Association of World Election Bodies Holds Annual General Assembly
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) President and CEO Bill Sweeney led a delegation from IFES at the second General Assembly of the Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB) from August 18-22 in the Dominican Republic. Prior to the conference, Sweeney participated in the opening session in Santo Domingo, hosted by the President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina. The theme of the conference was the “Roles and Challenges of EMBs [election management bodies] in Ensuring Integrity of Elections,” with discussion topics ranging from “election architecture” to “jurisdictional control of the electoral process.”
A discussion between the former Presidents of Belgium, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Spain on the topic of “The Social Communication Media: Their responsibility and presence in electoral processes” was a highlight of the conference. Former Costa Rican President, Laura Chinchilla, noted that she embraces social media and even manages her accounts personally. Former President Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero of Spain emphasized that regardless of the medium “politics is politics.”
Sweeney chaired a discussion on political finance and the balance between social representation, including gender quotas, and avoiding influence from private interests in order to guard the public mandate granted to elected officials. Sweeney emphasized the following points during the session:
- Over the last 15 years, and in over 40 countries, IFES has supported efforts to increase transparency and citizen control over money in politics. The primary problem with political finance regulations is that they are seldom implemented in practice.
- IFES encourages any reform efforts – whether they relate to restrictions on private funding, the provision of public funding or disclosure rules – that carefully take into account the goals the reforms are meant to achieve, as well as how proposed rules can be implemented and controlled by formal oversight bodies, civil society and the media.
- It is also vital to view campaign finance through a gender lens: historically, women command a smaller proportion of the world’s resources, and as such, their access to political participation as candidates is limited. This is particularly true in political systems dominated by a handful of groups and individuals who control the majority of resources.
- There is a clear link between limited female participation in key policy decisions (such as resource allocations) and women’s political, economic and social opportunities. IFES provides technical electoral assistance related to gender quotas, as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and other international and national laws.
- Political finance reform should ban large cash donations from the political process. Cash donations can easily be concealed and can result in corruption. With that said, there should be a threshold for cash donations, allowing for small contributions so that such regulations do not impede grassroots participation.
IFES colleagues convened women election Commissioners attending the conference to launch the IFES Women’s Electoral Leadership and Learning (IFES WELL) network. IFES WELL was launched to mobilize women and men working to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment in electoral and political processes. The inaugural members were election Commissioners from 20 countries around the world. New commissions, such as the National Election Commission of South Sudan, lauded IFES WELL as a vital support network, and seasoned commissions, like the Election Commission of India and Georgia’s Central Election Commission, promised to share best practices. Consensus among the Commissioners gathered was that this would be an excellent platform for sharing best practices and lessons learned. Commissioner Rowena Guanzon from the Philippines challenged participants to include a gender portal on their commission websites. Additionally, Commissioner Daka of Kosovo appealed to her colleagues to work together to establish a “wish list” of ideas and activities for the network, including a Facebook page, which has been set up and can be accessed here.
The conference closed with sessions on “The technological revolution and its impact on electoral processes.” Judging from the lively final question and answer period, it was clear that there will be much momentum toward the third annual A-WEB conference in Romania in 2017 and much activity, including IFES WELL activities, until then.
Members of the IFES Delegation
Bill Sweeney, President and CEO of IFES
Jessica Huber, Senior Gender Specialist
Vasu Mohan, Regional Director, Europe and Asia
Hermann Thiel, Country Director, Egypt
Omar Abdalla, Deputy Chief of Party, Egypt