Promoting peace and democracy in the context of elections – FDFA
Elections are an important mechanism in democratic and peace processes. Their purpose is to provide citizens with an opportunity to choose freely their political leaders and allocate power peacefully. However, underlying tensions in a society and high-stake competition can also result in violent and fraudulous elections. Based on its mandate in peace, development and democracy promotion, FDFA is supporting countries in a democratic transition as they address the challenge of holding elections.
A challenge for Human Security
Less visible and more complex than armed conflicts, political and electoral violence remain an important threat to human security and regional stability. In Asia, numerous examples from the last ten years reflect the frequency of political and electoral violence (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and East Timor(1). In Africa, 20 percent of elections over the last two decades were marred by violence(2). Such episodes of violence do not result directly from elections, but reflect instead the breakdown of political processes. If they are legitimate and inclusive, elections can pave the way for freedom of expression and promote peaceful transitions. Thus, relying on its mandate of peace promotion, the FDFA’s Human Security Division (HSD) combines election expertise with diplomatic tools to reinforce the positive impact of elections.
High-level engagement with political leaders: Opportunity for peace
HSD relies on its electoral expertise and experience in conflict prevention to support the negotiation and the verification of codes of conduct for political parties during elections. These negotiation processes were held in countries experiencing democratic transition after long periods of autocracy, such as Tunisia in 2014, Myanmar in 2015 or Zimbabwe in 2018(3), where the level of risk of violence and fraud was significant. By committing voluntarily against personal or interfaith attacks, physical violence or intimidation, political parties take responsibility to prevent violence, in particular during electoral campaigns, and lay the basis for democratic dialog(4). In Nigeria, HSD also assisted the National Peace Committee in its prevention activities and contributed to an agreement among the 2015 presidential elections candidates, which is now being updated for 2019. HSD also supports the Kofi Annan Foundation’s “Electoral Integrity Initiative” for its conflict prevention and mediation activities during elections(5). In order to build on these existing measures aiming at creating a conducive environment for free and peaceful elections, HSD brought together high-level political and diplomatic actors as well as election officials and international experts for a conference in Spring 2018 on “Elections to Peace “.
Supporting democratic and peaceful elections: SDC activities and risk management
Also for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), elections are an important pillar of a wider agenda supporting democratic processes. It is a moment when citizens can hold their political representatives accountable and when power can be redistributed. Inclusive, transparent elections, free from violence and fear are important conditions to meet these expectations.
SDC is aware that elections can bear the risk to divide a society and stir up violent conflict along ethnic, regional or political lines. In order to make an informed decision on if and how to engage in election support, it recommends starting with a careful political risk analysis. It also adapts its existing cooperation programs accordingly.
SDC engages in different ways in its electoral support. It supports election commissions in their function to conduct well-managed elections. For example in Macedonia, SDC continued to engage in election assistance in the context of the 2016 political crisis ; via the expertise of International IDEA, an intergovernmental organization supporting electoral processes worldwide, it supported the use of an Election Risk Management Tool by the State Election Commission in order to anticipate risks and design prevention strategies.
Support to civil society and media are other typical support strategies; SDC trains journalists to provide fact-based information. It promotes a conflict-sensitive approach in media, for example in Mali, which should avoid inflaming already tense situations. It supports civil society organizations, for example during the 2015 elections in Myanmar, in informing citizens about the election process and the significance of broad and peaceful participation. It further supports civil society platforms conducting domestic election observation. This is important to enhance the legitimacy of the election process.
A recommended good practice is, instead of ad hoc contributions, to rather engage on the long term, ideally during the entire election cycle as part of a larger governance/democracy promotion portfolio ; it is particularly important in order to build trust and legitimacy in fragile contexts.
Cambodia: how SDC adapts to political developments
Since 1995, SDC contributes to development in Cambodia especially since the opening of a cooperation office in 2012. It funds programs of a total value of CHF 13 million per year; local governance and citizen participation (LGCP) is one of its three domains of action, endowed with CHF 2.9 million per year until 2021.
SDC’s LGCP program has the objective of contributing to accountable state institutions providing accessible and affordable quality public services and promoting space for dialogue. The supported projects focus on capacity development of parliamentary and sub-national administrations; their ultimate goals are improved service delivery, effective local economic development councils, accountable authorities and in fine a more peaceful society.
After the forced dissolution of the political opposition party in November 2017, SDC decided to cut all support to the election cycle but it wished to stay engaged with adaptations in its LGCP program. Its conflict sensitive approach is now strengthened to ensure that activities do not expose beneficiaries and partners to political risks, but also to make sure funds are not misused for partisan purposes. Programmes implemented through the Royal Government of Cambodia are reduced to a minimum, but still to an extent that allows to keep an open door for policy dialogue and promote Human Rights.
In-depth analysis with various stakeholders including government representatives at national and subnational level showed that if safety measures were cautiously taken, opportunities would outweigh the risks: support for good governance at local level is needed and desired by the Cambodian population.
Thus, SDC reduced its contributions to the decentralization reforms through national authorities and focuses now more on the sub-national level actors. Support to local economic development councils is continued, but with the active involvement of civil society organizations and the private sector in local decision-making bodies. Funding for capacity development of the parliamentary administration will be increasingly linked to international and regional level initiatives; nevertheless, the technical assistance of the Swiss Parliament Services was already suspended in November 2017.