Taking a Closer Look at Election Monitoring

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.   




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4 Responses to Taking a Closer Look at Election Monitoring

  1. mjfarah says:

    In the case of Kenya’s 2007 election violence, the results released by foreign election monitoring agencies undoubtedly fueled the violence between Kibaki and Odinga. The Orange Democratic Party relied on the election monitoring results to fuel the narrative of corruption and used it to legitimize the fact that the elections were in fact stolen. So I wonder if election monitoring needs to be coupled with some other external factor that makes it effective and conscious of the implications its presence holds? .

  2. cjforster says:

    It’s certainly welcome that election observation missions are now taking the longer-term view. Authoritarian elites are becoming increasingly successful at fixing elections whilst maintaining the facade of democracy and I think this will only become a greater challenge to election observation in the future. Such elites are also increasingly able to disrupt opposition movements through control of social media and disruption of the rights to protest and assemble far in advance of elections

  3. vcparham says:

    In regards to international election observation results perpetuating the violence in Kenya, I think you are correct in recognizing the serious limitations that come with election monitoring. Throughout his interview Verjee emphasized these limitations and cautioned that more attention needed to be paid to the entire electoral process, rather than that final judgement provided by external election observation missions. The case of Kenya is especially relevant in terms of highlighting the need for not only strengthening internal mission efforts, but also other political institutions.

  4. amandacatalina says:

    This is an interesting post. I think a longer-term view of election monitoring can definitely be significant in its effects on a legitimate election. I know in the case of Nigeria, third party observers monitored the election through all of its phases. Referring to the pre-election time period, they watched for things like freedom of the press, freedom of speech, respect for other civil liberties, etc. The elections in Nigeria still ended in violence, so I’m not sure what the correlation between a legitimate election and violence is exactly. Definitely something to look for in future elections.

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