Elections and strengthening democracy
Leulua’iali’i Albert Mariner
Head of Caribbean and Pacific Section,
Remarks at opening of Commonwealth Electoral Professionals Initiative
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this Commonwealth Electoral Professionals Initiative training event, convened in partnership with Samoa’s Electoral Commissioner’s Office and in cooperation with the PIANZEA Electoral Administrators Network.
I bring warm greetings from the Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland who was here in Apia last month and had fruitful discussions with the Samoa Government and Commissioner Lemisio and his team.
We are very pleased to welcome the 11 Pacific Islands EMB participants here with us this morning.
Electoral Administrators are recognised as being at the frontline as custodians of democracy.
Democracy is one of the fundamental values of the Commonwealth. At the Secretariat, we provide practical technical assistance, peer-learning and hands-on training for the staff of election commissions. We do so as part of our mandate to deliver on the first article of the Commonwealth Charter, adopted by Heads of Government in 2012, which recognises: “the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live.”
One of the flagship electoral programmes in the Secretariat is the Commonwealth Election Professionals Initiative. Launched in 2013, the initiative is delivered through the Commonwealth Electoral Network which connects electoral commissions in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, Europe, and the Pacific. Samoa and Fiji are current members of the steering committee of the CEN, representing the Pacific.
The CEP is an exemplar of multilateral Commonwealth cooperation, with global reach and influence. This again has been made possible through the generous financial support of the Australian government.
Under this new funding, this Apia workshop is the first of a series of Commonwealth Election Professionals (CEP) training events that will take place across the Commonwealth over the next three years.
This support from DFAT is part of Australia’s ongoing commitment to support the Commonwealth Secretariat’s work to support and strengthen partnership with our member states’ efforts in strengthening their democratic processes and institutions.
We also acknowledged the support from NZ’s MFAT through the deployment of one our experts here to support the process. I also welcome the representatives of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the United Nations Development Program.
Under the umbrella of the Commonwealth Electoral Network (CEN), the purpose of the CEP Initiative is to support our election management bodies (EMBs) in delivering credible, inclusive and transparent elections, through providing professional development and networking opportunities to Commonwealth election officials.
Outcomes from this meeting will be presented by the Electoral Commissioner, Lemisio at the Biennial Conference of the Commonwealth Electoral Network (CEN) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, next year.
I sincerely hope this workshop over the next few days will provide the space for all the representatives of the Pacific EMBs to have an exchange of views – identify challenges and opportunities, question yours and others assumptions, and learn from your colleagues on how they addressed similar issues.
The 5 thematic areas are:
i) Independence of EMBs
ii) Civic and Voter Education
iii) Gender and Elections
iv) Election Observation; and
v) Post Election Assessment.
These of course are critical issues to all the EMBs – but this should not be seen as an exhaustive list of areas of importance to elections in the Pacific. Other issues of critical importance to EMBs is perhaps the role of the media and in particular the social media platforms.
The use of technology is another critical element being considered by EMBs throughout the Commonwealth.
I would also like to encourage you to use the opportunity to exchange information on electoral related trends and realities in the Pacific.
Importantly, we should all recognize that strengthening democracy in a country’s development should not be the sole responsibility of the Governments and the EMBs. Everyone has a role to play - Political Parties, Media, Private Sector and CSOs.
The Commonwealth Secretariat intends to continue playing an active role in supporting democracy in the Pacific member states and working closely with electoral commissions. Recently in the Pacific, our experts have been working closely with Nauru first to establish an independent election commission, and through the deployment of a technical adviser to support the Electoral Commissioner prepare the country’s 2016 elections. We have also provided assistance to Vanuatu’s elections office to review its voter registration system.
The Commonwealth has observed close to 160 elections in nearly 40 countries. Commonwealth observers offer straightforward and unbiased recommendations on how to improve the credibility and transparency of the electoral process. Such observer missions are usually led by former heads of state, and comprise electoral commissioners and parliamentarians, gender and human rights experts, civil society and media specialists drawn from all regions. These independent experts provide valuable recommendations in their reports with a focus on issues that will improve electoral processes. The Secretariat is subsequently tasked to take forward the implementation of these reports in partnership with the national EMBs.
Our experience in observing elections tells us that even countries with a successful track record of holding them can encounter challenges. Whether through planning and logistical challenges or malfeasance, such challenges can shake the confidence of voters. Strengthening the capacity of the staff of electoral commissions to uphold and defend national and international electoral standards therefore has to be a shared priority.
Democracy remains a historical, cultural, political and social process which continues to face challenges. One of the most critical challenges is on the integrity of the electoral process, political violence, exclusion, transparency and accountability, and money politics.
Finally, I reaffirm the Commonwealth’s commitment to help and work in partnership with all all our member countries with their democratic journey. Democracy should be seen as a journey rather than as a destination. I would also say that we should not expect our national Governments and EMBs as having the sole responsibility in leading this journey. Every citizen and national institution must be encouraged to play their role in deepening their nations democratic processes and culture. Soifua.