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Core Concepts - The UN/UNDP Electoral Mandates

The General Assembly, in Resolution 46/137, designated specific mandates for electoral assistance for different parts of the UN system. Without exception, these are the starting points for all UN and UNDP programmes linked to elections. Since elections can have political implications, the UN system of managing requests for assistance must be closely followed. The process normally begins with an initial request, followed by consultation and a decision on how to respond. A variety of other UN actors may also be involved.

Initial requests
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs is the designated Focal Point for election-related activities, supported by the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA/EAD). The division ensures overall consistency in the UN approach to elections by handling requests for assistance, channeling requests to the appropriate office or programme, keeping a roster of international electoral experts, ensuring contact with regional and intergovernmental organizations, and maintaining the organization’s institutional memory.

The UN provides electoral assistance in response to i) a decision of the Security Council or General Assembly establishing a mandate for the UN to provide electoral assistance; and/or ii) a request for electoral assistance from an appropriate national authority. A request for electoral assistance can be registered several ways, such as through a Country Programme Document (CPD) or Country Programme Action Plan (CPAP), or an official letter from the government of a Member State or territory.

In cases where electoral support is anticipated from a country or territory for the first time, from a country or territory where the UN has not provided electoral assistance in a long time, or from a country or territory where electoral support is not indicated in the CPD and/or CPAP, the appropriate national authority (Government or electoral authorities) should send an official request for assistance to the UN Focal Point. If that request is sent to UNDP, as it is in many cases, it must be forwarded to the Focal Point and DPA/EAD for an official response. A copy of the request should also be sent to the relevant Regional Bureau and the Democratic Governance Group (DGG) of the Bureau for Development Policy (BDP).

Making a decision
DPA/EAD identifies the political factors that affect UN electoral assistance and potential political ramifications. In doing so, it consults with the UN/UNDP Resident Coordinator/Resident Representative within a requesting country, as well as with the relevant divisions of DPA and UNDP at headquarters.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs then decides if the UN should be involved and under what conditions. These decisions take into account whether there is a clear need for UN assistance, whether it will improve electoral practices, whether political actors support international assistance, and whether UN norms will be respected.
If DPA/EAD determines that UN involvement is warranted, the Under-Secretary-General conveys this decision in writing to the initial requestor for assistance, with a copy to the UNDP Country Office.

As per the 2010 DPA-UNDP Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance (or simply, the Note of Guidance), clearance from DPA/EAD is always required before UNDP provides any kind of electoral assistance, after which UNDP takes the system lead in designing and implementing technical assistance in non-peacekeeping/political mission contexts. Broadly speaking, the division of labor between DPA and UNDP is as follows: the Focal Point plays a political and normative role to determine whether the UN should be associated with a given electoral process in a Member State or territory and to give the broad parameters of how, and UNDP plays an implementation role as a major provider of technical electoral assistance on behalf of the UN system.

Electoral assistance involves both operational support in the short-term to election events and support to longer-term processes such as capacity development. While the goal of all electoral assistance is to build national capacity, this is not always possible in the immediate term before an election event, when electoral administrators are consumed with the task of delivering an election. 

Who else is involved?
Other UN actors engaged in electoral assistance or related activities include: the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the UN Volunteers (UNV), UN Women, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

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