How can donors increase the effectiveness and sustainability of electoral assistance and implement principles of long-term institutional support? This report of the Ottawa Conference on Effective Electoral Assistance from the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance argues that getting elections right means strengthening institutions as cornerstones in democratic governance. Both donors and development partners need to link electoral assistance to development and democratisation. Electoral assistance needs to be redirected from the electoral event to the electoral process.
During the last 15 years, the international community has been keen to provide support to elections and many positive contributions have resulted. However, donors have tended to provide assistance to elections because they have an easily measurable outcome, provide high visibility, are politically attractive and are easy to justify to their domestic constituents. This means that elections are too often supported as isolated events.
Successful elections are built on the legitimacy of institutional frameworks. The wider aspects of constitution building are often insufficiently understood. These include political law and electoral system design, the relationship between electoral systems and political party systems and the need to involve stakeholders through dialogue. A holistic approach that links electoral assistance to the inclusive development of political frameworks and democratic culture is required.
Institutional and capacity development are vital to the success of the electoral process. Building a strong and stable electoral administration capacity is a better long-term investment than ad hoc contributions to electoral events. However, implementing this principle has not proved easy. Findings include that:
- An organisational and staff development strategy is an essential component of any form of sustainable electoral administration.
- Development partners are still not facing the electoral reality in that they are providing too much assistance too late.
- The introduction of new technology may sometimes be inevitable, but it should not be a vendor-driven process.
- Confidence building among the electorate reduces suspicion and investment in training people is necessary in order to maintain the technology installed.
- The role of international politics may mean that electoral assistance may unwittingly serve political agendas rather than primarily assisting the recipient country.
- The absence of proper coordination between donors contributes to electoral support’s lack of effectiveness and sustainability.
The link between electoral assistance programmes and democratic governance and development programmes should be established. Recommendations include the following:
- In order to move towards a longer-term democratisation programme, it is vital to seek the broader participation of governments, political parties, the media, civil society organisations and academics.
- The links between donor agencies and the implementers of assistance programmes need to be strengthened through more systematic lesson-learning exercises.
- Electoral assistance training courses should be developed for donors, aid agencies and the recipients of assistance, to help identify what, when and how to assist.
The relationship of effective electoral assistance to international politics should be further explored.
- Appropriate technology should be introduced early in the electoral cycle, together with necessary training and capacity development. The role of vendors needs more detailed consideration.
Based on ‘Effective Electoral Assistance: Moving Away from Event-based Support to Process Support – Conference Report and Conclusions’ © International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2006. The original work has been modified.