May 22, 2024

The significance of increased autonomy for national election observers

Own Correspondent

During a period when the credibility and impact of international election monitoring in Africa is diminishing, and democratic progress in the continent is faltering, civil society organizations are gaining traction in overseeing domestic elections. CSOs have responsibilities that go beyond merely preventing election fraud, controlling civil disobedience, or legitimizing elected officials. Over time, monitoring elections within a country helps to establish and strengthen democratic customs and systems. Domestic observers not only push for changes in laws and policies, and promote citizen involvement in politics, but also hold the government responsible for its actions. It is becoming more and more important for communities to take ownership and lead the way in political transformation in Africa.

A civilian in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) expressed the belief that security in the country will only be achieved if the president collaborates with the people instead of relying on foreign forces. This aligns with the idea of promoting local involvement and grassroots efforts to establish democracy and maintain peace. At present, the ability for CSOs engaged in election monitoring, promoting inclusive societies, and peace advocacy to remain sustainable is at risk due to oppressive political climates and limited resources.

The need for immediate domestic election monitoring.

There is a pressing need to enhance the institutional capabilities of local election observers, as the difficulties in establishing democracy in Africa continue to grow. Efforts to strengthen democracy in Africa are consistently challenged by controversial elections, leading to a decline in public confidence in political systems and procedures in a number of countries on the continent. According to the 2019/2021 Afrobarometer survey of 34 countries, just 42% of Africans feel that elections in their countries actually result in parliament representatives representing the opinions of the voters well. Alternatively, the general belief is that elections do not result in the establishment of responsible democratic institutions, do not bring about a change in leadership, and are not conducted in a free and fair manner. In this setting, civil society organizations’ domestic election monitoring is widely recognized as better equipped to promote democratic governance. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) not only contribute to fostering trust in the fairness of elections and promoting citizen engagement in politics, but they also work to push for changes in laws and institutions.

It is important to prioritize greater focus and support for civil initiatives, especially in the area of domestic election observation. The declining influence and credibility of foreign intervention make it necessary. President Felix Tshisekedi stated at the UN General Assembly in September 2023 that the peacekeeping mission should depart the country in December 2023, a year earlier than the date set by the UN for withdrawal. This is in spite of the countries’ continued readiness for the elections planned for the same month. It is important to emphasize that MONUSCO has made efforts to create a safe and secure environment for elections in the DRC since the transitional elections in 2006. So, if the general opinion holds true, the 2023 elections will not receive the backing of the missions. This will need more involvement from civil society to promote unity in society and guarantee that political engagement, the rights of voters, and the fairness of an election are not obstructed.

The emergence of COVID-19 has also brought attention to weaknesses in the existing election monitoring system. International election monitors ceased their activities in nations like Seychelles and Burundi during the 2020 national elections. This situation necessitated a strong presence of local monitors on the field and for them to take on a more significant responsibility in safeguarding the fairness of their nation’s elections.

Observing domestic elections has produced varied experiences.

Domestic election observers’ experiences differ depending on the specific context in which they are operating on the continent. The observation activities of ELOG in Kenya and YIAGA Africa in Nigeria during the 2022 and 2023 elections, respectively, are distinctly different from those of the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and the Election Resource Center during Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections. In preparation for the 2022 general elections, ELOG dispatched 5,000 observers to monitor pre-election, election day, and post-election activities across all 47 counties.

Their Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) offered an impartial evaluation of the presidential election results, and these results were in line with the official results reported by the electoral management body. In the same vein, YIAGA Africa played a significant role in Nigeria’s election process by providing training and deploying 882 Long Term Observers (LTOs) for the 2023 elections. The organization detected discrepancies that were thought to unfairly exclude certain voters. Out of the 7,500 observers deployed nationwide for the 2023 elections, 41 from the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and the Election Resource Center were taken into custody. In the 2020 Burundi elections, the head of the electoral commission publicly rejected the conclusions of the Catholic Bishops Council during a press conference on May 28, 2020.

During these occurrences, it is important for domestic observer organizations to come together and provide mutual support through regional alliances. These networks allow organizations to exchange knowledge, overcome common obstacles, and adopt proven methods, leading to mutual learning and enhanced performance. One example is the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM) which encourages unity among its members and supports skill development through interactions between peers, workshops, and specific visits within the network.

Additionally, in oppressive political climates, it is crucial to have international pressure and advocacy in place to guarantee the safety and success of domestic observers. Additionally, African inter-governmental organizations must integrate and uphold safety and security protocols within their normative and legal structures to protect the rights and activities of election observer missions. The effectiveness and credibility of observer missions can be enhanced by establishing and enforcing laws that protect them from government interference, as their experiences of insecurity impact their operations.

In summary, it is important to provide domestic observer organizations with sufficient and well-coordinated funding to improve transparency, accountability, and fairness during elections.