Helen Clark: Speech to Global Meeting of UN/UNDP Chief Electoral Advisors and Chief Technical Advisors

Nov 30, 2015

I am very pleased to address this global meeting of UN Chief Electoral Advisors. My thanks go to DPA’s Electoral Assistance Division, DPKO and UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support for organising the meeting.

Electoral assistance is one of the UN’s most visible forms of support for democratic governance.  Doing it well requires trust and partnerships across UNDP, DPA and DPKO. 
For UNDP, electoral assistance is a very significant activity which falls squarely within our mandate on democratic governance.  Within the new global development agenda – Agenda 2030, it also sits well with SDG 16, which calls for inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels. 

To do our job of assisting electoral processes well, we must focus on capacity building.  The objective is not to be required to assist elections ad infinitum in any one country.  Our satisfaction is when we aren’t needed any more - because domestic capacity has been built.  

To do the job well, we must be up with the latest in technology for electoral systems – from those for registration, to voting, and to counting processes, and also for outreach to and engagement with voters to encourage participation.  

In the past two years, some 67 Member States received some form of electoral assistance from the UN.  That’s more than one-third of the membership.  In all cases, a UNDP Country Office was involved, either by leading that support – or in mission settings by giving support to the mission-wide effort.  

Right now in the Central African Republic and Mali, UNDP is supporting the respective UN Mission’s electoral division.  Elsewhere, for example, Afghanistan, UNDP has provided the technical assistance to the electoral institutions – while the mission provides the good offices and political support.  This is also a good division of labour.  

Both models work well, where colleagues have the good will to work with each other. 

Here at HQ, the new electoral policy directives are developed through negotiations in the Inter-Agency Co-ordination Mechanism on Electoral Assistance.  Consensus was reached on all ten of the directives which have been issued.  

Soon Jeff Feltman will launch the Framework for the Single UN Electoral Roster. Compiling it was a mammoth effort - and included the conduct of 450 interviews at the P3 to D1 levels. 

Credible elections need at a minimum:

o    an independent, capable, and well-respected electoral management body;
o    recognized political parties;
o    an independent media;
o    a vibrant civil society; and 
o    a strategy for voter education which targets all groups, especially marginalized or disadvantaged groups such as women, youth, and ethnic or other minorities. 

UNDP has now aligned its electoral assistance more closely to its work on civic engagement, support for political party development, women’s and youth political participation, constitutional development, and support for elected parliaments. 

For example, when new constitutions are written, they may well cover the details of how parliaments will be elected, function, and interact with other institutions. Thus our efforts to ensure credible elections are reinforced by the work we also do to ensure that there are capable national and sub-national legislatures. 

This more comprehensive approach is what we were asked for in Tunisia, and recently by Sri Lanka. By adopting this “Inclusive Political Processes” approach, we aim to improve citizen participation, voice, and accountability. Our work in this area will contribute directly to the SDG targets 16.6, 16.7 and 16.10. 

I am pleased to see that UNDP electoral personnel here today will stay on in New York for our first Community of Practice meeting on Inclusive Political Processes on Wednesday and Thursday, at which I will also be present.

Electoral processes continue to be a major burden on many developing countries’ national budgets. Furthermore, some Member States, as the Secretary General has noted, have adopted electoral practices and/or technologies which they cannot finance or sustain without significant international assistance. 

Hence, the democratic institutions of young democracies often remain heavily dependent on the UN and its funding partners. This is not an ideal scenario, and one we should all look to address, in particular in the face of shrinking resources for development. 

I am glad, therefore, to see that the ‘sustainability of electoral processes, national ownership, and international support’ are some of the agenda topics of this meeting. 

Unfortunately, we are seeing the emergence of serious funding gaps for elections in a number of developing countries. 

We also see less donor support for elections being channelled through the UN – despite our expertise, legitimacy, and political neutrality.  This should be a concern to us all. I would ask that personnel across UNDP, DPA, and DPKO reflect on what more we could collectively do to ensure full confidence in the role which the UN can play in electoral assistance. It goes without saying that one bad donor experience can be a very costly mistake for our system. 

Those who fund our work are entitled to expect timely and detailed reporting and information-sharing. They are strategic partners, and we look to them not only for funding, but also for sharing the risks involved with providing electoral assistance. 

I therefore appeal to you all to work closely and proactively with those who fund our electoral work, providing them with all the information they need, as well as with your colleagues at HQ and in the European Commission-UNDP Joint Task Force for those of you working on projects which are EU-funded. 

Without committed and supportive donors, UNDP cannot implement the assistance which we are mandated to provide. I count on each one of you to work closely with your Country Office management to engage our donors proactively in two-way exchanges of project information and reporting data.

Only by continually delivering high quality electoral assistance, and by emphasising our unique selling points - such as our global presence, our expertise, our unique mandate, and our political neutrality, can the UN at large, and UNDP specifically, remain the global market leader in the provision of electoral assistance around the world in countries recovering from violence and conflict, countries in transition,  and others seeking to consolidate their electoral institutions and democratic institutions.

UNDP Around the world