Magdy Martinez-Soliman: The Sixth Global Electoral Organization (GEO) Conference 2013 - Sustainable Electoral Processes, Strengthened Democracy

Oct 17, 2013

Seoul, Republic of Korea  |  15-17 October 2013

The Sixth Global Electoral Organization (GEO) Conference 2013 'Sustainable Electoral Processes, Strengthened Democracy' was held in Seoul from 15-17 of October, hosted by the National Electoral Commission of the Republic of Korea (NEC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This was the largest ever gathering of electoral management bodies and professionals and UNDP was proud to co-host this global event which is very important not only for our work on democratic governance, but also for the human development agenda.

by Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Director ad interim, UNDP Bureau of Development Policy

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear colleagues and friends,

With this closing session, we are coming to the end of three densely packed days of knowledge exchange and debate, and I believe even though many of us are exhausted after the long trip they made to come here and the intensive programme, I sense a lot of appreciation and satisfaction in the room that we were able to meet your expectations.

Cicero maintained that there are two ways to settle a dispute: either through debate or violence.  More recently elections have been the peaceful way political and other disputes can be settled. Some elections of course have larger levels of debate, and some make incursions in the dangerous province of violence. But by definition, peaceful means and elections are associated terms in the mind of the overwhelming majority. By doing elections, we make peace.

During day 1 we heard about electoral violence under the larger framework of understanding the pre-conditions for sustaining electoral integrity across the electoral cycle. We also heard about fraud and manipulation and how exclusion, in particular how the marginalization of women from the political process delegitimizes the electoral and democratic process. And by the way, if we turn the looking glass to ourselves, I should mention that GEO 2013 has increased the proportion of women attending from 12% in 2011 to 22% today. However, if we take the 30% target taken from the millennium development goals of women representatives in national Parliaments and adapt to ourselves, we have still fallen a little short. Might I suggest that for the next GEO we set ourselves the target of having 30% representation of participants and speakers as women?

On Day 2, we explored the complex issue of capacity building, training and professional development challenges that electoral management bodies (EMBs) face in their day-to-day work. We identified numerous lessons for improving institutional and professional development of EMBs and their staff, as well as of other key election stakeholders. And we exchanged our experiences on international electoral assistance programmes, and how this field is evolving in our increasingly networked and globalized world. We also discussed how managing relationships between different electoral stakeholders is key to the delivery of credible elections. We exchanged our experiences in identifying and retaining talent, which is an important challenge not only to electoral management bodies, but all of our organizations specializing on elections and electoral support, where recruiting and motivating the right staff is key to everything we are doing. We also assessed the sustainability of ICT and looked at different concrete ways how it can make the work of EMBs and other organizations more effective and efficient.

Lastly, today, on Day 3 of GEO, we focused on the issue of cost-effectiveness in electoral processes which has become a subject of intense debate in recent years and is critical for the sustainability of democratic elections.

And that brings us to the core of this conference. What is the link between electoral processes and democracy?  To help shed light on this relationship I must quote from one of our presenters today.   “A modern election is a societal rather than just an administrative undertaking”. This is recognized by GEO, as in this forum we have all electoral actors present to discuss, share and lean thoughts and experiences on electoral processes and democracy.

As someone reminded us vividly yesterday, democracy is owned by the people and elections are the foremost expression of that. But what happens when we have elections that do not necessarily translate into strengthening of democracy?   The global financial crisis has had an adverse impact across the world on many parts of society. In my own country Spain, we have a youth unemployment rate of 56% spawning the term the “lost generation” and social protests called the “indignados” - indignados with the moral state of affairs of our world. Young people who never had the opportunity to work, and their parents who lost their jobs live of threatened pensions of grandparents, the only income that keeps families afloat for now. For sure, the extended family, in Europe and elsewhere, is the most primitive and efficient system of social security. But it is not offered by the state, governed by the democratically elected government. When a large segment of society is economically disenfranchised, political participation suffers. The democratic contract between citizens and government is undercut. Democracy does not deliver the social dividend it once promised. And herein you find the other linkage, between development and democracy, between freedom from want and freedom from fear.

UNDP’s thinking over the years has tried systematically to weave the triple wins of development with the civil and political rights fabric. We recognize that economic, social and political opportunities are tied to the larger goals of sustainable democratic and human development. We cannot achieve this unless we also reduce poverty, address issues of corruption, guarantee access to justice for all and ensure economic empowerment alongside political empowerment.

In my opening remarks on Tuesday, I said that GEO is probably the largest gathering ever of electoral management bodies and professionals and that GEO has truly become a global forum It is indeed inspiring and historical that we had participants from 127 countries, including the representation of 100 election management bodies.  And all of this would not have been possible had we not had the wisdom and generosity of our Korean friends and hosts, to whom I would once again express my heartfelt appreciation and deepest respect.

We were also glad that this GEO coincided with the Inaugural Assembly of AWEB, which is the first global peer-based organization of Electoral Management Bodies. As the Secretary General said in his video message, the UN wishes this initiative all the best and of course we stand ready to develop and maintain a strong partnership with that new organization. We were glad to see that during the discussions at GEO, many participants raised ideas and proposals for what AWEB could be taking on, and we are convinced that with the capable new leadership AWEB has been given, it will soon start to have an impact in the wider world of electoral cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we conclude our proceedings in a few minutes, we will bring to an end the Sixth and so far largest GEO conference, and have completed our journey around the world which this forum started in Ottawa, Canada, 14 years ago, in a much more modest and informal setting.

The context in which GEO 2013 is held is quite different from the world we lived in in 1999. And yet, your presence and enthusiastic participation prove that GEO is alive and well, and that there truly is a need for a global forum that brings us together. The lack of formalization and institutionalization has served the GEO well in the past. But we are of course open to contribute to collective efforts that lead not only to the continued relevance of GEO, but perhaps to a consolidation of its role in the increasingly complex electoral world, and to a sharpening of its purpose and identity as a global forum.

This success would not have been possible without b our Korean co-hosts and partners of the National Electoral Commission of the Republic of Korea, and specifically Chairman Lee In-Bok, and Secretary General Kim Yong-hi, as well as their capable and motivated team. We have all been deeply impressed with the competence, friendliness and tireless effort of the staff, collaborators and support personnel!


I also want to thank all the 15 Chairs, and 48 speakers for their preparation and insights. Thank you also to the members of the GEO Steering Committee for their valuable contributions and assistance in the preparation phase of the GEO, building the agenda and identifying speakers and participants:

1.   The Association of European Election Officials (ACEEEO)

2.   The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)

3.   The Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) of Mexico

4.   The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)

5.   International IDEA

6.   UN Electoral Assistance Division

We should also not fail to thank our 26 interpreters, who have helped us communicate at this highly sophisticated and professional level. The fact that they were able to translate in 30 language combinations is a first at a GEO, and is one of the reasons why we were able to make so many representatives from around the world participate actively and effectively.

And lastly, I would of course like to thank all of you who have made long journeys to join us here in Songdo. I hope you will travel back to your home countries and will continue to work on elections, with better tools, reenergized, with strong old and new friendships and in the knowledge that you have peers around the world who often face very similar problems and can help you rise to the challenges you face.

I wish you all a safe journey back and good luck with the next elections you will be involved in.

Thank you.




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