How electoral processes can promote inclusivity and build stronger societies

Exploring similarities and differences between Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Africa's three economic giants - Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia - compared to Jordan and Afghanistan

Ensuring a transparent and credible electoral process is a precondition for democracy and development. It is a denominator of economic growth, eradication of poverty and lasting peace. Nigeria held elections in February, South Africans voted in May, and Ethiopia is preparing for next year’s elections. Jordan and Afghanistan are holding elections in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Jordan continues to play a leading role as an anchor of peace in a fragile region, while Afghanistan continues to pose serious security challenges. Feeling represented, safe to express political views and having ownership of your country’s future are preconditions for a healthy and inclusive society. What lessons can be learnt from these diverse countries on working towards inclusivity through the ballot? 

Key points

  • Elections are a pivotal moment in the political process but also potentially attract violence
  • How to reach women, youth and marginalised groups (internally displaced, people with disabilities) has become a key issue
  • Social media are an urgent emerging issue affecting elections, including incitement to violence

Synopsis

Elections are a core mechanism of political participation. But they also tend to deepen political polarisation, mobilise potentially violent actors and invite manipulation and disinformation. They act as a catalyst for democracy, but may also be a focal point for violence. Electoral processes reflect and deepen broader societal inequalities – between genders, ethnic groups and regions. Organising and managing free and fair elections in democratising divided societies is a challenge involving a variety of domestic and international actors. To prevent electoral processes from deepening structural inequalities and provoking violence requires inclusive and transparent institutions with sufficient capacity to register voters, monitor voting on polling day, and adjudicate post-election disputes. The EU, together with other international partners, supports such institutions and helps strengthen their capacity. It provides a range of technical support services to partner governments, especially those engaged in democratic reform or recovering from armed conflict. The EU also conducts long-term and short-term election observation missions and follows up on the recommendations issued by them. In recent years the EU, together with other election observers, has shifted its attention away from polling day to the entire electoral cycle. Two major structural challenges have become more prominent in recent years as governments strive to organise inclusive elections and involve outside actors. The first is how to ensure that various groups – especially marginalised ones – are meaningfully included in electoral processes and in the broader political process. The second is how to deal with the emerging threat of technologically enabled disinformation, notably on social media. Since electoral processes not only reflect but often deepen societal divisions, the question of how to reach out to various groups and communities and ensure their equal participation in the political process is crucial for the integrity of elections and for the quality of a country’s democracy. For example, countries such as Nigeria, Afghanistan and Jordan have large youth populations, large parts of which are not engaging in politics and may not be open to mobilisation through traditional outreach such as civic lessons in school or political advertising in legacy media. Their continued exclusion from mainstream politics could engender cynicism or, worse, radicalisation. Women are another large group whose participation in the political process is frequently below its numerical strength, even though electoral violence may affect them disproportionately. Empowering citizens, and especially those from core constituencies that are not currently equally included in the political process, to participate in and monitor elections has become a main focus of the EU’s capacity- building work around the world. This includes the promotion of women candidates or the prevention of electoral violence directed against women. A final emerging issue is the rapidly growing use of social media for political mobilisation, including incitement to violence. Since monitoring social media is delicate, the best insurance against their negative effects is an educated, critical- minded population and equitable, participatory institutions that together make democracy more resilient.

Insight

Political and social inequalities tend to spill over into electoral processes. Technocratic solutions are far less promising in tackling these effects than resilient democratic institutions.

Organised by

Speakers

Marielle Sandrine Petroni
Programme Manager
European Commission - DG for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
Chiara Adamo
Head of unit
European Commission - DEVCO - Human Rights, Gender Equality and Democratic Governance
Zuhair Abdel Qader Hussein Abu Faris
Vice Chairman
Independent Election Commission of Jordan
Christian Joly
Political Advisor
European External Action Service (EEAS)
Glenton Mashinini
Chairperson
Electoral Commission of South Africa
Anthonia Okoosi Taiye Simbine
Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture - Nigeria
Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria
Samar Khaled Subhi Haj Hasan
Commissioner
Independent Electoral Commission of Jordan
Nabila Musleh
Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs - Afghanistan
Ministry of Women's Affairs Afghanistan