People Against Violence in Elections in Bangladesh

Publication Date: 
16 Apr 2015

News Type:

In this International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Q&A, IFES Bangladesh Chief of Party Alistair Legge talks about the People Against Violence in Elections (PAVE) program, including how the program started; the role of violence in Bangladesh’s political and electoral processes; the instrumental role of women in election conflict and security programming; and lessons learned to prevent or mitigate electoral violence in other contexts.

Can you explain the genesis of the People Against Violence in Elections (PAVE) program in Bangladesh?

In Bangladesh, elections are too frequently characterized by wide-scale violence. Complementing and building on an existing violence monitoring and tracking program – IFES’ Election Violence Education and Resolution (EVER) tool – the PAVE program is a civics-based training approach that equips key electoral stakeholders to reduce tolerance for, and incidents of, violence around elections.

IFES’ first PAVE activity in Bangladesh focused on women, engaging 20 leading women from business, media, the arts and academia who make up IFES’ Women Against Violence in Elections (WAVE) Advisory Group. Though traditionally not engaged with elections and electoral and political violence, these women were primed to play an influential role in educating their constituencies and implementing violence prevention and mitigation activities and were keen to have the tools to do this.

Most traditional governance efforts in this election conflict and security space focus primarily on the victims of violence and not on the perpetrators. In order to address electoral violence adequately, programming must also address the perpetrators and the root causes of the violence.

Along this vein, PAVE training combines traditional conflict resolution methodology with election-specific technical expertise. Another source of inspiration was the Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections’ (BRIDGE) electoral security module, however the PAVE program shifted its intended audience from election management bodies (EMBs) to civil society. Also during this time, IFES was asked to partner with Democracy International to run a training for a mid-level political party activists’ fellowship program, providing space to test the new material with political party members. Out of material tested in these two workshops, IFES formed the original curriculum for piloting PAVE.

Has violence impacted Bangladesh’s political and electoral processes? How?

Violence has played a significant role in Bangladesh’s political and electoral processes. In Bangladesh, there is a complex situation where politics, business, crime and violence intersect and intermingle. In contexts where there are high levels of violence during the electoral cycle, public participation is affected, as is the credibility of the electoral process.

How are women's empowerment and leadership incorporated into this program?

The majority of early PAVE participants were female and IFES has conducted three all-female workshops. In addition, in all PAVE workshops, we encourage participants to look at how violence affects women in the electoral process. The original workshop was for IFES’ WAVE Advisory Group, which now provides advice and direction to general IFES Bangladesh programming as well as PAVE developments.

The WAVE Advisory Group women have also been key in spreading PAVE into the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), a conflict prone area of Bangladesh that is traditionally very hard to visit and work in. PAVE workshops in CHT have been conducted for women Karbari and headwomen at the village level. Karbari and headwomen are a village-level administrative body for village governance and are the first level of alternative dispute resolution in Bangladesh.

The PAVE program combines election conflict and security training curriculum with a Peace Ambassador program. How do these two components of the training equip stakeholders to prevent and mitigate electoral violence?

One of the positive results of conducting PAVE workshops has been the desire by participants to engage in further election conflict mitigation activities after the workshops through a Peace Ambassador program. The objective of the program is to encourage people to take responsibility for building peace within their spheres of influence. While we hope that everyone who does the PAVE program becomes an advocate or ambassador, there are certain people who take on greater leadership roles and conduct more structured, formal activities. To support these ambassadors, we created an additional curriculum called PAVE Engage which looks to strengthen the capacity of these ambassadors to work on practical conflict mitigation, mediation and peace building around elections.

What are some of the successes of the PAVE program?

A recent impact assessment of the PAVE pilot phase revealed that almost all participants (97.6%) who responded to the surveys intended to work on issues related to the training program in the future, which is the main objective of the program. IFES recorded a total of 40 peace-building events conducted by PAVE pilot participants in the months following their training. The results are encouraging, and demonstrate a willingness and enthusiasm on the part of program participants to address electoral conflict in the country.

What lessons learned from the PAVE program can be used to prevent or mitigate electoral violence outside of the Bangladeshi content?

I think the primary lesson is that you can empower people through a civic education process to take personal responsibility to deal with entrenched conflict and violence.

With regard to the educational and training aspects, the linkage of conflict mitigation ideas with the root causes of political and electoral violence results in an immediately practicable set of skills. For example, the first part of PAVE examines democracy, with a strong focus on the ideas of pluralism and authority residing in the people; free and fair elections as a way of distributing power; political representation; and the importance of independent EMBs. Deficiencies with all of these issues are in some ways causes, triggers or contributors to the violence prevalent in Bangladesh.

The program then looks to differentiate conflict and violence, and explores the idea that conflict does not have to lead to violence. A pluralistic democratic framework; strong, independent and nonpartisan institutions; and a sound, effective, implementable and enforceable legal framework are ways that you can peacefully and constructively deal with different and diverse interests and opinions in the electoral and democratic process.

PAVE is the latest tool in IFES’ global election conflict and security toolkit.