is not always fully satisfied in practice, however. The close linkage between electoral assistance and electoral observation as its political complement can at times present complications, as the United Nations and regional organizations may intervene both to provide technical assistance and to observe (and sometimes organize) elections. In that case, agents of the same organization are supposed to evaluate their own efforts. In the past, this has created clear tensions and resulted in serious flaws being overlooked.99 The UN is now trying to maintain "the practice of not observing elections to which it is providing technical assistance." 100 All these evolutions do not mean that scenarios are ideal at this juncture, but there is clear movement away from the rapid exit strategy approach applied so frequently in the 1990s.
101 Observers and monitors are necessary in order to ensure that in this type of environment, elections still meet the standard of "free and fair."102
Election observation "refers to information gathering or on-site fact-finding and making and informed judgment about the credibility, legitimacy and transparency of the electoral process. It is often carried out by external agencies that cannot intervene in any material way in the voting and counting operations."103
The Electoral Institute of Southern Africa notes, "Monitoring refers to information gathering and examination and evaluation of the electoral process. It is often carried out by domestic agencies that are able to draw the attention of the presiding officers to observed deficiencies in the voting and counting operations."104 The terms "observation" and "monitoring" are often used interchangeably. However, the notion of monitoring generally conveys the sense of a more comprehensive process. In addition, monitors may interfere in the process (although in limited ways, as their work is framed by strict rules), particularly in counting operations and independent tabulations.
Observers and monitors follow principles of full coverage, impartiality, transparency, and professionalism.105 They are subject to rules in electoral law or specific regulations put in place by the electoral management body that accredits them.
In more recent monitoring and observation missions, a shift has occurred toward an increasing use and role of local instead of international observers. This shift is tied to the overarching issue of sustainability for any electoral assistance initiative. The objective is to create a sustainable apparatus that will make elections more regular, accessible, and normalized to the electorate in the future.
Since the early 1990s, international actors have been playing an expanding role in electoral observation. Their impact often has been limited to the first democratic election, which traditionally attracts the largest number of outsiders, with little impact on the longer term. To address the issue of long-term sustainability and capacity, a recent drive has occurred to transfer electoral observation missions from these external bodies to local monitors by bolstering capacity to professionalize domestic observation entities.106
Both formulas have their pros and cons. International organizations, in particular, may be seen as more impartial than local observers and their presence as a key actor is generally perceived as enhancing the credibility of elections and contributing to the acceptance of the results on the part of the competing parties.107 However, "questions remain about the efficacy of international observer missions. There are many ways to defraud an election, and observers need to be highly trained to detect all but the most blatant forms of electoral fraud. In many cases, however, international election observers are not trained professionals but rather politicians or bureaucrats from Western countries."108 International actors also generally have little knowledge and understanding of the local context, are often provided with limited background information upon their arrival in the country,109 and generally only cover the most accessible areas of the country, with a high concentration in cities. In addition, the extreme concentration of election observer activities on the polling day itself is problematic as "the most fundamental and most serious failings do not necessarily occur on polling day, but rather before or after it."110 However, most international observers stay for a very short period.
In comparison, local electoral observers not only represent the most sustainable mechanism but also clearly have advantages in terms of knowledge retention, access, and deployment over the entire country. They are also present for a longer period of time. Their role has proved decisive in a number of recent cases, such as Kenya and Zimbabwe. In these two instances, some have indicated that use of local observers made rigging by officials more difficult and led to more representative elections, though the outcomes of these processes have presented new challenges. Local observers main handicap may be the difficulty of ensuring impartiality, particularly within tense and polarized environments.
Ultimately, many feel that a greater linkage between the two mechanisms is highly desirable and that the increasing number of joint observer missions is a step in the right direction because it combines the strength of each. One critical point to be addressed, in some cases, is that domestic observers may not be granted the same access and privilege as international observers.
It must be noted that these local observers are distinct from those observers hired locally by international NGOs. These networks function very differently from local civil society and citizen networks, which sometimes operate with few means and in accordance with their own domestic agenda. As such, they demonstrate important political participation on the part of ordinary citizens, who often work as volunteers. Local volunteers frequently face greater risks than international observers. This is an important consideration that requires discussion at length by those organizations that have formed the networks.
Political party observers are also encouraged to play a greater role. The distinction between local and political party observers and monitors should be clearly stated. Whereas domestic observers are politically independent, observers representing political parties serve to check fraudulent activities by other parties and may enhance the legitimacy of the election to those parties that have observers.
It is crucial to pay attention to the geographic coverage of observation, and to be sure that observers are deployed not only in the capital city but also in regional locations across the host country to ensure that there is a balance of coverage of different regions, as well as urban and rural areas. As mentioned, local observers generally have a clearer advantage from this point of view because they are generally deployed all over the country and are from the regions, so they understand the local dynamics better.
Implementation issues related to election monitoring and observation present some critical challenges and are addressed through different approaches, particularly within the international community. As mentioned, while the short-term approach that focuses on an organizations exit strategy is now frequently critiqued, the longer-term approach has been promoted. The latter aims to observe not only the issues that arise on election day but also the ways in which electoral decisions may be molded prior to and after elections. Hence, most international organizations that work in the domain of monitoring and observation have reoriented their strategies in order to facilitate oversight of pre-election activities, including the formulation of electoral laws and systems, the composition of the electoral management body, processes of voter registration, civic/voter education, and boundary delimitation, as well as monitoring processes of candidate and party registration and media access and reporting.
On election day, observers may provide technical support and training to local observers, or they may observe elections themselves, looking at incidences of violence, locations of polling stations, and so forth. In the post-election period, observers may help oversee legitimate, transparent counting of ballots and facilitate the transfer of power to government authorities, as well as monitor disputes of, and surrounding, the election. It is important to note that beyond elections, many other state institutions require support, ranging from the public and private sectors, to the judiciary and the security and military apparatus, to the civil service. The mandate of the international community may not stop at this important juncture, even with the conclusion of the electoral process.
Furthermore, the declaration of "free and fair" elections is a key moment in the electoral process. In the past, the importance given to the success of the first post-conflict elections has tended to place an excessive burden on the exercise. Observers and monitors, in the name of expediency, may use this term almost as a proxy for democratic elections, though defining exact meanings for these notions presents its own challenge. Benjamin Reilly notes, "In general, a 'free' election typically is one in which contestation for office is open and competitive, and free from significant electoral violence; while 'fair' usually refers to features such as a level playing field, equal rights to participation, and acceptance of outcomes by all parties. In practice, however, there is a great variation in the meaning attached to this term, and it has been difficult to identify a widely-accepted definition of what a 'free and fair' election constitutes in practice."111
Pursuit of these aims at times may lead to a number of troubling outcomes in the process. In post-conflict settings, "caught between divergent local pressures, external intervention agents (in the cases of both the UN and other multilateral organizations) tend to save face and may be led to cover up serious problems existing from the first stages of the organization of polls. This is also explained by the emphasis generally placed on security criteria in election monitoring in post-conflict situations."112 Assessments of whether an election is "free and fair" are obviously a politically sensitive issue, especially in war-torn societies: "In some cases, a determination that an election was not free and fair may at a minimum retard the democratization process and, in a worst-case scenario, may lead to a resumption of conflict."113 The mere fact that the capacity exists for elections to be held is sometimes considered in itself a victory and a decisive step in the peacebuilding process. The international agenda, pressing for elections, may also carry more weight than the actual reality on the ground.114
However, experience has shown that the notion of "free and fair" entails a more comprehensive, process-oriented set of criteria, including independence and impartiality, efficiency, professionalism, impartial and speedy adjudication of disputes, stability, and transparency.115 Without determination of this terminology from a longer-term perspective, it is thought that misinterpreting a scenario as free and fair may institutionalize flaws and even result in fraud. Such misinterpretation can be detrimental to peacebuilding, as "monitoring can enhance the credibility and legitimacy of elections, thereby helping to reduce electoral violence. It can help maintain a working peace agreement because losers lack the ability to shout fraud! and disrupt a country's democratization."116
[Back to Top] gender equality.
Increasing voter turnout for womenTo be most effective, civic and voter education campaigns must target womens needs. According to the United Nations, "In the most traditional areas, it is common for women to be segregated from men and to have different levels of freedom of movement. Furthermore, girls access to education in post-conflict countries is more limited than that of boys. . . . This affects the ability of public information materials and outreach campaigns, for example, to address the needs of women in an effective way. It is important, therefore, that voter education teams include women (if necessary comprising only women); present a message that women of all levels of education and the illiterate can understand; and deliver the message at appropriate, accessible venues. While men can travel freely to a distant location to attend an electoral workshop, women may not enjoy the same access to transportation, they may not have the freedom to travel at night, they may fear becoming the object of gender-based violence, or traditional practices may prevent them from leaving their homes."117
The use of quotas to support womens inclusionAn increasing number of states have attempted to incorporate women in government institutions through constitutional regulations, particularly surrounding quotas.118 A variety of gender-inclusive and affirmative action mechanisms can be used to help women overcome the obstacles that prevent them from entering politics in the same way as their male colleagues, or even more clearly ensure the election of women to legislative office, such as reserved seats, quotas within parliament or for party candidate selection, and other affirmative action inducements or requirements.119
Constitutional and voluntary party quotas
Among the different types of quotas, the main distinction is between voluntary party quotas and constitutional and legislative quotas. According to Stina Larserud and Rita Taphorn, "Constitutional quotas are enshrined in the countrys constitution, while legislative quotas are enshrined in the election law, political party law or other comparable law of a country. By definition, both forms are based on legal provisions, obliging all political entities participating in elections to apply them equally. Non-compliance with legislative or constitutional quotas can result in penalties for those political entities that did not apply them. Examples of sanctions issued by the legal authorities of a country can range from disqualifying candidates, to the imposition of fines, up to disqualification of the entire party. Voluntary party quotas are adopted voluntarily by political parties. They are set by the parties themselves to guarantee the nomination of a certain number or proportion of women. As the name reveals, voluntary party quotas are not legally binding and there are therefore no sanctions to enforce them."120
When applied during the nomination process, the aim of quotas is to make it easier for women to be placed strategically on a partys list of candidates in such a way as to give them equalor close to equalopportunities to be elected to the legislative body. This is particularly important in contexts where patronage and other undemocratic characteristics pervade and prevent women from acquiring positions of leadership within the party structure.121 International assistance may be directly involved in encouraging the recruitment and training of women candidates. Some observers have cautioned that "internal party procedures and training may be emerging in a hierarchical rather than empowering form."122 In such scenarios, participation may not equate to women having voice. Where women are involved in these processes, if within the forums their perspectives are still seen in a pejorative light, then womens views are not being equally considered.
According to the United Nations, "Results-based quotas ensure that either a certain percentage (e.g. 20 per cent) or a certain number (e.g. 20 out of 100) of the seats in a legislature are reserved for women. One form of results-based quotas is a separate 'women-only' list or electoral district, or a 'women-only' electoral tier, electing women to a predetermined number of seats. This form requires, as the name suggests, that only women are fielded as candidates in the district or tier in question. Another form of results-based quota is the 'best loser' system, which means that among the women candidates, those who received the most votes, up to the number set by the quota, are elected even though male candidates may have won more votes."123 Reserved seats may guarantee numbers "but may not be very effective in giving status to the reserved seat members."124
Supporting activitiesThe United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has organized national civil society consultations in order to enhance the role of women in politics (more recently in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Liberia).125 Based on these meetings, DPKO and the Electoral Assistance Division are jointly preparing guidelines on enhancing the role of women in post-conflict electoral processes. The United Nations Democracy Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women have sponsored a variety of projects to support women candidates or improve their press coverage, for instance.126
In what may be an intimidating environment, women candidates and potential candidates may create networks of mutual support and training through the development of cross-party caucuses, which may take the further step of undertaking women-only training on a cross-party basis.127
There are many areas that are not yet researched, but it is clear that womens participation and representation issues are not only questions for electoral engineers and election specialists, but for the negotiators and drafters of the wider framework of instruments.128
Go to women and gender issues subsection
1. "Strengthening the Role of the United Nations in Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Principle of Periodic and Genuine Elections and the Promotion of Democratization," UN Doc. A/62/293 (2007).
2. Kumar, "Reflections on International Political Party Assistance, 506.
3. Orla King and Jeroen de Zeeuw, Political Party Development in Conflict-Prone Societies (The Hague: Netherlands Institute of International Relations, 2006), 5.
4. Kumar, Reflections on International Political Party Assistance, 510.
5. Ibid., 508, 511-14.
6. Ibid., 507.
7. Ibid., 508.
8. Ibid., 509.
9. Ibid., 510.
10. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), International Electoral Standards: Guidelines for Reviewing the Legal Framework of Elections (Stockholm: International IDEA, 2002), 55; European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation, 2nd ed. (Brussels: European Commission, 2008), 51.
11. Kumar, "Reflections on International Political Party Assistance," 508.
12. European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation 52.
13. International IDEA, International Electoral Standards, 65.
14. Ibid., 66.
15. European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation, 52.
16. Ibid., 67.
17. Electoral Commission Forum and EISA, Principles for Election Management, 21.
18. European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation, 52.
19. International IDEA, International Electoral Standards, 10.
20. Ibid., 11.
21. Ibid., 15.
22. Wall and Salih, Engineering Electoral Systems: Possibilities and Pitfalls, 7.
23. Peter Harris and Benjamin Reilly, eds., Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators (Stockholm: International IDEA, 1998), 192.
24. Ibid., 195.
25. Reilly, "Electoral Systems for Divided Societies," 157.
26. Wall and Salih, Engineering Electoral Systems: Possibilities and Pitfalls, 10.
27. Harris and Reilly, Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict, 197.
28. Reilly, "Electoral Systems for Divided Societies,"158.
29. Ibid., 157.
30. Reilly, "Electoral Systems for Divided Societies," 158.
31. Harris and Reilly, Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict, 199-201
32. Arend Lijphart, Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977), 38.
33. Ibid., 41.
34. Andrew Ellis, "Elections Are Not an Island: The Process of Negotiating and Designing Post-Conflict Electoral Institutions" (Paper presented at the conference, Post-Conflict Elections in West Africa: Challenges for Democracy and Reconstruction, Accra, Ghana, May 15-17, 2006), 11.
35. Terrence Lyons, Postconflict Elections: War Termination, Democratization, and Demilitarizing Politics (Fairfax, VA: Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, 2002), 10.
36. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), "Electoral Systems and Processes," in Governance in Post-Conflict Situations (New York: UNDP), 5.
37. Reilly, "Electoral Systems for Divided Societies," 167-68.
38. Ibid., 167-68.
39. Dileepan Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments: The Role of International Organizations (Washington, DC: International Foundation for Electoral Systems, 2004), 23.
40. Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 16.
41. Ibid., 313-14.
42. Map: International IDEA,"Electoral Management Models of the World."
43. European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation, 36.
44. Ibid., 37.
47. Ibid., 36.
48. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 23.
49. Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 16.
50. UNDP, "Electoral Systems and Processes," 5.
51. Peter Harris, "Building an Electoral Administration," in Democracy and Deep-Rooted Conflict: Options for Negotiators, ed. Peter Harris and Benjamin Reilly (Stockholm: International IDEA, 1998), 313.
52. Lisa Handley, Delimitation Equity Project: Resource Guide (Washington, DC: International Foundation for Electoral Systems, 2006), 27.
53. See, for example, International Crisis Group (ICG), Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock (Brussels: ICG, 2007).
54. Electoral Commission Forum and EISA, Principles for Election Management, 14.
55. International IDEA, International Electoral Standards, 30.
56. Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Handbook for Domestic Election Observers (Vienna: OSCE, 2003).
57. International IDEA, International Electoral Standards, 30.
58. Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 18.
59. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission.
60. European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation, 42-43.
61. Ibid., 43.
62. ACE Project, "Determination of Eligibility to Vote."
63. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 17.
64. Ibid., 16.
65. Ibid., 16.
66. UNDP, "Electoral Systems and Processes," 5.
67. Reilly, Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned? 19.
68. International IDEA, International Electoral Standards, 50.
69. Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Handbook for European Union Election Observation Missions (Stockholm: SIDA, 2002), 68.
71. European Commission, Handbook for European Union Election Observation, 58.
72. Ibid., 50.
73. International IDEA, International Electoral Standards, 57.
74. SIDA, Handbook for European Union Election Observation Missions, 65.
75. Ibid., 65.
76. UNDP, "Electoral Systems and Processes," 6.
77. Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 20.
78. Ibid., 20.
79. UNDP, "Electoral Systems and Processes," 6.
80. SIDA, Handbook for European Union Election Observation Missions, 65.
81. Ross Howard, Media + Elections: An Elections Reporting Handbook (Vancouver: Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, 2004), 12.
82. Ibid., 8.
83. OSCE, Handbook for Domestic Election Observers, 89-90.
84. Article 19, Guidelines for Broadcast Coverage of Election Campaigns in Transitional Democracies (London: Article 19, 1997), 3-4.
85. Ibid., 3.
86. Howard, Media + Elections: An Elections Reporting Handbook, 9.
87. OSCE, Handbook for Domestic Election Observers, 90.
88. Howard, Media + Elections: An Elections Reporting Handbook, 12.
89. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission, 4.
90. Ibid., 16.
91. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Electoral Assistance (New York: UNDP, 2003), 2.
92. Ibid., 2.
93. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission, 16.
94. Strengthening the Role of the United Nations, 10.
95. Ibid., 9.
96. See, for example, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Legislative Support Programme and Parliamentary Support Programme.
97. "Strengthening the Role of the United Nations," 7.
98. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission, 15.
99. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 19.
100. "Strengthening the Role of the United Nations," 7.
101. Eric Brahm, "Election Monitoring," Beyond Intractability (September 2004).
102. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 30-31.
103. Electoral Commission Forum and EISA, Principles for Election Management, 30.
104. Ibid., 30.
105. Commission of the European Communities, Communication from the Commission, 5.
106. Reilly, Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned? 5.
107. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 30-31.
108. Ibid., 21.
109. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 17-35.
111. Reilly, "Electoral Assistance and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: What Lessons Have Been Learned?" 3.
112. Pouligny, "Promoting Democratic Institutions in Post-Conflict Societies," 20.
113. Sivapathasundaram, Elections in Post-Conflict Environments, 30-31.
114. Beatrice Pouligny, "The Limits of Imposed Procedural Democracy in Post-War Societies," in Peace Operations Seen from Below (London: Hurst and Co., 2006), 242.
115. Harris, "Building an Electoral Administration," 310.
116. Brahm, "Election Monitoring."
117. United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) and Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA), Joint Guidelines on Enhancing the Role of Women in Post-Conflict Electoral Processes (New York: United Nations, 2007), 28.
118. See, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and Stockholm University, Global Database of Quotas for Women: "Election Law Quota Regulation, National Parliament"; "Political Party Quota for Electoral Candidates"; "Political Party Quotas by Country: All Regions."
119. Andrew Reynolds, Electoral Systems and the Protection and Participation of Minorities (London: Minority Rights Group International, 2006), 25; Andrew Ellis, "Enhancing Womens Participation in Electoral Processes in Post-Conflict Countries" (background paper for the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women Expert Group Meeting on Enhancing Women's Participation in Electoral Processes in Post-Conflict Countries, Glen Cove, NY, January 19-22, 2004), 7.
120. Stina Larserud and Rita Taphorn, Designing for Equality: Best-Fit, Medium-Fit and Non-Favourable Combinations of Electoral Systems and Gender Quotas (Stockholm: International IDEA, 2007), 8.
121. UNDPKO and UNDPA, Joint Guidelines on Enhancing the Role of Women.
122. Ellis, "Enhancing Women's Participation in Electoral Processes," 7-8.
123. UNDPKO and UNDPA, Joint Guidelines on Enhancing the Role of Women.
124. Ellis, "Enhancing Women's Participation in Electoral Processes," 7.
125. See, for example, United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, "Women and Elections," and United Nations Mission in Liberia, "Office of the Gender Advisor."
126. Strengthening the Role of the United Nations, 6.
127. Ellis, "Enhancing Women's Participation in Electoral Processes," 7.
128. Ibid., 4.