As we’ve recently reported, the United Nations has provided electoral assistance to 67 countries in the past two years. This support is aimed at working with member states to further entrench the principle of periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization across the globe. Today, the General Assembly began considering the most recent report of the Secretary-General on how the Organization, including the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), is discharging that function.
Speaking before the Assembly’s Third Committee this morning, DPA head Jeffrey Feltman said demand for UN electoral assistance remains strong. Mr. Feltman, who as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs has a leadership role as the system-wide focal point for electoral assistance, emphasized that the UN provides assistance based on the fundamental principle of state sovereignty, and noted that in responding to requests for electoral assistance from Member States, DPA works very closely with a number of UN partner organizations particularly the Department for Peacekeeping (DPKO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).
“Our goal is to promote national ownership, enabling Member States to conduct peaceful, credible and genuine elections,” he said. All assistance is based upon a request from a Member State or a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly, and is based on an assessment of the needs of the country requesting it.
Presenting a flagship report on UN electoral assistance, issued every two years, Mr. Feltman said “as the Secretary-General has consistently noted , a genuine election is one in which the result reflects the freely expressed choice or choices of electors and is therefore broadly accepted”. He highlighted the concern of the Secretary-General about electoral processes that are marred by widespread misconduct, as well as elections in which contestants refuse to accept outcomes that are generally considered to be legitimate.
“Both types of situations can undermine electoral processes in a very fundamental way, eroding confidence in the existing political system,” he said. “This can lead to polarization, unrest, breakdown of political dialogue and the outbreak of violence. In considering ways in which the Organization might help Member States increase the likelihood that election outcomes will be accepted, we believe that it is critical to mitigate winner-takes-all and extremely high-stakes politics in an election, in addition to strengthening the procedural aspects of the election itself.”
The report discusses some common challenges Member States and the United Nations entities that assist them face with regard to the credibility of elections. These include electoral malfeasance committed for political ends, the refusal of contestants to accept outcomes that are generally considered to be legitimate. “Credibility is related to the extent to which both international obligations are respected and the election process is professional, accurate, impartial and transparent in all stages of its administration. At the same time, the connection between the technical quality of an election and the legitimacy of its outcomes is complex,” the report concludes.
According to the report a comprehensive approach to promoting the acceptance of results and preventing violence centred around elections involves both broad engagement by the Organization and the exercise of political will by national actors.
Mr. Feltman recalled that the report also examines improved cooperation and coordination in providing electoral assistance and the promotion of gender equality, one area on which much work still needs to be done.
Title picture: UNDP