Helping Implement Historic Elections: A Q&A with Jerome Leyraud

Publication Date: 
21 Nov 2013

Jerome Leyraud spent over two years at IFES as Chief of Party in Sudan, helping the country implement two of the three elections stipulated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Currently an election expert for the European Union in Fiji, Leyraud talks to us about helping Sudan make history, best practices in election management and key elements of a valid election.

How did you get into election management?

While in Jerusalem, working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I closely followed the first Palestinian elections. That was in 1996. Soon after, I joined the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and worked for a few years in the Balkans. I belong to the generation that started working in elections in former Yugoslavia. Some of us, like me, made a career of such an opportunity.

What countries/regions of the world have you worked in?

While I have never listed all the airports in which I have landed, I can say that I worked in different capacities on five continents. I have been stationed in former Yugoslavia, East-Timor, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, just to mention a few exotic places that have experienced nation building and democratic experiments. Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and, to a lesser extent, Latin America have been routine business destinations for me as well.

As a practitioner, what are some of the necessary components for success in helping countries implement valid elections?

Although a well-articulated institutional and legal framework is a prerequisite, it is not sufficient. Genuine, credible elections require a conducive environment for all political forces to compete on an equal basis. But the human dimension of the exercise is what truly matters. An election is about voters, candidates, poll workers, observers, party agents, journalists, security forces, judges and many other actors. All stakeholders must not only get acquainted with electoral proceedings, but actually abide by the rule of law. Advocacy and confidence building is key to change habits and make elections meaningful.

What are some of the best practices in election management that can be replicated regardless of challenges such as budget constraints, staffing limitations, cultural practices, etc.? 

Election management must be contextualized. There is not a single recipe applicable across the world. Different models apply. Systems and processes in each country relate to cultural practices and political traditions. However, there are a few principles that underpin the democratic character of an election.

Democratic elections are not possible without respect for fundamental human rights. Obviously, equal suffrage is paramount – not only for equal voting rights, but also equality of opportunity among contenders and equal voting power. Transparency, impartiality, independence and accountability of election administration are keys to genuine and credible elections. A series of procedural safeguards must be available, especially with regard to the adjudication of disputes.

Too much emphasis is frequently put on election proceedings, as if an election could be limited to Election Day. However, an election is a much more complex endeavor, which involves the contrasting interests and actions of different actors: political parties and candidates; civil society organizations and citizen groups; watchdogs; media; central and local governments; businesses and trade unions; and many more. It is therefore important that these interests are timely and effectively addressed when designing and conducting an electoral event. In this regard, inclusiveness and participation remain the overarching principles of election management.

You were IFES' Chief of Party in Sudan when IFES helped implement the elections called for in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them to make these elections a success?

Among the many challenges the Southern Sudanese faced in planning and conducting the 2011 referendum on self-determination, I will retain one that could have truly hampered the process: the constant dilatory attitude from authorities in Khartoum in clearly implementing provisions set forth in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

In this regard, the 2010 Sudanese general elections were not only a remarkable rehearsal for the Southern Sudanese, they also helped the Southern Sudanese understand it was critical to dissociate the technical and operational preparations of the referendum from policy decisions issued from Khartoum. Making that distinction was critical to the success of the referendum.

To this end, the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau based in Juba was empowered to conduct the referendum. Although the Referendum Commission based in Khartoum formally retained policy decision making powers, the Southern Sudanese – with support from electoral assistance providers – moved forward with preparations, regardless of the constant dragging attitude from their counterparts in the North.

When the referendum neared, Khartoum had no choice but to endorse the options that were already discussed, planned and prepared for implementation by the Southern Sudanese. In other words, operational factors prevailed over legal and formal decision making. While this is not a good practice to endorse, it was the only option available to overcome the malice of the regime in Khartoum. In this regard, IFES support was instrumental in empowering referendum authorities in Juba and ensuring the referendum was not delayed.

What are some of your best memories of your work in this area?

If I have to retain only one image, it will be the Southern Sudanese expressing their joy after the announcement of the referendum results in January 2011. It was a forgone conclusion. There was no doubt about the people’s will to vote for independence. However, experiencing and witnessing the right of people to self-determine, no matter how gloomy the future could be, is enough to offset any disillusion I could have over the democratic paradigm advocated by the international community.