I recently came across an interesting podcast on the Democracy in Africa website regarding election monitoring and thought it complemented last week’s class discussion regarding elections and democratization. Released in 2012, the clip is a bit older, but interviewee Aly Verjee provides some very interesting and relevant insights into election monitoring, and more specifically his experience monitoring the 2006 elections in the DRC and the South Sudan referendum.
During the interview Verjee touched on several key points that are important to consider in the context of monitoring as well as when approaching the electoral process in general. Among these points was an emphasis on the pre-electoral environment of a country. Rather than limit observation to the day of, electoral missions are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of establishing a presence months before election day (and also staying to monitoring the post-election environment). Rather than evaluating elections as a singular event, an established presence provides context and promotes a holistic understanding of the outcome.
Another important point that Verjee offered was the need to identify the distinction between domestic observers and international ones. I think a lot of times when people hear ‘election monitoring’ they assume that the missions are comprised of foreign observers. While this assumption may be validated by the tendency to put more weight on international judgment, it is necessary to realize the role that nationals play in the process. Domestic election observers often have more access to the political realities of the country, and maintain a better understanding of the less visible networks at play. Verjee expressed hope that as the capacity of these internal groups increased, they would be recognized as the key actors influencing the process of election observation.
As various countries, from Mozambique to Namibia, gear up for elections this year it will be interesting to see how election observation missions (both domestic and international) play into the electoral process and outcomes of these individual countries.