Democracy, Democratization and Election Process Around the World

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    • 00:00


    • 00:10

      BARBARA SMITH: I'm Barbara Smith.I work at Election Observation and Democratic Support, whichis a project of the European Commission.We're funded by them to provide capacity buildingfor the observers' fair election observation missions.This falls into what we call three pillars.So the first pillar is methodology,where we look at new areas of election observation.

    • 00:34

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: We develop the guides and the handbooksfor the election observers.So because elections are an evolving field--and, for instance, there are new technological developmentsin things like biometric photo identification for voterregistration-- so we have to lookat how we meet the challenges of assessing

    • 00:57

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: those new developments.Plus new areas of assessments, such as campaign finance.It's a really big one that we're looking at at the moment.The second pillar is a bit more straightforward,and that's training of the election observers.We train here at these offices.We train the highest level of the observers, the core teammembers, in different specialist areas.

    • 01:19

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: And we also train long-term observers.And we're developing online trainingfor short-term observers at the moment,which are the observers that come in just for election day.And then the third pillar is the onethat I'm responsible for, which is cooperationwith other organizations and institutions involved

    • 01:39

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: in election observation.So there's quite a broad field in this,of different international observer organizations.Most of them-- or all the ones that we're reallycooperating with-- have signed upto a thing called the Declaration of Principlesfor International Observation.

    • 01:59

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: This was launched 10 years ago at the UN, in New York.And there are now 50 signatures with a, sort of,convening committee, if you like,of around 10 organizations.Which includes the EU, but also somethingcalled the Organization for Security and Cooperation

    • 02:22

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: in Europe and its office for Democratizationof Human Rights-- the OSCE/ODHIR--the Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute--also of the US.And then various regional organizationssuch as the Organization of American States,the African Union, the League of Arab States, et cetera.

    • 02:46

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: I work very closely, particularly the African Union,but also the League of Arab States, whoare looking to move more to a, sort of, long-term processwith their election observation and deepen their methodology.Democratization's a really broad field,

    • 03:09

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: which generally encompasses strengtheningof different institutions that mightbe involved in a country having democratic practices.So those might be anything from the parliament,to the judiciary, to political parties, to civil society,and to the police.

    • 03:31

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: And so when we look at something like, say,parliamentary support, that would encompass thingslike a strengthening of the parliamentary secretariat,strengthening the bonds between parliamentariansand their constituents.And also bringing in civil society in terms

    • 03:52

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: of strengthening committee meetings,strengthening the sense that civil society mightadvocate for things to parliamentariansor might monitor parliamentary voting patterns, for instance.Without political parties you don't have real alternativesand choice for the electorate.

    • 04:12

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: So it's very important to strengthen themas institutions.It could be things like internal party procedures, nominationprocedures for candidates.And again, that outreach to their senseof having a constituency and how they develop their party

    • 04:33

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: platforms for their constituents.These might seem obvious things to uscoming from a democratic society,but if you're in a country coming outof civil war where this is your first experience of democracy,these could be very important things.The judiciary, again, is a huge areain terms of access to justice.

    • 04:54

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: If people don't feel that they havea real redress for any problems, they could take their problemsinto their own hands.So it's really important to strengthen the judiciary.Could be training of new judges, strengthen their understandingof the law, strengthen their impartiality,

    • 05:15

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: their sense of impartiality.And with that, strengthen the police and their understandingof human rights.Human rights permeates through all of this, really.And part of civil society strengtheningcould be looking at training human rights monitors.And it can also involve training citizen observers

    • 05:36

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: for elections.But even more than that, it can lookat grassroots organizations who raise local issues to the mostlocal level of government.That very immediate sense of advocacy of youhave a problem with your water supply,what do you do about that?

    • 05:57

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: Where do you go to to get that resolved?So that, again, is an area-- a huge area--that is worked on in terms of civil society strengthening.So support to elections is just one area within that,but obviously it's a very important areaand a real cornerstone.Especially since elections can form

    • 06:19

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: such a big part of any post-conflict settlementand transition.So another important area of democratizationis the media, or the fourth estate, as it's often known.It's important that the media can be self-policing,

    • 06:40

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: and that these authorities can be independent of government.Because then it prevents governments feeling the needto impose more draconian laws, such as libel laws,against which could restrict the independence of the media.It's really important to do training of journalists.And in fact, to the extent that the UN,

    • 07:02

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: in a post-conflict country, will set up a radio station,for instance, to get information out to citizensand distribute radio sets-- windup radio sets--which have been such a great boon to democratizationin the world.

    • 07:24

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: I've never worked in a country-- and I've worked across Asia,and across Africa and in many parts of Eastern Europe--I've never worked in a country thathasn't got some form of local level democracy.The changing traditional system for changing leaders.Whether it be going into a hut and putting a token

    • 07:45

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: in a basket, which could be an ear of corn or a stone,to make a decision.Check, choose a new leader, whatever.People want this.And when you see the queues of peoplegoing to vote on a first election after a conflictor for referendum, you get 90, 98% turnout.

    • 08:09

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: We don't have that level of participation in the West.And I would say it's more that we don't have the right to denythem that participation.And additionally, we're not bringing them a cookie cut-outof an electoral system.They're choosing their own.

    • 08:32

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: Election observation missions can add confidenceto the process.I think they work very well in these transitional situations,but also when countries are changing their election lawsor trying to, maybe, form a more autocratically,a more democratic process.Before sending a mission, their EU or OSCE/ODHIR

    • 08:55

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: would get an invitation from the host government to come.And they would send an assessment missionand explore it to your needs assessment mission.Which will go in and look at three basic factors--is it advisable, is it useful and is it feasible?So advisable would be things like are the electionslikely to be genuine.

    • 09:16

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: In Zimbabwe, well, one, we don't get an invitation.But two, is it really a genuine democratic process that theyare going through there?Is there just one party rule and there's so much fraud.Could an EU mission be manipulatedto make it look like it was more successful than it was?So generally with something like Zimbabwe,

    • 09:38

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: we would say no, it wasn't advisable.Then you had to look at would it be useful.If elections are all going really, reallywell in a country, the EU has better thingsto spend its money on than going to a country thatalways has very good elections.That said, I do have to say that the OSCE/ODHIR observes

    • 10:02

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: within the European forum and the member states, whichinclude America, the USA and Canada.They're all signatures of the OSCE.And the OSCE/ODHIR will send missions to every countrybut it wouldn't send a full mission.It will send an expert mission of just a core team

    • 10:26

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: of relevant experts.So the UK still gets election expert missions coming to itfor its elections that will look into thingslike voter registration.The fact that we don't show any ID at any point of voterregistration is an issue in terms of the UK's complianceto generally perceived international standards

    • 10:48

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: for elections.And then, for instance, as a resultof OSCE/ODHIR recommendations, the UKnow has an independent electoral commission.So that's a real step forward for us.And the third part is feasibility.So that would be logistics and security mostly.So in a country like Afghanistan, how feasible

    • 11:11

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: is it?It might be very useful and very needed to besend a mission to Afghanistan, but can you reallysend a full mission?Can you have election day observers covering the countryto give a full report, a full survey,of what went on over the country?Well, no, we can't.What we tend to do in a country like Afghanistan is to send

    • 11:33

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: just an expert mission, again, because even though it would begreat to send a full mission, we can't.Now I know many academics like to haveindices by which they can rate thingsand rank things, and come out with some quotient

    • 11:57

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: of whether an election was good, bad, or indifferent.We don't do that for a number of reasons.And it's not laziness.I mean, it's a very complex thingbut you can have very complex algorithms.There are very many, many different partsof an electoral process and it depends

    • 12:20

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: on the country as to whether one part mightbe more critical than another, dependingon where the confidence level might lie or notlie within that country.But also, it depends on where the countryis within its own democratic development.For instance, a country coming out of conflictis not going to be expected to have

    • 12:41

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: such a developed electoral processas an election in a country that's had20 years of elections.A country that's gone through-- thatmight be five different electoral cycles.We would it have expected gradual improvementso our recommendations to that country

    • 13:01

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: would be much more fine-tuning than a country that'scoming out of conflict.So they would be quite different.And really, we don't assess in terms of an index in that way.We assess in terms of our recommendations.We will use language like we will

    • 13:22

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: look at whether it was overall transparency,whether the will of the people were expressed.We don't talk about free and fair.That's something that hasn't been talkedabout for more than 15 years.But we do talk about whether the international obligationsthat the country has committed to have been maintained.

    • 13:44

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: Those were obligations that are heldwithin these international treatiesthat it might have signed up to.These could include the ICCPR, CEDAW-- the ConventionAgainst Discrimination Against Women-- ICERD-- similar thingfor persons with disabilities-- how it treats minorities.

    • 14:05

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: Also regional treaties that it might have signed up to.For instance, the African Charter or the Charterfor American States.These are very important documents,or the Copenhagen documents, for OSCE signatures.So we would refer to those different standardsduring our assessment.

    • 14:32

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: So what's the impact of having regular electionsand has election observation helped, and improved,those elections over the years?Well, it's a little bit like two steps forward, one step back.It's not a straightforward, easy trajectory.

    • 14:52

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: There are countries that have made enormous successeson this.I think the big examples of recent yearshave been, say, Indonesia, Ghana, Sierra Leone,Liberia-- both of which came out of horrendous conflictsand have had very successful elections with changeover

    • 15:14

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: of power recently-- Senegal.These have been really shining examples.Then you've got countries that have great electionsbut there's no alternation of power.And that, over a period of time--you could take South Africa, Mozambique as examples

    • 15:35

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: of this-- and that, over time, leads to a perceptionthat corruption might have crept in.Maybe not just such a perception of that.And that can become quite difficultbecause, after all, one of the fundamentals as whatis democracy is you have to look at what a democratic societyactually looks like.

    • 15:56

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: And that would include, say, things like freedom of media,freedom from corruption, greater transparency,and accountability of government.Those are the cornerstones that people actually wantwithin a more liberal society.That they exercise these fundamental freedomsof liberty, movement, assembly, expression.

    • 16:19

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: You know, countries that get stuck with just onegovernment, no alternation of government but very successfulelections, have to be looked at a little bit as to how long canthat persist for before there is a backsliding into some moreauthoritarian form of control.

    • 16:45

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: And then you have Cambodia, which will alwayshave a special place in my heart from whenI worked on its first election, which took place in 1993.That election didn't lead to the winner taking power.In fact, they had to end up in a power sharing arrangementbecause the government in power didn't want to give it up.

    • 17:07

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: And has, actually, never given it up.And although they've had elections,the EU has stopped observing thembecause nothing ever changes.There's no real basis for a credible election there.The opposition aren't allowed to campaign in any way properly.

    • 17:28

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: And so there is no choice.But Cambodia is actually doing very well.The state is providing.So you could say, using that example, what'sdemocracy really bringing?I would argue that people would like there to bemore democracy in Cambodia.They'd like to have freer media.

    • 17:48

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: They'd like to feel that they had redress against the stateif the police suddenly attack them or rough them up.They don't have either of those two things.Plus, they don't have a particularly accountablegovernment, and they don't know whereall the resources, all the money from the resources, go to.But they are doing better because they're stable.

    • 18:11

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: But I would argue that managing the competing factions' wantand desire for power through a slightly unstable process everyfour years of an election is, long-term, a much more stable--will give much more stable outcomes.

    • 18:37

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: So if we take the African continent as an example,if we look at any of the indices or analysesthat organizations, such as Freedom House,come out with looking at freedomsthat people enjoy within those countriesand the strength of their electoral processes.

    • 18:60

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: If we go back to around 1995, it was considered that only 2out of 53 countries in Africa had any real sense of democracyand good elections.Whereas now, it's considered it's 25 out of those 53.So that's a huge improvement, a massive trajectory

    • 19:22

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: of improvement.And I think that African countries are reallylearning off each other.There's a, sort of, neighborhood examplewhere they're shocked that they're swapping experiences.Election management bodies are going from one countryto another and helping each other.And the African Union is also trying

    • 19:43

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: to promote a good examples, good practice, amongst the region.And that's one of the reasons why the EU and the AUare sharing so much in terms of their methodologies.So let's come back to you now what

    • 20:03

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: it's actually like to work in this field--the practitioner's viewpoint, if you like.As you can see, there are many different ways of working.You can work in technical assistance,which means you have to become technically expert.You know, it could be media relations.It could be voter registration.It could be voter identification.

    • 20:26

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: It could be results management, IT systems.It could be anyone of a number of things.In election observation, you haveto start as a short-term observer in your countryand you work your way up.I started, very luckily, at a time when there really weren'tvery many people in this field.

    • 20:47

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: And I also started in the field because, as I said,I was in a country where a big electoral process wasabout to happen.So they needed people and I got picked up.And I would always advise.You know, now the field is much more competitive.There are lots of people with a lot of experience

    • 21:08

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: in an international election observationtechnical assistance.You need to, really, get yourself out thereand be prepared to work in a really difficult, challengingplace.I'm fortunate because at the level I'm at now,I get to work, generally, in head office, which

    • 21:29

      BARBARA SMITH [continued]: is in the capital where there is mostly electricity.Where as you might be beginning on this out in a province,in a more challenging environment.But it is huge fun.

Democracy, Democratization and Election Process Around the World

View Segments Segment :


Election observer Barbara Smith describes her work with Election Observation and Democratic Support (EODS). She explains the organization's main purposes as creating observation methodology, training observers, and building inter-agency cooperation. She also highlights some of the challenges and subjective areas of election observation and democratization.

SAGE Video In Practice
Democracy, Democratization and Election Process Around the World

Election observer Barbara Smith describes her work with Election Observation and Democratic Support (EODS). She explains the organization's main purposes as creating observation methodology, training observers, and building inter-agency cooperation. She also highlights some of the challenges and subjective areas of election observation and democratization.

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