Arab States can reap significant benefits from international experience in electoral assistance
Cairo – The UNDP “Community of Practice on Electoral Assistance for the Arab Region,” which opened today in Cairo, highlighted two factors of central importance in assisting the conduct of fair and transparent elections in countries which are undergoing major transformations towards democracy: the exchange of experience and coordination between international organizations actively involved in electoral assistance in the region, and understanding mechanisms employed in other countries to guarantee electoral credibility.
The meeting, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), brought together a large number of election practitioners including representatives of national electoral management bodies and civil society organizations from Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territory, and programme officers from 13 UNDP Country Offices in the Arab region. Experts from South Africa, India and Mexico, and representatives of regional and international organizations active in electoral assistance also participated, including the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center (Tunisia), and The Center for Parliamentary Studies of Cairo University (Egypt).
“The transformational change brought about by the peoples of the region has emphasized the fundamental importance of free and credible elections and the pivotal role civil society and youth groups will play in forthcoming elections,” emphasized Geraldine Fraser Moleketi, Director of the Democratic Governance Group in UNDP’s Bureau of Development Policy in her opening remarks. “Within the Electoral Cycle Approach, this underlines the need for effective voter and civic education, especially for those who will be participating in elections for the first time in their lives," she added.
Sessions focused on examining effective modalities of electoral programming in the region within the framework of UNDP’s “electoral-cycle approach” to provide assistance which goes beyond voting to include other key areas of the electoral process including: legislative reform; fostering independence and professionalism of electoral management bodies; systems to ensure credibility of elections; women's active participation; and voter and civic education – all key areas where UNDP offers development assistance to national electoral efforts.
In order to identify potential synergies and key opportunities for partnerships, and to explore ways to ensure efficient division of labour, the meeting examined examples of electoral assistance programmes implemented by UNDP alongside other programmes already being implemented in the region by different regional and international organizations. Participants also took stock of examples of south-south, regional and inter-regional cooperation in electoral assistance—particularly from South Africa, India and Mexico-- and explored their relevance to the current transition in Arab countries, as well as UNDP’s role in promoting such cooperation.
Mona Hammam, Director of UNDP’s Regional Centre in Cairo affirmed that “..through this community of practice, we have tried to offer our national partners from electoral management bodies and civil society the space to learn about best practices and from intra-Arab region exchange of experience, as well as from other relevant South-South experiences, and to promote future peer support and technical cooperation. We hope that such an objective has been achieved.”
She continued, “We will incorporate the rich discussions of this meeting in articulating the types of electoral assistance that UNDP can offer expediently to national efforts aimed at conducting efficient, fair and transparent election that honours the sacrifices of the people who so valiantly stood their ground to achieve voice, accountability, inclusiveness and human dignity, of which elections are but one part.”