As part of preventive diplomacy, Professor Miranda Greenstreet, the Co-Chair of the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO), has urged ECOWAS to strengthen election management bodies to effectively cope with elections in their respective countries.
She also urged election managers in Africa to demonstrate the highest level of professionalism in the discharge of their mandate.
She said globally, electoral commissions, international institutions and non-governmental organizations worked relentlessly to guarantee that elections met crucial international standards, and that every citizen’s vote was valued and accepted.
Prof Greenstreet made the call on Monday in Accra at the opening of a five-day training course on election management.
The programme, organized by the Legon Centre for International Affairs and Diplomacy (LECIAD), in collaboration with the ECOWAS and supported by the European Union, is being attended by 17 electoral managers from the sub-region.
The programme seeks to enhance participants’ knowledge on human rights principles underpinning elections, and to enhance participants’ awareness of the role of elections as a conflict resolution mechanism.
It also seeks to equip participants with skills for conflict-sensitive election management, enhance the skills of participants, and boost their confidence with regard to engaging with political parties, and to enrich the communication skills of participants, especially for media engagement.
“At a time when the world’s attention is taken by events happening outside the outside the continent, particularly connected to the real threat of international terrorism, this course comes at the right moment to shift our focus on Africa and our sub-region where past and forthcoming elections continue to define our trajectories for peace and stability,” Prof Greenstreest observed.
“Over two past decades ago, at the dawn of the rebirth of democracy, we in the sub-region consider elections as a sine qua non for democracy – a platform to ensure that the collective will of the people is translated into governance,” she added.
She observed that there was a broad international consensus that elections were the cornerstone of every democracy.
Prof Greenstreet said, however, it was not enough to carry out elections to be considered a real democracy.
“There are essential principles that have to be fulfilled. Only free, fair, equal, safe and consistent elections which take place in a peaceful environment and put citizens at the heart of the electoral process allow a democracy to be truly representative.
“Overtime, countries in the sub-region attracted global attention for flawed elections. Images of stuffed ballot boxes, snatched ballot boxes and predetermined election results that completely disregarded the mandate of the people, characterized elections within the sub-region,” Prof Greenstreet said.
“Thankfully, these challenges are eroding as more African countries strive to hold credible elections; the result of which reasonably reflect the will of the people,” she stated.
She said: “Today we have also come to realize, that in addition to strengthening our democratic foundation, a credible election is also a sine qua non for peace and stability”.
She said within the sub-region and indeed the wider continent, many conflicts had been precipitated by disputed election results, adding that, consequently, within the last two decades, the sub-regional organization had focused much of its efforts on mediating and resolving conflicts.
“In Ghana, the decision to contest the results of the last general elections gifted us with law and order, yet even the ardent optimist must have realized how close the country came to the brink of electoral conflict,” Prof Greenstreet said.
She said as the payoffs from electoral victories expanded, contests for political positions had intensified across the sub-region; stating that “this trend is engendering the widening of the responsibilities of election management bodies by requiring such bodies to the tread the fine line of excellence in the management of national elections.
She urged electoral management bodies in the sub-region to set up legal departments to enhance their institutional capacity for dealing with legal issues relating to election management.
Prof Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, the Director of LECIAD, lauded the successful and peaceful conduct of democratic elections in Nigeria, Tanzania, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
She said these achievements had not been without efforts, adding that “in fact, even though it is not always publicly acknowledged, the evolution of the fortunes of our electoral systems have been influenced by research and training.”
She said typically, such research into institutional structures, ethno-political culture, literacy, media accountability, civic education and their influences on elections had engendered the documentation and application of best practices for elections in some cases.
“In other cases, it is still work-in-progress as academia and policy makers work with practitioners continually to explore avenues for, and walk the tight rope towards, ensuring the conduct of credible elections in Africa,” she stated.
Mr Eyesan Okorodudu, the Head of the Democracy and Good Governance at ECOWAS, announced that the ECOWAS Commission would be studying the electoral laws of member-states, in order to come out with a main electoral law framework for the sub-region. GNA