Elections are critical to the UN mandate and to UNDP’s democratic governance work. People voice their preferences and choose their representatives through elections, making them a tool for conferring political and institutional legitimacy—or calling it into question. As such, elections need to be transparent, fair and reflective of the will of the people, and popularly perceived as such. External support can help bolster electoral institutions and processes to achieve these goals.
One particular challenge to elections comes from their high-stakes outcomes, in that they are about who wins political office and the mandate to carry forward an agenda for a period of time. This can generate political and social instability, including violence and intimidation, particularly in contexts where there are few other means to access political, social, economic and other resources. Since these conditions can threaten the integrity of an election, conflict-sensitive and cautious external support can be important to counter them. Assistance can also benefit countries undergoing peaceful democratic transitions, and those with fledgling institutions and/or a lack of adequate resources.
The opportunities and risks of elections require the UN to have a well-defined and systematic approach to developing electoral assistance programmes. The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs is the designated focal point for the UN system at large, supported by the Electoral Assistance Division of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA/EAD).
Under the UN framework, electoral assistance has become a significant part of the UNDP democratic governance programme portfolio. Successful electoral assistance experiences have taken place in all regions of the world, across diverse national contexts. Important ingredients in these achievements have included careful preparation, close coordination with partners and within UNDP programme teams, and continued sensitivity to the political environment.
What You'll Learn Here
This first section of the Electoral Assistance Toolkit covers basic definitions you’ll need before considering electoral assistance. It describes the UN and UNDP mandates, and the general aims and types of assistance. You will be introduced to the notion of applying an electoral cycle perspective and linking electoral support to democratic governance as a whole.