Experts calls for electoral integrity in Africa
Windhoek- In order to improve elections integrity in Africa, there is a need for countries in the continent to create competent electoral management bodies that are fully independent to organise transparent elections that merit confidence, says electoral experts.
Electoral experts from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Namibia discussed during a panel of discussion matters related to electoral process, the challenges associated with maintaining electoral integrity and the means for protecting it.
The discussion on electoral integrity in Africa held on May 13, 2014 was organised by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), Hanns Seider Foundation and the Namibia Non-Governmental Organisations Forum Trust.
Panellist claimed that the majority of electoral commissions in Africa lack integrity and recommended that such bodies needed to monitor government performances in meeting the challenges of electoral integrity through impartial and systematic election monitoring in accordance with international principles.
In his submission, the Director of Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) Dr Paul Isaacs said election integrity is one of the democratic principles of universal suffrage and political equality as reflected in international standards and agreements and professional, impartial and transparent in its preparation and administration throughout the election cycle.
“Integrity depends on public confidence in electoral and political processes. It is not enough to reform institutions, citizens need to be convinced that changes are real and deserve their confidence. Inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability are all fundamental to developing that confidence” he said.
Isaacs emphasised that the ideal of election integrity means “that all voters should have equal opportunity to participate in the public debate and cast their ballots, all votes are counted equally and all candidates seeking election do so a level playing field.
“Election should provide people inn each society with opportunity to resolve political conflict peacefully, and that when the people go to the polls and cast their vote, they should not only aspired to elect their leaders but to choose a direction for their nation and to achieve that, we need to build a rule of law to make sure that citizens, including political parties competitors and oppositions, have legal readdress to exercise their election-related rights”.
The ECN director noted that good electoral standards and practices help detect, deter and prevent electoral frauds and help ensure integrity.
He said there is a need to develop institutions, processes and networks that deter election-related violence, adding that government should reform and design election systems and pursue policies to diminish winner-take all politics.
On his part, Kenyan electoral expert Tom Mboya highlighted the importance of public confidence in elections authorities.
“The true measure of an election is whether it engenders broad public confidence in the process and trust in the outcome.
“An election run honestly and transparently, respecting basic rights, with the effective and neutral support of State institutions and the responsible conduct of participants such as leaders, candidates and voters is most likely to achieve an accepted and peaceful outcome” Mboya said.
Mboya further noted that elections are the outcome of a complex process requiring the participation of a multitude of players.
“There are winners and losers in every election,” he said, adding that the stakes are high and the temptation is great to ensure victory through illegal or ethically questionable means.
He further added that, election results can be rigged to predetermine who will win or lose. An election can even be disrupted, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the process.
Electoral integrity cannot be taken for granted, the panellists warned.
They concurred that mechanisms for promoting and maintaining integrity in every aspect of the electoral process are often established within the official bodies that administer or support the administration of elections.
These mechanisms make it possible to monitor actions of the electoral administration, ensure oversight of the electoral process by other government sectors or agencies, civil society, and the media and provide for enforcement of electoral rules and regulations through administrative or legal means.
Mboya said oversight of the election process by political parties, the media, individual citizens, and national and international observers is another important means of protecting electoral integrity.
As with checks-and-balances among administrative bodies, he said public oversight helps detect and respond to problems.
“Active oversight and supervision ensures that participants in an election process are held accountable, promotes transparency, establishes the credibility of the electoral process, and helps ensure compliance with the legal framework,” said the Kenyan expert.