Election Management Bodies Meet to Discuss Electoral Conflict Prevention

November 8, 2011

Election day jitters.

Since 1980, over 81 countries have taken significant steps toward democracy with over 57 percent of the global population now living under democratic governance (up from 38 percent in 1985). Over 140 of the nearly 200 countries and territories conduct elections to determine governance. While this expansion of elections and democracy is positive, many of these elections experience conflict and violence as unfortunate consequences. In surveys conducted by the United Nations (UN) and academia, some estimates point to as many as 20 percent of elections conducted experience some form of conflict or violence

For this reason in late June, the European Commission, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and International IDEA organized a workshop for Election Management Bodies (EMBs) to discuss policies and practices which they can adopt to prevent, manage, or mediate electoral conflict. The workshop was entitled the “Thematic Workshop on Elections, Violence and Conflict.” It was hosted by the Barcelona International Peace Center and was held at the historic Montjuic Castle in Barcelona, Spain, itself the site for the struggle for power over the centuries by varying interests. The workshop also provided a venue for Creative’s Jeff Fischer to communicate to electoral practitioners Creative’s forward thinking and programming on elections and violence. The purpose of the workshop was to provide guidance and instruction to EMBs on electoral conflict prevention techniques. The five-day workshop involved lectures, small group case studies, and an election security scenario exercise. Fischer was one of the two principal presenters at the workshop.

Creative’s Electoral Education & Integrity (EEI) Program addresses these emerging areas of need in an integrated manner that draws upon thirty years of global experience promoting democracy. In addition to providing global technical guidance on issues of electoral security, the EEI team has provided assistance that includes legal reform and institutional restructuring, facilitating collaboration between NGOs and EMB’s, national identity card feasibility assessments, and logistical support. The team focuses on developing and nurturing a generation of electoral practitioners and managers in nations lacking skilled electoral professionals. Led by Fischer, Creative’s elections’ team has also authored USAID’s Election Security Technical Guidance Handbook, Policy Framework, and Training Module to document challenges and best practices related to electoral conflict prevention, management, and mitigation.

For Fischer, election-related violence became personal during East Timor’s 1999 Population Consultation, the status referendum, where Fischer served the UN as Chief Electoral Officer. “I have been the target of electoral violence,” says Fischer. He explained that pro-Indonesia militia targeted the supporters of Timorese independence as well as referendum organizers in an effort to influence the voting.

Accordingly, Fischer notes that a prerequisite to avoiding a volatile electoral cycle requires a keen understanding of the nature of threats within each country context. Without such a profile, it is difficult to undertake counter measures. Also, in such an unpredictable environment, especially where there has been violent conflict, electoral practitioners must also be attentive to larger peace building efforts such as disarmament and demobilization of combatants to prevent spoilers from thwarting the popular will on Election Day.

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