Core Concepts - Other Electoral Cycle Opportunities
The EMB will likely be a key partners and beneficiary of UNDP’s electoral assistance, offering possibilities to develop capacities at different points in the electoral cycle. At the same time, other elements of the election process may also benefit from capacity development. Support can be geared towards strengthening democracy and establishing an environment conducive to free and fair elections.
Some typical possibilities for UNDP capacity development assistance include electoral law reform, voter registration systems or methodologies, voter education, public outreach and media, political party support, electoral safety and security, inclusion of persons with disabilities and electoral observation.
Electoral Law Reform
UNDP often provides policy and technical advice on constitutional reforms or drafting, or laws related to elections, political parties, EMBs, codes of conduct, electoral procedures, and so on. Legal reforms can open opportunities to increase inclusion, and adopt cost-effective and efficient electoral systems. See Key Considerations and Challenges to Electoral Law Reform.
Voter registration is one of the most complex, time-consuming and expensive operations of electoral administration, involving the collection of data on all adult citizens. It can be controversial because it entails defining voter eligibility. In some countries, voter registration may coincide with an electoral boundary delimitation process. UNDP programmes in this area should be grounded in the principles of fairness, inclusion and transparency. See Key Considerations and Challenges regarding Voter Registration.
Civic and Voter Education
Civic and voter education encourage citizens to participate in democratic processes, and can promote peace during elections. They are often treated as secondary activities, especially when resources are constrained. Early needs identification is critical to ensure that necessary funds are mobilized in time. Civic and voter education may be particularly relevant in reaching marginalized groups, engaging young people and assisting electoral reforms. See Key Considerations and Challenges to Civic and Voter Education.
Public Outreach and Media Communications
Public outreach, normally conducted by the EMB but also by the national government and other stakeholders, can promote civic and voter education, help ensure safety and security, and inform people about electoral issues. Regular and broadly available updates increase transparency and foster the credibility of the electoral process.
In working with the media, it is important first to evaluate the scope of media rights, freedoms and capacities. Media support projects can then be oriented around improving the abilities of local journalists to report independently and constructively on the democratic process. As longer term initiatives, these should be planned and implemented far in advance of election day.
Another form of public outreach and media communications involves the UN itself in terms of presenting its electoral assistance programme. This starts with a clear, concise mission statement approved by all involved UN agencies, under the guidance of DPA/EAD. Specific mandates of the UN, other international organizations and national stakeholders should be defined, and an agreed short narrative should describe the electoral process from the UN’s perspective. It may also be relevant to coordinate with other donors to share information and establish consistent messages. Agreed messages can be used to frame talking points for interactions with the public and programme partners.
Designated UN officials—normally not more than two or three—should be the voice of the UN in speaking to the press, while press relations should be managed by national UN communication teams, with support from international UN communications teams if needed. A system for regular briefings may be important in the run-up to and immediate aftermath of elections. Providing regular public updates with accurate information may be an effective way of preventing misunderstandings that can hinder the UN’s effectiveness or even the electoral process itself.
See Key Considerations and Challenges for Public Outreach and Media Relations.
Country cases: Cambodia
In Cambodia, UNDP supported the 2003 and 2008 National Assembly elections and the 2007 Commune Council elections with an initiative known as “Equity News.” It sought to ensure the equitable coverage by state news media of political parties during electoral periods. Parties were allotted percentages of airtime, during which “Equity News” covered whatever they did or said that might be newsworthy. Parties were allotted time based on criteria that included results from the previous election and current representation in the legislature. In 2007, “Equity News” was extended into an "Equity Weekly" installment, intended to function year round.
Political Party Support
Political parties can play essential roles in representing diverse interests in a competitive political arena, but as political entities, they must be approached with care. Understanding the political environment and the role of political parties in it is the very first consideration in determining whether or not UNDP should engage parties as part of electoral assistance. UNDP should avoid activities that might be perceived in any manner as the UN siding with a particular political faction.
Possible initiatives under an electoral assistance programme might be dialogues among parties on electoral reform, the integration of human development and gender equality principles into party platforms, capacity development, improvements in internal operations, and targeted work with women and youth. See Key Considerations and Challenges for Political Party Support, and the UNDP Handbook on Working with Political Parties.
Electoral Safety and Security
Capacities to maintain security ensure that smoothly run technical processes are not disrupted by threats of violence or conflict. Security needs and measures vary between post-conflict and more stable countries, but in both cases, the potentially volatile atmosphere of an election can spark tensions and increase security risks. Possible capacity development programmes could address facets of security management, risk management and mitigation, information sharing, and building relationships between security forces and the EMB. In a number of post-conflict countries, such as DRC, Haiti, Sudan and Sierra Leone, the UN electoral assistance projects have included a significant element on training of police and security forces on their roles and responsibilities during election periods.
Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities
People with disabilities may face physical and cultural barriers to political participation, such as hindrances in accessing information or polling places. Increasing capacities for participation may involve initiatives such as legal reform, revised guidelines for polling places, and support for advocates for people with disabilities. See the Checklist of Considerations and Challenges for Promoting Access by Persons with Disabilities.
As noted in the previous section of this Toolkit on Electoral Observation, the UN has a limited role in this arena. UNDP activities mostly involve coordinating international and/or domestic observers. This process can be looked at as complementing electoral assistance across the electoral cycle, however, particularly when observers’ recommendations support electoral reform and/or provide a platform for future assistance. Observers in turn may benefit from experiences gained through electoral assistance.
For domestic observation efforts, a component of training or logistical support can be provided. See also the Checklist of Key Considerations and Challenges for Supporting Electoral Observation.