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2. Electoral Management in Southern Africa

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2. Electoral Management in Southern Africa
By Dr. David Pottie with Prof. Tom Lodge

This paper offers a broad survey of issues related to electoral management in southern Africa.

After a short overview of southern African electoral systems, this paper discusses the institutional framework for administering polls and delimiting electoral boundaries. The paper examines the criteria and values which govern and inform the ways in which these bodies function as well as the various measures which have been adopted to promote fair conduct. Fair elections usually implies equitable treatment of all competitors; in several southern Africa countries public resources are deployed to enable parties to run effective campaigns though the extent to which distribution of such resources is even-handed varies. Broader considerations, which affect democratic culture, are discussed in a subsequent section, including civil rights, the freedom of the media, and the provision of civic education. The high cost of elections in this region makes them alarmingly dependent on externally derived resources, one reason why they continue to attract considerable international attention from observer groups.

Four case studies round off this survey. South Africa represents a level of managerial efficiency and administrative sophistication which reflects resources which few other countries in Africa can hope to command; even so questions can be raised about the financial sustainability of the South African operation. In donor dependent Mozambique politicisation of electoral management has added to the difficulties of conducting polls in an extremely challenging environment. Namibia represents an impressive example of relatively smooth administration using quite limited resources but also illustrates the consequences of delegating the task of addressing disputes to the courts without any serious efforts to mediate conflict more informally. Finally Angola stands as a sad example of the requirement of a minimal degree of commitment to abiding by electoral outcomes by stakeholders before effective electoral management can happen.

Seven key strategies to support political pluralism and multiparty electoral politics in southern Africa:

  1. Independent electoral administration and capacity-building

There is widespread provision for the establishment of independent electoral commissions in the constitutions of SADC countries. However, to be effective, electoral commissions must receive adequate funding, political support and administrative capacity to undertake the most efficient, professional and cost-effective elections possible. Such capacity can be developed through strong commitment of all means of support from national government, from foreign donors, and through the development of a strong and vibrant democratic culture. Electoral commissions should also be encouraged to develop the exchange of information, practices, experiences and technical skills in order to deliver the best possible elections.

2. Code of conduct for political parties

Electoral Commissions, in association with other interests should work with political parties to generate a binding code of conduct for registered political parties. The code of conduct should govern the behaviour of political parties, their candidates and supporters. Such a code, if effectively implemented, can contribute to the sustainability of political tolerance and build legitimacy for the peaceful conduct of election campaigns. The code can be given force through the Electoral Law, enforceable through conflict management committees, the courts, or other dispute resolution mechanisms.

3. Freedom of the press

While all SADC countries are signatories to the Windhoek Declaration they must also strive to examine the best practicable means to ensure freedom of expression and freedom of the press, especially in relation to the electoral process. A free media is an essential tool for the open exchange of political opinion, and for reporting on the election process. The media too should be committed to a code of conduct.

4. Support for civic education

Countries with only recent experience with multiparty politics have a responsibility to ensure that the population understands their democratic rights and duties. Civic education is an essential foundation to the exercise of political rights. Governments, electoral commissions, political parties and non-governmental organisations can all play a role in this regard. Electoral commissions especially can drive the process to ensure that the electorate remains informed about any changes in the electoral system.

5. Public funding and disclosure of party funding

Financial support for multiparty politics extends beyond electoral commissions and includes political parties themselves. Countries should consider some mix of public funding for political parties and a regulatory environment governing private domestic or foreign. For example, foreign donations may be pooled into a publicly administered fund, or else be subject to disclosure (similar regulations should exist for domestic donations).

6. Party liaison committees

Accountable and more transparent electoral administration can contribute to the legitimacy of the electoral results. Ongoing consultation and communication with political parties through liaison committees at national, regional and local level (where applicable) can address issues and potential debates before they become disruptive to the overall election process.

7. Conflict management committees

Similar to party liaison committees, alternative conflict mediation and resolution structures can circumvent recourse to the often expensive and lengthy process of submitting court applications. Dispute resolution through such alternatives can thus bridge the gap that often results between political parties, or between the parties, candidates, individuals and the government or electoral commission.

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