SEATTLE — In theory, elections represent democracy at its best. In practice, they can represent democracy at its worst — tainted by corruption, splintered by violence and injurious, on multiple fronts, to the public they are meant to serve. This very description has been embodied due to the lack of electoral integrity in Ghana.
Research published in 2009 on electoral violence in Sub-Saharan Africa found that 19 percent of elections held between 1990 and 2007 became occasions for significant violence. The percentage is all too high, especially given the fact that it does not include a decade’s worth of bloodshed.
Cue the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Electoral Integrity Initiative (EII). Helmed by a tight-knit team of international influencers, the EII was created in 2013 to mobilize both state and non-state actors in a bid for electoral integrity worldwide.
Included in the EII’s ranks are former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former President of Mozambique Joaqim Chissano and other prominent statesmen and women.
Kofi Annan, founding chair of the foundation and former Secretary-General of the U.N., explained why the initiative spotlighted integrity in an inaugural report, issued by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security.
“On polling day, voters must feel safe and trust the secrecy and integrity of the ballot,” he wrote. “And when the votes have been counted the result must be accepted no matter how disappointed the defeated candidates feel.”
According to the National Democratic Institute (NDI)’s Election Data Guide, which is also very much grounded in the concept of electoral integrity, credible elections are “characterized by inclusiveness, transparency, accountability and competitiveness.”
The same ideas give the EII its thrust. The initiative’s oeuvre can be described, more or less, as the sum of two mediatory conduits. The first, identified broadly as “political engagement”, harnesses the power of the EII’s membership to confer with leaders likely to shape the outcome of targeted elections.
The second focuses more on policy discussions, taking particular issue with the matter of electoral reform. Multilateral discourse initiated under this umbrella aims to make inroads in pushing reformative policymaking to the top of relevant agendas.
Prior to Nigeria’s 2015 election, Annan visited the country to lay the groundwork for what would later become the Abuja Accord. In essence a pledge to respect the forthcoming election’s results, the agreement garnered the signatures of 11 presidential candidates.
The electoral process and subsequent transfer of power did not pass without their fair share of obstacles, but along party lines the peace held. EII members are currently working across the globe to seed ideas in countries where electoral conditions promise to be volatile.
One such country is Ghana, where elections will be held in December 2016. The Electoral Violence project, in a report released earlier this year, established that no Ghanaian election has passed without “some level of violence” since 1992.
The report duly noted that, for the most part, the intensity of violence has not been as extreme as incidents experienced by some of Ghana’s Sub-Saharan neighbors. Its perpetuation and consistent alignment with election season, however, demonstrates a pressing need for more dialogue in addition to electoral integrity in Ghana.
In January 2016, the NDI reported that two senior experts, on behalf of the EII, visited Accra to engage Ghana’s Election Commission in a discussion of the country’s political polarization and potential means of sustaining electoral integrity in Ghana.
Only time will tell if the EII’s leverage has made its mark — in Ghana, and around the world. Annan makes clear in the EII’s launching report that elections have the power to make or break a country’s political system.
“When the electorate believes that elections have been free and fair,” he wrote, “they can be a powerful catalyst for better governance, greater security and human development.
“But in the absence of credible elections, citizens have no recourse to peaceful political change.”
– Jo Gurch