Forum Out to Bolster Electoral Commissions

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By Emma Kakololo WINDHOEK As part of its ongoing process to enhance democratic governance through efficient election management bodies, the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC countries (ECF) with support from the Friedrich-Ebert- Stiftung (FES) is conducting a three-day workshop. The workshop started on Sunday and brings together representatives of all SADC electoral commissions to deliberate on the legal framework under which they function and explore how they could enhance their independence and impartiality. From the workshop, it is expected that members would identify critical elements emanating from the deliberations and explore how they could come up with a framework of common standards that could be used in the SADC Region. Delivering his keynote address, Victor Tonchi, ECF EXCO Chairperson stated the theme of the workshop, “Strengthening the Independence of Electoral Commissions in the SADC Region”, was intentional. He noted that although it could be interpreted differently, within the context of ECF, independence implies impartiality, objectivity and functioning without prejudice. “There are several actors that participate during elections and these include international and local election monitoring as well as election observer groups. The ECF goes beyond that, we seek to assist each other prior, during and after elections. We are not there to observe mistakes and report them. We are there to ensure that we acquire the capacity and skills to minimize mistakes,” he stated. He said because of the elections history in Southern Africa, which was characterised by undemocratic and inhumane systems of government, namely colonialism, single party systems and apartheid, most electoral commissions in the region were relatively new. In addition, he said, the wave of democracy in the SADC region only started taking root towards the end of the 1980’s and early 90’s, coinciding with the end of the cold war. Therefore, he said, ECF efforts to strengthen the independence of electoral institutions in SADC should be seen as part of an ongoing process to enhance democratic governance. Hubert RenÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚© Schillinger, Resident Representative of FES remarked that democracy was a bad political system, except that it was by far the best of all other political systems, which are all worse. “Hence, we have to be thankful that we have it where we have it, and we have to strive to get it where we haven’t got it,” he urged. He went on: “Even when we have it, democracy is like a precious flower or a delicate plant, it needs constant watering, fertilizing, and cultivation by strengthening its institutions – like for instance election management bodies, upholding checks and balances of transparency and accountability and promoting democratic culture and debate.” Without this constant struggle for perfection, he said, democratic political systems easily degenerate into a pure faÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚§ade behind which authoritarian rule could rear its ugly head. He said very often, democracy which was by nature a temporary democratic mandate did not go down well with some people, because once they were in power, “they think that, for all the good they have done in the past, they have acquired a moral right to govern in perpetuity. “And in the unlikely event, that the people, instead of being eternally grateful, show signs of unhappiness with their performance in government and are no longer prepared to renew their mandate, they are not always choosy in the means they cling to power. “And this is a problem, because in democracy, it is the will of the people that must prevail and competition in the political arena must be free and fair, based on rules that are again fair and applied to everybody in the same even-handed manner,” he stressed.

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