Elections are crucial to the democratic process and to delivering long-term, stable democratic outcomes. Support for good electoral process and practice is therefore central to the FCO’s policy on democracy. We provide this largely by giving financial, technical and personnel support to election observation missions and democratic institutions to promote the peaceful transition of power and minimise opportunities for fraud. In this we work closely with DFID, led by a joint policy on election assistance. In 2011–12 DFID provided support to four countries to help them hold freer and fairer elections (Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia and Yemen).
Much of our election observation support is done through international organisations, in particular the EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Commonwealth. These organisations’ election observation missions consider the strengths and weaknesses of an electoral process and make independent recommendations for improvements. In 2012, the EU observed elections in Senegal, Algeria, Sierra Leone, Libya and Timor-Leste, helping to achieve largely peaceful and successful elections in each case. The FCO supported UK observers for OSCE election observation missions in Kazakhstan, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Serbia, Montenegro, Ukraine and the USA.
As part of discussions to modernise the Commonwealth which took place throughout 2012, Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed that election observation was an area where the Commonwealth adds significant value and concluded that this work should be strengthened. In 2012, the Commonwealth observed elections in Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Ghana. The UK, through the FCO and DFID, provided approximately £7 million in support of the Ghanaian elections. This included a training programme for 16,000 police and other service personnel on electoral procedures to ensure, for example, impartial conduct at polling stations. The elections were peaceful and deemed by the observers to be free, fair and transparent.
Domestic election observers also play an important role in monitoring the conduct of elections. For instance, in Libya, the Arab Partnership Fund supported training of nearly 900 local election observers, including women and former revolutionary fighters, for Libya’s July 2012 elections, the first to be held after the fall of Muammar Qadhafi and the first in the country in 47 years. The UK also helped set up an Observer Control Centre to provide observer groups with a central office in which comments and observations could be coordinated. The observers were able to report on an election which, despite some security incidents, they determined was fair overall, and in which the majority of Libyans were able to vote without intimidation.
A key pillar of the FCO’s and DFID’s joint policy on election support involves offering long-term engagement between elections, as well as during them, with those whose effective participation is essential for a peaceful democratic result, including parliamentarians, electoral bodies, the judiciary, political parties, the media and civil society.
Our response to the elections in Egypt, where the UK is committed to supporting the process of political transition, was an example of this approach being put into practice. Egypt went to the polls on three separate occasions in 2012: a parliamentary election in January, a presidential election in May and a referendum on the new constitution in December. Through the FCO Arab Partnership Fund, we provided early financial and public support to the Carter Center monitoring mission, one of the few international organisations allowed to observe the elections in May. We were also the only donor to fund the observation of the December referendum by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, the single independent observer. Embassy staff observed at polling stations when permitted by the authorities. All three elections passed peacefully and without significant allegations of irregularity. We are now working to support media training in Egypt to facilitate impartial electoral coverage and to provide peer support to nascent political parties and parliamentarians, in particular female candidates. We will continue to promote a free and open political system in Egypt by providing support for a credible and impartial assessment of the presidential elections and constitutional referendum.
In 2013, the UK will continue to support electoral processes both bilaterally and through our work with international organisations.