WFD launches new Strategy at 25th Anniversary Conference

On 12 and 13 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new strategy to strengthen democracy across a growing global network at a conference marking 25 years of WFD activity.

The strategy commits the Foundation, sponsored by the UK Government, to expand the remit of its programmes – working across a wider range of institutions, processes, and themes – to help reform-minded actors and institutions in developing countries to transform their own democratic practices.

Democracy UK: Global Values in an Uncertain World

WFD was founded in 1992 in a period of optimism about the prospects for democracy in the post-Soviet world. Twenty-five years later, the challenges to democratic values have evolved and, on the 25th anniversary of WFD, the conference focused on what lessons the world is learning about sustaining democratic change when democratic freedoms are being squeezed.

Almost 200 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas took part in the event, held in the Foreign Office and in Parliament in London, which was opened by a video message from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and keynote speeches by:

  • Mark Field, Minister of State – Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Liz McInnes, Shadow Minister – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Hanna Hopko, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – Parliament of Ukraine
(Video: Message from Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, opens the WFD conference.)

Panel discussions chaired by Baroness D’Souza, Dame Margaret Hodge and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson heard interventions from Wafa Bani Mustafa, Chair of Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Dr Bronwen Manby (London School of Economics), Samson Itodo (Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement), Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Hakim Benchamach, Speaker of the House of Councillors of Morocco, Nikola Dimitrov, Foreign Minister of Macedonia and Alina Rocha Menocal (Overseas Development Institute).

The results of two days of engagement on the themes of democracy and development include:

  • The launch of a new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 which will guide the development of WFD and expand our range of work to cover electoral assistance and enhanced partnership work with civil society (building on parliamentary and political party support).
  • The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which will help strengthen electoral processes in Africa.
  • Renewed partnerships with long-standing and new partners including the UK Government (FCO and DFID), the UK parliaments, the Parliaments of Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, the Government of Macedonia, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), BBC Media Action and others.
(Photo: Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP from Jordan addresses the WFD conference on 12 September.)

WFD’s New Strategic Framework 2017-2022

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – will remain a central part of the Foundation’s mission. Following nearly three years of expansion, WFD is now delivering parliamentary programmes in over thirty countries across Africa, Europe, MENA, Asia, and Latin America, and political party programmes in dozens more.

Recognising parliaments and political parties are only part of the picture and institutional strengthening is critical but rarely sufficient to transform political systems. Lasting change requires a wide range of actors to overcome significant obstacles – political, institutional, technical, logistical, and financial – to achieve their goals.

As part of WFD’s new strategy, the Foundation intends to engage more directly with civil society and electoral and other independent institutions. WFD will help them strengthen their skills and partner with other institutions to achieve greater transparency and accountability, more credible and inclusive elections, improved policy making, citizen participation and empowerment, more inclusive representation.

Elections

In a side event during the conference, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme. The new partnership established a formal commitment to collaborate through information-sharing and development of key projects concerning Africa.

Recognising elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and trust, WFD and EISA agree there are still many challenges to overcome. The partnership will look at:

  • Providing immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions;
  • Developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process,
  • Building the ability to conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability.
(Photo: Chair of the WFD Board of Governors, Sir Henry Bellingham, Chief Executive, Anthony Smith and Executive Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Denis Kadima sign the Memorandum of Understanding.)

The Future of Democracy Support

With over 40 democracy assistance and development organisations in attendance, the second day of conference discussed the future of democracy support and provided feedback on the new WFD strategy.

Organised around six different themes (accountability and transparency, youth participation and leadership, security and stability, women’s political empowerment, political parties and elections), a ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ invited experts to highlight key challenges and ideas within these themes and the impact on broader democracy assistance.

Presentations were given on:

  • Political Parties – by Kate Osamor, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking on behalf of all UK political parties working with WFD.
  • Security and Stability – by Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary General of European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA) and Chair of the European Partnership for Democracy Board.
  • Women’s Political Empowerment – by Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women
  • Youth Participation and Leadership – by Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
  • Accountability and Transparency – by James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning, BBC Media Action
  • Elections – by Denis Kadima, Executive Director of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)

From promoting a ‘universal’ notion of democracy, to integrating IT professionals into electoral support, the complete list of challenges, actions and ideas will inform the implementation of WFD’s Strategic Framework and provide a starting point for increased strengthening of effective, multi-party democracy around the world.

Conference proceedings

(Photo: Delegates discuss outcomes from the ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ in a parliamentary committee style session.)
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WFD launches new partnership for electoral assistance in Africa

On 12 September 2017, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme during a side event to the Democracy UK conference marking 25 years since the establishment of the Foundation.

WFD’s new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 outlines the organisation’s focus on building of partnerships with leading implementers in the democracy and governance field. It also expands WFD’s programmatic focus to include strengthening electoral institutions, contributing to more credible, inclusive and peaceful elections. The partnership with EISA reinforces WFD’s strategic commitments by establishing a formal commitment to collaborate through information sharing and development of key projects in the region.

Both organisations recognise that elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and credibility but agree there are still many challenges to overcome. In particular, there is need for: immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions; developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process, including the ability conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability. Through their new partnership, WFD and EISA intended to jointly fundraise and develop regional initiatives.

EISA is the African continent’s leading electoral support organisation. It was established in 1996 to promote credible elections, participatory democracy, human rights culture and the strengthening of governance institutions for the consolidation of democracy in Africa. The organisation has grown significantly since its founding and now support selection management bodies, political parties, parliaments and local observers across the continent. EISA is a valuable support to regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), providing capacity building and advice on regional election monitoring activities.

Signing the MoU, Executive Director of EISA Denis Kadima, said: “EISA anticipates that this agreement will enable the two organisations to carry out joint initiatives toward the strengthening of political organisations and the enhancement of electoral and political processes at local, national, regional and global levels for the advancement and deepening of democracy.”

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WFD Training for UK election observers

(Above: An election observer on the EU mission to Ghana in December captures women’s votes being recorded with ink)

Westminster Foundation for Democracy invites you to participate in election observation training in June 2017.

Two separate trainings will be organised for short-term and long-term observers in London (at Artillery House, 11-19 Artillery Row London, SW1P 1RT).
• A two-day short-term observer (STO) training will take place on Monday 5 and Tuesday 6 June 2017. This is suitable for people who have not participated in short-term election observation before or who have participated in 1-2 STO missions.
• A three-day long-term observer (LTO) training will take place on Wednesday 7 to Friday 9 June 2017. This is suitable for people who have been an STO on a minimum of 2 missions or who have participated in 1-2 LTO missions.

WFD will engage two international and well-reputed trainers, and these trainings will be in collaboration and according to the training methodology of Election Observation and Democratic Support (EODS), the training body for EU EOMs.

The cost of these trainings is £150 per day, therefore £300 for the two-day STO training and £450 for the three-day LTO training.

WFD will NOT cover any costs for transportation, accommodation and visas or make the necessary arrangements. Lunch and two coffee breaks will be provided each day.
If you would like to apply, please download and return a completed STO application form or LTO application form to election.observation@wfd.org by Friday 21 April 2017 at 17:00 GMT.

Please note that WFD will only contact successful applicants and this will be by 28 April 2017 COB.

Queries related to  the training will be  answered via email only from:  election.observation@wfd.org – unfortunately due to the number of requests we are unable to respond to applicants via telephone.

(Below: An election observer monitoring the situation in Guinea in 2015)
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Reflections of an election observer: A view from Uzbekistan

By Mark Pascoe, Short Term Observer for OSCE election observation mission to Uzbekistan

As an electoral administrator myself, I currently work as Electoral Registration Manager at the London Borough Hackney, I always find it fascinating to discover the differences in electoral systems the world over. The trip to Uzbekistan to observe the Presidential election was my second opportunity to work as a Short Term Observer (STO) on an overseas Election Observation Mission following the 2015 mission to the Parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan.

The election was called following the death of Islam Karimov in September. Karimov was the only President that independent Uzbekistan had known, having held power since leading the country through independence in 1991, following the downfall of the Soviet Union. The leading candidate, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, had been swiftly appointed as Acting President and had held the office of Prime Minister since 2003.

In Tashkent we were given detailed and insightful briefings by the mission’s core team on the political context, electoral administration and the legal framework amongst other things. We also met our STO partners which is always the first indicator of how successful your election day will be!

As an observer you never know where in the country you will be sent, but it’s probably fair to say I got lucky in being deployed to Samarkand – one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia and famously located on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking East and West.

Despite being advised in the briefings that the media would be very interested in us it still came as a surprise when a TV camera crew recorded us stepping off the train in Samarkand station. The morning became even more surreal when the same crew reappeared at our hotel to film us checking in. We were given a briefing on the region by our Long Term Observers (LTOs) who would be managing us whilst in Samarkand and met our drivers and interpreters.

(Above: A polling station in Uzbekistan)

On E-day we were up and away from our hotel shortly after 4am, proof if any were necessary that election observation is no holiday, and we arrived at our first polling station shortly before 5am. Notwithstanding the early hour the adrenaline was flowing and I even gave a brief television interview half an hour before polls opened. As the clock struck six a CD player blasted out the Uzbek national anthem as we stood to attention before the doors were opened just a few moments later than they should have been. As a mark of respect, the eldest resident in the area headed the queue and was first to cast his ballot.

Most polling stations were located in schools or colleges and we visited a number of technical institutes dedicated to a multitude of disciplines from music to engineering. Polling was largely conducted in an orderly fashion aside from at one school which was clearly too small to cope with the number of electors and voters stood five deep at the tables waiting for the ballot papers, while we made use of any space we could find to observe proceedings. Thankfully the mood remained calm although it’s probably fair to say that the chairman of the station was rather flustered.

We were warmly welcomed everywhere we went and the polling staff were co-operative. The highlight of my day was seeing the look of sheer shock on a young man’s face as I tried out a few words of Uzbek, as he exclaimed ‘you speak Uzbek?!’ Sadly I had to explain that my grasp of the language extended to little beyond ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ but I’m sure that for a moment he believed I was fluent. This was closely followed by a brief discussion about the EU referendum with an inquisitive polling station chairman.

As polls closed we settled into a rural school hall for the count, which in Uzbekistan is carried out within the polling stations themselves. The way the count is conducted is often the most fascinating part of an election day. As an observer, the air of the unknown is also unnerving as you face the possibility of spending much of the night following the count and the tabulation, having already been up for a very long time. On this occasion I was in bed by 1am, a mere 21 and a bit hours after I awoke. That was not all, however, as my partner and I were up again at 5am to return to the tabulation centre to await the results.

Whilst the overall conduct of the election left a lot to be desired and the political situation in the country even more so, it was a pleasure to visit Uzbekistan and be a small part of the process. I hope that the government will take on the recommendations made by OSCE and work towards a stronger democracy for the country.

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Shaping democracy: Update from WFD’s openDemocracy debate

In February 2016 Westminster Foundation for Democracy launched our editorial partnership with openDemocracy with the goal of seeking to encourage a discussion about democracy assistance.

From torture in Georgia to corruption in Mongolia, a range of issues have arisen from the debate since our last update in June. Here’s a quick overview of the direction the debate has taken…

Mari Valdur, previously of SOAS and currently on the Doctoral Programme in Anthropology at the University of Helsinki, shines a light on some of the realities for citizens living in transitioning democracies. With the spotlight on Mongolia, the role of corruption and how this shapes citizens’ perceptions on what democracy can bring was analysed.

“While people say it’s very nice to have democracy, the reality is that [our] salaries are among the lowest in the world. The government provides very minimal services to citizens.”

WFD is proud of the support we have given to the Georgian Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, tasked with reporting on the torture violations exposed in Georgian prisons by civil society and international NGOs. Mairi Mackay, Senior Editor at openDemocracy, met with Eka Beselia, Chair of the Committee and former public defender, to discuss the systematic torture taking place in Georgia’s prison system before 2012.

“After that, [the] repression [started]. I remember when I met the prisoners, they had always been tortured. We defenders could not help [them], because this happened everywhere, it was a systematic programme.”

In the most recent piece, Bram Dijkstra, policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, introduces the idea of election observation and the weight international organisations hold in pushing for compliance with international standards.

“Foreign donors must pay attention to the rapid release of the rule of law – and the EU should lead them. The EU, together with its member states, is Zambia’s biggest donor of foreign aid, a major trade partner, and maintains regular political dialogue with Zambian authorities.”

If you want to respond to any of these articles, get in touch by emailing mairi dot mackay @ opendemocracy.org.

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Young people need democracy – and democracy needs young people

(Above: Social media training with Youth Ambassadors from the East African Legislative Assembly)

Well-functioning democracies can help young people tackle the biggest problems they face – and Westminster Foundation for Democracy is working to help them do so.

But across all kinds of democracies, the disconnect between young people and those that represent them seems to be growing.

Just look at the recent EU referendum vote in Britain. Despite being a decision which would impact on young people’s future for decades to come, fewer people aged between 18 and 24 turned out to vote than did those aged over 65.

Across the Atlantic, both the Democrat and Republican parties have seen popular anti-establishment candidates driven in part by dissatisfied young voters.

And in the Middle East and Africa, young people out of work are demanding to know why youth unemployment is not being tackled – and increasingly using social media to make their dissatisfaction heard.

Young people need effective and inclusive governance because policies in areas like education, climate change, healthcare and job security will have a fundamental impact on their futures. The young face huge debts, inadequate services and a planet whose natural resources are quickly running out. Engaging in politics is key to ensuring that what they care about is addressed.

At the heart of much of WFD’s programming is an effort to involve young people. Their representation and involvement in the political process lies at the core of an effective democracy.

So this International Youth Day we wanted to highlight some of the ways we’re supporting young people’s engagement in politics. Here are five examples which show what WFD does for young people around the world.

(Above: Africa Liberal Network at London Youth Academy 2016)

Political party youth networks

Youth engagement features prominently across the work of all the political parties whose programmes are supported by WFD.

From the Labour Party support to young social democrats in Moldova to the Conservative Party development of the International Young Democrat Union, long-term efforts are being made to train the next generation of political activists.

Supporting and developing the skills of young people to play an active and effective role in party politics, decisions, and representation at local, national and international levels is fundamental to political party youth networks.

Take the Liberal Democrats support to the Democratic Alliance’s Young Leaders Programme in South Africa. This year they want to build on their previous success, by cultivating a new generation of emotionally intelligent and politically astute leaders within the Democratic Alliance and contributing to South Africa’s political future.

Children’s rights are human rights

Young people can be excellent advocates for change. When given the right encouragement, they can be shown how to engage with parliament and be real champions for progress on human rights.

Civil society organisations supported by WFD’s Macedonia programme are seeking legislative change on a range of issues which affect young people. They’re seeking better child marriage laws and legislation outlawing discrimination in educational institutions.

By showing young people how to achieve change by getting involved in changing legislation that impacts on them, WFD is raising awareness amongst young people in Macedonia about their rights.

An active civil society which can lobby parliament effectively to achieve changes in legislation will also show young people it’s possible to get involved in politics outside of political parties.

(Above: Ben Jones participating in the EU election observation in Guinea)

Training the next generation of election observers

Ensuring elections take place without corruption or manipulation is a fundamental part of any democracy.

WFD wants its cohort of observers to be truly representative of all parts of society, which is why we’re so committed to encouraging young people to be involved in this process.

It was great to see the level of participation from young people at WFD’s training, held in January 2016, on election observation methodology.

Ben Jones , one of WFD’s youngest election observers has participated in missions from Gabon to Serbia, and found the training in January extremely useful. He now wants to share the principles he learnt at the training with the election observation organisation he works with, AEGEE, who are committed to empowering young Europeans to make a direct personal contribution to democracy as election observers.

Advocating for Iraqi children’s future

Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s support for Dar Al- Khebra Organisation (DKO), a think-tank based in Baghdad, has led to numerous policy proposals being put forwards which had the promise of helping young people, from legislative ideas protecting orphans to proposals to improve the country’s national curriculum.

One promising policy change now submitted for consideration within the Iraqi Education Ministry is a legislative amendment which would finance a major push to improve Iraq’s schools infrastructure.

This potential change in policy has not yet occurred – yet by influencing the Council of Representatives and the executive, the WFD-supported DKO is helping improve representation of young people’s interests.

Our new programming in the country works to support the country’s Anti-Corruption Commissions, which will also help its representative institutions better represent the interests of Iraq’s youth.

Engaging Youth Ambassadors with the East Africa Legislative Assembly

Understanding how young people communicate is key to getting them more involved in politics – especially in the context of rapid growth in social media.

The commitment of the East Africa Legislative Assembly to reach out to citizens, especially the young, has led it to seek to modernise its approach to communications with WFD’s support.

Our programme trained EALA Youth Ambassadors on the importance of social media and how this can be used for three-way interaction between civil society organisations, citizens and the Assembly.

Videos and a new website accompanied the training in a bid to increase knowledge amongst young people about what the Legislative Assembly could do for them.

Young people bring an enthusiasm for innovation and change where communications technology is concerned. This should inspire politicians to connect through the channels that are the most effective.

This is exactly what has happened at the East African Legislative Assembly. It’s the kind of change which WFD, committing to improving the representation and engagement of young people around the world, is delighted to have helped bring about.

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Blog: Democracy strengthening after the EU referendum

WFD’s CEO Anthony Smith blogs about his initial thoughts on the EU referendum – and what it means for the UK’s contribution to democracy strengthening. 

The past week has been an emotional, as well as a political, rollercoaster across the UK, including inside WFD.  On both sides of the debate there has been surprise, concern, anger, and optimism at some point since the voting started on Thursday. There has been an outpouring of perceptive analysis about the result, much of it very relevant to the challenges that WFD tries to help our partners to address, including how important it is for political leaders to listen to all parts of society, and how to manage political campaigns responsibly.

WFD’s Governors have played an active part in that public debate, and our staff – EU nationals included – have held intensive private debates.  One week on, we are focused on the future, and we are clear that WFD’s role in sharing Britain’s democratic experience will be more important than ever, in all parts of the world.  The global challenges to stability and security have not changed and the support that WFD can provide will remain relevant.  Our work to strengthen democratic practice has always been based on national or sub-national legislatures and political parties and on the diversity of the UK’s systems, with four nations, four parliaments and a capacity to adapt and respond to political, economic and social change that is possibly unmatched in the world.

It is too early to know what the detailed implications of Britain’s exit from the EU will be on our EU funding but the fact is that in any case we will continue to work closely with our European partners.  We share with them a vision and a determination to invest in democracy and to share the lessons, good and bad, that we have learned together over centuries.  This is a time for WFD to support an enhanced British contribution to democracy strengthening and we intend to rise to that challenge over the months and years to come.

Photo: Abi Begum

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WFD shares tricks of the trade with UK election observers

The best election observers, according to one of WFD’s trained and recruited observers, “are the ones who believe in the work that they do”. We couldn’t agree more.

WFD aims to recruit observers who see elections as the basis for legitimate governments, and want to strengthen this process. Election observation rests on a respect for the democratic process, human rights and the rule of law.

That is certainly the view of Ben Jones, a Cabinet Office employee whose background in human rights and governance acted as a motivation for him to participate in our election training on the methodology used for EU election observation and democratic support.

The training and our regular recruitment for Election Observation Missions (EOM) demonstrate WFD’s commitment to ensuring the best quality people have the skills to become the next generation of election observers.

But what were the main skills taken from the training?

Sue Trinder, who has been a short-term observer ten times and a long-term observer twice, emphasised the importance of working as a united team.

On a long-term mission, when you can be working closely with your partner for over 30 days, she said teamwork is crucial to achieving your objectives and contributing effectively to the mission.

Her advice to potential observers is to use the opportunity to “think about what we can learn from each other, how we can work together and what synergies there are”.

Ben Jones agreed. “In addition to the technical aspects of the role of the LTO there was a heavy focus on the interpersonal aspects,” he said.

He highlighted the emotional as well as the technical sides to election observation. The success of a long-term election mission, Ben suggested, is dependent on “whether you can develop key relationships effectively”.

Participants on the training course had a wealth of experience amongst them already, but found it useful to have the opportunity to hone these skills through practical demonstrations – whilst learning from each other about their backgrounds and motivations for getting involved.

Joan Pearce, who has chosen to spend her retirement contributing to the process of free and fair elections, shared her experience monitoring elections in Macedonia.

Despite the demanding nature of the work, “it really gives you an opportunity to get to know a country and people in a way that you couldn’t possibly do just by visiting”, she said.

The value of election observation in the countries where it is needed is clear and the experience it provides observers is transformational, but it is important as Ben told me “to just remember why you are doing it”.

Joan recalled being struck by her surprise at just how different the electoral process is compared to in the UK, particularly with regards to what happens when things go wrong.

The “difference is how [discrepancies are] dealt with, if it is followed up properly and if proper remedies are found,” she said.

Sometimes these differences can be overwhelming; Sue recalled meeting observers who had completed their first mission and then decided they would prefer not to repeat the experience.

That’s why a real commitment to the democratic values WFD and other likeminded organisations like the EU and OSCE/ODIHR is essential.

Observers, Sue warned, “do have to have a certain amount of resilience” as well as “a curiosity and a willingness to experience things you wouldn’t normally”.

Doing so can be very rewarding. As Ben says, it’s “a privilege to be able to contribute something positive to the lives of people who are often a lot less well off than we are in the UK”.

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Patience, diplomacy, a cool head: What you need to become an election observer

Dominic Howell was one of the WFD election observers seconded to the EU Election Observation Mission in October 2015 for Tanzania’s presidential, parliamentary and council elections. He’s written to us about his experiences there and what drives him to work as an election observer:

Until last year, when I moved to work full-time on democracy promotion, I had an unusual motivation for my election observation work. I was the Head of Politics and a teacher of History at Merchant Taylors’ School just outside London. My election observation trips to far-flung (usually ex-Soviet) places allowed my students to mislead themselves into thinking that I was a part-time spy, providing the side-benefit of making it much easier for me to keep order in the classroom!

That was of course not the main reason I became an observer. As part of my studies for a Masters in International Relations at Cambridge, I wrote my dissertation on foreign democracy support. This gave academic confirmation of my intuitive sense that like many other human rights, democracy doesn’t just happen organically in our modern world. It needs nurturing, which sometimes requires external support, encouragement and constructive criticism. I am delighted to play a small part in that process through OSCE and EU Election Observation Missions (EOMs) around the world.

I would heartily recommend being an observer; it is an excellent and worthwhile way of seeing parts of the world in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise experience, and more importantly, playing a role in the maintenance and extension of democracy. It does, though, require a great deal of patience and diplomacy, and can be in some fairly tough environments. It is certainly not a holiday, and you never know where in the country you will be sent. You need to be adaptable to different and sometimes fast-changing situations and keep a cool head.

As an admittedly extreme example, my most challenging mission (so far) was my first one, in 2001 to Kosovo, in which unusually I was an election supervisor rather than observer. At the time, Kosovo was administered by the international community, and the elections were organised by the OSCE to whom I was seconded, in order to elect a National Assembly for the first time. I had a couple of days being trained in landmine awareness and hostage survival strategies, which failed to set our minds at rest about going to an area that had recently been in conflict. The polling centre I was in charge of was itself observed by the EU EOM, so I do have sympathy for those polling officials I now find myself observing.

Two memorable events stick in my mind – and had me hooked as an observer. Because it was the first election of an independent Kosovo, there was a huge amount of enthusiasm for the election, which was demonstrated by the entire village carrying a centenarian on his bed from his house to the polling station to cast the first free vote of his life. I don’t mind admitting that there was not a dry eye amongst us. A different kind of enthusiasm for politics was shown later in the day when after a somewhat long and mostly liquid lunch, two armed factions comprised of former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army started a fight outside my polling station. There was nothing for it but for me to break it up – using only an official tone and a UN flag. It was this that gave me the confidence to become a teacher shortly afterwards, knowing that if I could deal with that kind of situation, I could break up any potential playground fight (although thankfully I never had to do so!).

That same flag later hung in my classroom. It reminds me that I can cope with the most unruly of Year 9 classes even for last period on a Friday…

In Tanzania I was delighted to serve in the Maasai majority region of Longido in the far North West of the country, between the cosmopolitan city of Arusha and the Kenyan border. This was by far the most rural area of operations I have ever been sent to. The majority of the voters in this part of the country are nomadic without regular access to electricity, running water, schooling and healthcare. Despite this, or upon closer examination, because of it, the elections were highly contested in my constituency. The natural resources upon which the people depend are coming under increasing pressure due to climate change, so land use is a critical local issue. Additionally, not only were the main opposition parties unified for the first time around a single candidate for the presidency, making it the most competitive election since the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1992; but their candidate, Edward Lowassa, is also partly Maasai, which added to the local interest in Longido constituency.

The days in the run-up to the election were tense with opposition parties expressing little confidence in the presidentially-appointed National Election Commission and in the police. However, thankfully on ‘E-Day’ itself, tensions evaporated with a high turnout in both urban and rural polling stations. Voting, (as I experienced it) was orderly, despite the inevitable complications and good-natured queues. These were particularly long in my constituency due to a higher than average level of illiteracy – in part because the Maasai use their own language in preference to the national language of Kiswahili spoken in the rest of the country.

Many of the rural polling stations we visited were temporary tarpaulins slung between acacia trees in the bush. As observers a cardinal rule is that we are not supposed to change the outcome or to provide assistance to the electoral process, but only to highlight shortcomings for the national authorities to rectify if needed in future elections through our reports to the core team. However, (with permission from the Long Term Observers overseeing us), we made an exception by turning our 4×4’s headlights on to the tables under a tree which had been the polling station when night fell so the polling officers could count the votes. Although it was almost a full moon, this was clearly not providing enough light for them to do their job. Four hours later, with the votes counted, the favour was returned when the whole village came out to bump-start our vehicle as a result of the ensuing flat battery.

To paraphrase Joseph Stalin (and Tom Stoppard), ‘it’s not the voting that counts, but the counting’. The least glamorous – but most important – part of the election observation often takes place at the tabulation centre, where the results from the individual polling stations are reconciled into constituency and regional results. These can then be passed on to the National Election Commission. This is an area of observation that has rightly risen as a priority in the 15 years that I have been observing. I cannot pretend though that any observer looks forward to that part of the mission. Having worked sometimes 20 hours non-stop on observing the voting and then the counting in the polling stations, the prospect of watching the tabulation for perhaps (at worse) another 36 hours (at least in shifts with other Short Term Observers) is not at all appealing. But it is vital. In Tanzania, (as in other countries), this is the area in which the people express the least trust, and yet is also the least observed aspect of the process by local NGOs and political parties.

I am afraid that I can’t really talk about what I saw in my local area tabulation centre in detail, since the final report of the EU EOM which will collate all of the observers’ experiences as they relate to tabulation has yet to be released at the time of writing. Any observations that I might have on the conduct of the tabulation (which in my case, took 40 hours from the closing of the polls to the announcement of the constituency result), might not be reflective of the body of observations across the country as a whole. However, I think that I wouldn’t be going too far out on a limb to say that I anticipate that the final report will have a number of recommendations for adoption in order to enhance public confidence in the tabulation process. It took four days for the national results to be announced, by which time we were queuing at the departure gate for our flights out of Dar Es Salaam. The separate results of the Zanzibar Presidency and Assembly elections were annulled mid-way through the tabulation process to the concern of the international election observers, including the EU. My overall observations of the process as a whole though certainly tally with the interim report’s verdict that the elections were significantly improved over the ones that preceded it, with high levels of preparation by the authorities, albeit within the context of it being an election being reported on by a biased media. Other shortcomings identified in the interim report were also more as a result of the observations of the core team and the Long Term Observers – (on both of which there was also British representation), such as the prohibition on independent presidential candidates, and the lack of an appeals procedure for the results of the presidential election.

It was a real privilege to play a small role in the most competitive election in Tanzania’s history, and I pay tribute to all the candidates, polling officers, local observers and voters who braved hours of queues – and in the bush often hours of walking as well – in order to shape their country’s future.

Opinions expressed here are Dominic’s alone, based on his personal experiences, rather than as an official EU summary of the election as a whole across the country. The EU EOM interim report is available on their website.

In addition to taking part in EOMs, Dominic runs a company providing political literacy and international relations talks to schools and universities.

Dominic can be contacted at dominic.howell@intellitas.org

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