New report says most elections provide “false veneer of legitimacy”; recommends steps to promote integrity


ECA Press Release 188/2012

Addis Ababa, 5 November (ECA): Urgent national and international action is needed to protect and promote the integrity of elections, according to a new report by the high-level Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security launched at the weekend at an international conference on “Youth and Democratization in Africa: Lessons Learned and Comparative Experiences” organized by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and UNDP in Addis Ababa.

The report, Deepening Democracy: a Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide, finds that most elections are deeply flawed, providing nothing but a “false veneer of legitimacy” to autocratic governments according to Vidar Helgesen, IDEA’s Secretary General who launched it here.

The report identifies five major threats to electoral integrity, including the growing issue of “uncontrolled, undisclosed, illegal and opaque political finance”, which affects mature and developing democracies alike.

“Uncontrolled political finance is a threat that hollows out democracy everywhere and robs democracy of its unique strengths,” stressed Helgesen, stressing: “We need to address bribing and the role of international organized crime from Latin America all the way to West Africa in local elections. Criminals are buying politicians and buying votes to protect local interests and compromising elections.”

The report is the work of former world leaders, Nobel Prize winners and leading academics who are members of the Commission.

Stressing that elections with integrity require participation of women and youth, Helgasen said political processes in the United States do inspire processes elsewhere, and criticized rulings in the area of legal and political finance that in reality translate into the corruption of political processes.

The way forward in entrenching electoral integrity, he said, “is citizen pressure and support for domestic election observers. “A lot of money goes towards the participation of international observers, but electoral integrity will be found through the actual participation of those on the ground,” he said.

The African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs, Ms. Aisha Abdulahi welcomed the report and said that if not conducted fairly, “elections can undermine democracy, worsen divisions, trigger conflicts and fail to deliver improvements in the lives of people.”

“Our governments don't respect the rule of law; and the judiciary is not always independent or neutral, leading to further conflict,” she added.

Moreover, as underscored by the report, acceptance of the results by both winners and losers, is a huge factor, she said, stressing that although many African countries have accepted multiparty competition, the “winner takes all” attitude still remains, and a balance is therefore needed among parties. “Losing an election should not be seen as the end,” underscored the AU Commissioner.

Ms. Abdulahi further commented on the behavior of Electoral Management Bodies, who, she said, are not always accountable and in many cases, assist governments to rig elections. “Because of conditions of poverty, people's votes are bought by the politicians, and even where biometric systems have been introduced, we face infrastructure constraints,” she added.

Participants noted that as young people are often used by politicians to intimidate the opposition, their involvement in observer missions is critical to safeguarding elections. In addition, the involvement of young people in AU observer mission can be beneficial as their understanding of ‘youth soldierism’ could be better captured in electoral analysis.

The forum recommended an inclusive process between elections and stressed that preparations for the next elections “should start with a post-electoral dialogue to discuss lessons learnt and address reform needs.”

Noting repeated failures within the international community to support elections with integrity, the report provides a comprehensive series of recommendations to strengthen electoral processes and norms, including the following measures:

  • National Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) should create a global certification process to evaluate and grade EMBs on their professionalism, independence and competence, including a code of conduct
  • Urgent attention must be given to address the growing threat to democracy posed by financing of political campaigns, parties and candidates by transnational organised crime
  • Domestic election observers should commit to global standards through the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors
  • A new transnational civil society organization – ‘Electoral Integrity International’ – should be created to bring global attention to countries that succeed or fail in organizing elections with integrity
  • Governments and donors need to prioritise funding and political engagement throughout the entire electoral cycle of countries with problematic elections, supporting necessary dialogue and citizen participation as well as technical improvements
  • Regional organisations must create and communicate “red lines” of egregious electoral malpractice that would trigger immediate multilateral condemnation and sanction if crossed

The Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security supports national stakeholders who work to promote and protect the integrity of their elections and to improve international assistance to those national stakeholders. It aims to highlight the importance of elections with integrity for achieving a more stable and secure world.

Jointly created by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) and the Kofi Annan Foundation, the Commission is made up of eminent individuals from around the world including Kofi Annan, (Chair), former Mexican President Dr Ernesto Zedillo and Louise Arbour, President and CEO of International Crisis Group are members of the Commission.


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© 2012 Economic Commission for Africa