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Core Concepts - Electoral Observation: A Limited Role

The UN does not observe elections unless specifically mandated to do so by the General Assembly or Security Council. It generally does not observe elections to which it has provided technical assistance because this constitutes a conflict of interest. It may, however, choose to appoint an independent electoral certification team or electoral expert monitoring team, as has been done in Nepal and Timor-Leste in the late 2000s.
While the UN has been involved in the coordination of international election observers, the current DPA–UNDP Note of Guidance on Electoral Assistance does not encourage this practice as it gives an impression that the UN itself is conducting electoral observation.

If the UN is involved in the coordination of observers, UN DPA Note - Coordination of International Electoral Observers must be adhered to. The Note of Guidance also stipulates that UNDP should keep a low profile in case it provides a coordination service, and not express an opinion on the outcome of the electoral process. Requests for coordinating international observers do not normally require technical and political assessments, particularly if analysis and assessment have already been completed to help prepare for UNDP electoral assistance. Nonetheless, country offices should still notify DPA/EAD of the request and proposed UNDP action.

At the request of the European Commission, UNDP also assists some EU Election Observation Missions (EU EOM). This kind of initiative is somewhat different in scope (see the UN/UNDP Brussels Office Note on Providing Support to EU EOM for more information) but still falls under the UN DPA Note noted above.

Country cases: Indonesia, Cambodia, Ecuador and DRC
Prior to the 2004 elections in Indonesia, UNDP, in cooperation with the Asia Foundation, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), established the International Observers Resource Centre. It facilitated the work of an average of 560 international observers fielded by different embassies and international organizations for each of three elections. Support included providing coordination and mapping geographic coverage between national and international observers, and providing briefings and information. A similar project was implemented in Nepal for the 2007 Constituent Assembly election.

UNDP provided limited training and sensitization of observers from the diplomatic corps for the 2007 Commune Council elections in Cambodia. Technical support for coordinating different electoral observation missions was provided in 2006 in Ecuador, in partnership with the Organization of American States (OAS), Participación Ciudadana and the Q’ellkaj Foundation. During the 2006 electoral process in the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNDP provided a financial pass-through mechanism for an election observers’ project implemented by UNOPS and directly overseen by the national elections steering committee.

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