Civil society strategies for free and fair elections

April 15, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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A strategy discussion at the WMD conference

A strategy discussion at the WMD conference

Singapore Democrats

At the recently held World Movement for Democracy (WMD) Assembly in Kyiv, Ukraine, a workshop was held to discuss strategies to promote free and fair elections around the world.

Election experts and campaigners from various countries shared their experiences and knowledge on the most effective methods to use to ensure transparent elections. Below is a summary report.
The strategies proposed by the participants include:

1. Conducting exit poll and parallel count by independent consortium of civil society groups and organizations,
2. Networking with pressure groups and other civil society stakeholders to promote free and fair elections,
3. Forming domestic election monitoring and observation groups,
4. Using civic and voter education and other outreach activities,
5. Conducting research and advocacy on electoral reforms,
6. Using alternative media to reach the electorate,
7. Using community workshops, billboards, and flyers urging voters to exercise their franchise,
8. Mobilizing ordinary people for massive demonstrations and resistance activities,
9. Monitoring media coverage of elections, campaigns, and political party platforms,
10. Disseminating targeted information using the internet and alternative media,
11. Extending invitations to International non-governmental organizations and observers to monitor particular elections,
12. Coordinating and broadening democratic alliance involving broad sections of the populace,
13. Monitoring the use of state resources to influence the vote,
14. Forming a movement for political accountability, and
15. Conducting coordinated training electoral management agencies and civil society groups and organizations.

Participants and presenters also identified some of the challenges faced by civil society groups in ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections. These include:

1. Attempts by the government to atomize civil society groups and organizations.
2. Attempt at reducing the political space by political forces that gained legitimacy through free and fair elections.
3. The sponsorship of domestic and international election monitors/observers by the government.
4. The sponsorship of exit and parallel polls by the government as a counter force to the ones by civil society groups and organizations.
5. The refusal/restrictions imposed by some governments aimed at frustrating foreign observers from monitoring elections.
6. Jamming of radio stations by the government.

Third, the following are lessons learned by different groups in their efforts at ensuring credible elections:

1. Civil society organizations must not wait till the last minute before flagging off preparations for elections.
2. Civil society organizations must start the process of building broad coalitions and networks of domestic election observers early enough to achieve meaningful results.
3. Special attention must be paid to the neutrality of domestic election observers.
4. Civil society groups must avoid intense power struggles related to the issue of donor funding and leadership of domestic election monitoring groups.
5. International non-governmental organizations must not delay the release of the results of their exit polls on political grounds.
6. The institutional capacity of elction management bodies must be enhanced to enable them deliver credible elections.

Fourth, below are recommendations that the discussion offered:

1. Civil society groups should standardize the processes of vote tabulation, the quick count or the exit poll.
2. The legal framework of domestic election observation must be clearly defined.
3. Norms for international election observation must be clearly defined.
4. The level of coordination between domestic monitors and international observers must be strengthened and defines.
5. Data quality for conduct and release of exit polls, vote tabulation and the parallel vote should be standardized.
6. The need for further reflection on the role and actions of civil society groups after electoral fraud and irregularities have been established.

Finally, the workshop identified what international monitors can and should do:

1. International monitors should coordinate more with domestic observers.
2. International monitors/observers must conform to their code of ethics and standards of international election observation.
3. Strengthening an electoral management agency and free media as necessary instruments for free and fair elections.