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Core Concepts - What Should Electoral Assistance Aim to Achieve?

The DPA-UNDP Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance, revised in 2010, stipulates that the objectives of UN electoral assistance are three-fold:

  • To assist Member States in their efforts to hold democratic elections in accordance with obligations, principles and commitments outlined in universal and regional human rights instruments.
  • To contribute to building, in the recipient country, a sustainable institutional capacity to organize democratic elections that are genuine and periodic and have the full confidence of contesting parties and candidates and the electorate.
  • To reduce the potential for election-related violence.

UNDP helps to advance these goals either by providing technical assistance to specific electoral events, and/or to longer-term electoral systems and processes. Support typically involves fostering the creation of a strong, professional and independent election management body (EMB) and related public institutions, or enhancing the independence and credibility of such institutions if they already exist. UNDP also works with other electoral stakeholders such as the political parties, the media, civil society organizations. 

One definition to keep in mind: The independence of institutions should not be seen in purely structural terms. It also presumes the freedom of institutions to undertake the functions of their mandates. As a former Chief Election Commissioner of India once noted, credible elections require "an election commission which is truly autonomous and fearless."

Types of activities in which UNDP may be involved include, but are not limited to:

  • Support to electoral administration and planning
  • Voter registration
  • Voter and civic education
  • Advice on drafting electoral legislation/regulations
  • Electoral dispute resolution
  • Election budgeting
  • Training of officials
  • Training of candidates and enabling candidacies
  • Capacity development for political parties
  • Compilation of results
  • Procurement of electoral materials
  • Donor coordination / fund mobilization or resources mobilization (including HR or expert)
  • Civil society engagement
  • Training for women candidates and voters

Every two years, the UN Secretary-General issues a report on strengthening the role of the United Nations in elections. The most recent reports are under the Tools in this section. In 2008, the UN General Assembly issued Resolution 62/150 on strengthening the UN’s role. It noted the comprehensive coordination between DPA/EAD and UNDP, as well as DPKO and the Department of Field Support of the Secretariat. The General Assembly requested UNDP to continue its democratic governance assistance programmes, especially to strengthen democratic institutions and links between civil society and governments.

A reference point: the UNDP Strategic Plan
Within the framework of UN electoral support, UNDP assistance should remain connected to the broad principles articulated under the democratic governance section of the UNDP 2008-2013 Strategic Plan. Programmes should seek to:

  • Foster inclusive participation
  • Strengthen accountable and responsive governing institutions
  • Ground democratic governance in international principles

The plan presents outcomes and outputs to be achieved through democratic governance programmes, along with indicators to define UNDP contributions. Outcome 2 is to work towards ensuring that electoral laws, processes and institutions strengthen inclusive participation and professional electoral administration. See the plan’s Addendum 1: Development and Institutional Results Frameworks for more details.

Aid effectiveness and UN coordination
As is the case with all UNDP programmes, electoral assistance initiatives should be devised in line with the aid effectiveness principles articulated in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, Accra Agenda for Action and UN coordination objectives. Since electoral support typically involves multiple international partners working together, UNDP may be called upon to play a coordination role in addition to specific activities it may be managing.

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