In September 2015 Sir Paul Tovua was a long way from home. The former Speaker of Parliament and current Chairman of the Political Parties Commission of Solomon Islands was in Trinidad and Tobago. He was leading a Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) to report on the country’s national elections. Overall he was impressed. The elections there met all the key benchmarks for democratic elections. However, he and his group raised concerns about the financing of political parties. They then made recommendations. Since then those recommendations have been implemented. And the country’s process for campaign financing is now stronger.
Helping democracy throughout the Commonwealth
Deploying election observers is one of the ways in which the Secretariat promotes democracy. We also offer practical assistance to electoral commissions and provide hands-on training to election officials.
By May 2017, we had deployed teams of observers to 150 elections in nearly 40 countries. In the 2015-2017 period alone, we oversaw elections in 13 member countries. Our observers offered straightforward and unbiased recommendations on how to improve the credibility and transparency of the electoral process.
Observer teams are international, composed of former heads of state, electoral commissioners and parliamentarians. They include gender, human rights, civil society and media specialists drawn from all regions. These independent experts provide valuable scrutiny, and their status and integrity bring positive pressure to bear when they make recommendations for electoral improvements.
We’ve trained nearly 100 election officials
Our Commonwealth Election Professionals Initiative continues to work alongside election officials throughout member countries. Launched in 2013, the programme is delivered through our Electoral Network.
The latter connects electoral commissions in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Americas, Europe and the Pacific. The programme is an exemplar of multilateral Commonwealth cooperation. It has a global reach and influence, made possible through the financial support of the Australian Government.
So far, the initiative has benefited nearly 100 junior election officers in more than 40 countries. They have received regional training and attended professional development events. They have gained valuable knowledge through peer-to-peer learning and online networking, all made available through the
Ninety per cent of those who have participated say it has increased their knowledge of good electoral practices. Almost half say their commission has since made changes to procedures and practices based on their recommendations.
The programme is supporting people such as Abdul Qayyum Khan of the Election Commission of Pakistan. He’s gone on to promote training on women’s inclusion in elections.
It is also aiding officials such as Vishnu Persaud of Guyana’s Elections Commission. He attended the inaugural training in 2013 and is now his country’s deputy chief election officer. And it is helping officials such as Dorcas Crentsil from the Electoral Commission of Ghana, who says it taught her to “aspire to be the best”.
Watch: Commonwealth Election Professional Abdul Qayyum Khan talks about the benefits of his training.
Thanks to Australia, our programme continues
In 2017, we were delighted when the Australian Government announced an AU$1.5 million extension to the funding of the Commonwealth Election Professionals Initiative. This means that the programme will continue for at least another three years. Small island states in the Caribbean and the Pacific will be among those to benefit. They will receive targeted training for small and non-permanent election commissions.
Australia’s renewed commitment is a testament to the Commonwealth’s success in developing the next generation of electoral administrators. It also complements the direct assistance that the Commonwealth Secretariat provides to electoral commissions.
Further progress in 2015-2017
In 2016/17 COGs reported on elections in six member states – Nauru, Zambia, Ghana, The Bahamas, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea.
In the previous financial year, COGs were present and reported on elections in seven member states – Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and Uganda.
The Secretariat continues to advocate and practically support the implementation of COG recommendations. And we are improving how we track the implementation of COG recommendations.
Commonwealth Election Professionals (CEP) Initiative
In October 2017 we held a Commonwealth Pacific training event in Apia, Samoa. There were 12 participants (five men and seven women) from eleven regional election management bodies (EMB): Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa (two participants), Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
Junior Election Professionals (JEP) Initiative Phase One (active June 2013 to November 2015)
In March 2015 we held a Commonwealth Asia training event in New Delhi, India. There were 12 participants (six men/six women) from 6 regional EMBs: Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
In August 2015 there was a Commonwealth Africa region training event in Gaborone, Botswana. It involved 18 participants (nine men/nine women) from 17 regional EMBs: Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tanzania (Zanzibar), Uganda and Zambia
We helped establish the Electoral Commission in Nauru and strengthened processes for campaign financing in Trinidad and Tobago.
Building on recent support to the Nauru Electoral Commission, we worked with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Together, we presented our recommendations to the Electoral Task Force Committee, which we had helped the Nauru Electoral Commission to establish. And we facilitated discussions about the ways in which Nauru can further improve its electoral processes and institutions.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General said in 2017, “We are committed to helping all our member countries, wherever they are on their democratic journey. In doing so, we aim to justify the sense of hope and optimism which all voters deserve to feel on election day.”