Promoting Electoral Integrity and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Pacific
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Regional Director for Asia-Pacific Vasu Mohan represented IFES at the Pacific Electoral Networks Meeting in Fiji from May 9-11, 2016. Organized jointly by the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand Electoral Administrators Network, the Commonwealth Electoral Network, and hosts the Fijian Elections Office, the theme of the meeting was electoral integrity.
Election officials from Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu attended. Also in attendance were representatives from the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the United Nations Development Programme, International IDEA, and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Mohan presented on IFES’ Electoral Integrity Assessment and highlighted the tool and its use in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, Burma and Sri Lanka.
IFES coordinated with the Pacific Electoral Networks Meeting organizers to hold the Pacific Disabilities Rights Dialogue from May 11-13, 2016 overlapping with the meeting of election officials. This dialogue, funded through the generous support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, aims to cultivate consultative discussions among disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) and election management bodies (EMBs) in the region and increase awareness of election access issues.
The last day of the dialogue featured the new Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) electoral access module training for election officials and DPOs. Senior Access and Inclusion Specialist Virginia Atkinson, Inclusion Officer Rebecca Aaberg, and Asia-Pacific Program Manager Melika Atic provided technical assistance for the regional dialogue held in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Disabilities Forum.
On May 11, representatives of Pacific DPOs sent a delegation to the Pacific Electoral Networks Meeting. These delegates spoke to the election officials about barriers to accessing democratic rights and shared priority recommendations with the election officials. In response the EMB representatives said in their outcome statement: "We received a delegation from the disabled people’s organizations from the Pacific regional dialogue on disabilities rights. We affirm the political rights of people with disabilities and our role as election management bodies in promoting these rights."
On May 12 and 13, EMBs participated in the regional dialogue and training. This synergy between the EMB regional meeting and regional dialogue on political rights of people with disabilities is patterned after recent success in South Asia. On the second day, Fiji announced their commitment to formation of an election access working group comprised of DPOs and election office staff. Palau announced its commitment to establishing an inclusion focal point.
As one participant put it, “People with disabilities should be in politics because they best know what the barriers are for persons with disabilities.”