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Inclusive electoral processes: A pathway to more peaceful societies

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Two women at a polling station placing votes in a plastic ballot box. One woman wearing a red and blue plaid coat is holding her vote in hand waiting to place it in the ballot box. A gentleman is in front of the women overseeing the voting proceduresResponding to national requests for enhanced governance capacity, UNDP has supported elections and referenda in over 100 Member States since the early 1990s. Photo:Allan Gichigi

Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls on UN Member States to promote responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making, and to build effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. While the means to promote participation have diversified rapidly, in particular through the use of new technologies and social media, elections remain the mechanism by which most governments derive legitimacy.

Responding to national requests for enhanced governance capacity, UNDP has supported elections and referenda in over 100 Member States since the early 1990s. Efforts focused on developing the capacity of national electoral management bodies; promoting the political participation of those at risk of being left behind; empowering women as electoral administrators, voters and candidates; promoting electoral dialogue between parties; and supporting civic education.

Such work is done in close partnership with other UN entities. Noting the inherently political nature of elections as contests between those seeking authority to govern, UNDP works with and under the guidance of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs (nominated in 1991 by the General Assembly as UN Electoral Focal Point). The Focal Point establishes the parameters for UN engagement in a State’s national elections, in response to either a national request or a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly to assist in post-conflict elections.

The Secretary-General reports to the General Assembly on the UN’s work in support of democratic elections biannually, showcasing the breadth and complexity of UN activities. The 2017 Report highlights UNDP’s support to the UN’s peacekeeping and special political mission efforts in post-conflict elections, as well as “the major implementing body of the Organization for support to developing electoral institutions, to building partnerships, legal frameworks and processes and for support to elections in non-mission settings.” UNDP provided support to 63 States during this report period.

Each report also highlights pertinent thematic issues during a reporting period; this year’s addresses violence surrounding electoral process and suggests strategies for the prevention of such violence. This includes measures to dilute “winner takes all” politics, changes to systems that promote greater inclusivity of all national political opinions, and promoting dialogue between candidates and national electoral authorities.

Successful initiatives in high-stakes presidential elections in countries like Burkina Faso and Nigeria in 2015 show how UNDP and DPA collaborated with national counterparts and candidates to diffuse pre-electoral political tensions.  In Burkina Faso, the “timely engagement of institutions at the international, regional and sub-regional level was instrumental in encouraging progress and providing the diplomatic, technical and financial support required to restore stability and prepare for the 2015 legislative and presidential elections.” Cote d’Ivoire is a good example of effective capacity development of national electoral institutions. “The extensive electoral support provided to the Independent Electoral Commission of Côte d’Ivoire since 2005 by UNDP and UNOCI has been gradually scaled down with the Commission fully assuming its role and independently organizing the 2016 elections which were conducted peacefully within the constitutionally established time frames…The subsequent closure and withdrawal of UNOCI …attest to the good progress of the political transition in Côte d’Ivoire.”

This report also discusses issues such as the challenges presented by election boycotts, and the elimination of presidential term limits. Term limits remain an issue of national sovereignty, yet they “can be important safeguards against “winner-take-all” politics,” and can be critical factors affecting public confidence in the electoral process. New technological developments that enhance the inclusiveness of political processes are also highlighted.

The report is positive about the contribution that we, as the UN, make to the promotion of democratic values, institutions and processes. UNDP is proud to remain a key partner, with the Department of Political Affairs, in supporting national efforts to ensure the integrity and freedom of inclusive and peaceful electoral processes globally.

A longer version of this article was published by IPS.

Magdy Martínez-Solimán Blog post Sustainable development Governance and peacebuilding Elections Burkina Faso Cote d'Ivoire Nigeria Political participation Political transition Peacebuilding Patrick Keuleers

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