IFES Q&A with Former Chief of Party in Lebanon Richard Chambers
Interviewee: Richard Chambers
Richard Chambers is IFES’ former Lebanon Chief of Party, providing advice and support for initiatives such as the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform. As a qualified barrister in the United Kingdom, he brings a wealth of legal and elections expertise. Prior to IFES, he conducted a review of draft election and political party legislation in the West Bank and Gaza and assessed the electoral framework in Jordan for Democracy Reporting International, serving as Deputy Chief Observer for the European Union Observation Missions. He was the lead contributor to the Handbook for European Union Election Observers (2nd Edition), drawing on experiences managing observation missions for the European Union, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Electoral Reform International Services in transitional and post-conflict societies. Chambers is currently the President and CEO of The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).
Tell us about your time with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
I worked with IFES in Lebanon from 2007 to 2011, running projects that supported campaigns for electoral reform and strengthened the management for the 2009 parliamentary elections. Lebanon is a fascinating country to work in, but its elections are especially challenging, with many complex political and technical issues that truly absorb you. I also worked on the start-up of IFES’s work in Tunisia in 2011 and Myanmar in 2012, two great experiences of witnessing democracy in transition.
What is your focus in your current role?
I started as the Chief Technical Adviser for the UNDP Lebanese Elections Assistance Program in 2012. In many ways, the work builds on the foundations that IFES, the EU and UNDP laid, but with a series of broader activities and a new set of partners. There’s still much work to be done in supporting electoral reform, but there’s also many new challenges that stem from political polarization amid regional change and instability.
Which IFES programs resonated with you the most and which of them have been most useful for your work today?
I worked on the launch of the Lebanese Election Violence Risk Assessment for the 2009 general elections, an innovative tool to identify security concerns during an electoral process. It came at a time when there was increasing awareness of the risk of violence during the elections, and I’m pleased that the project successfully contributed to understanding how election assistance, political analysis and operational planning can all be integrated to ensure better voter security. I’m also proud of the work we did with disability advocacy groups for the first “accessibility assessment” of polling stations, gathering concrete data on the obstacles that can prevent persons with disabilities from participating in elections.
With over 15 years of experience in democratization and elections, what major lessons have you learned and would share with a young practitioner in the field of election management?
1) Be principled; remember that elections are rooted in the right of citizens to participate, and not the self-interest of politicians or the convenience of election officials.
2) Be patient; remember that democratic change rarely happens overnight – the UK’s Electoral Reform Society was set up in 1884 and still works to improve elections in my own country.
3) Be flexible; rarely is there unanimity on how elections should be conducted and, as there will always be a range of options available, it may be better to have consensus on a good option than to insist on the best one.
4) Be aware; elections do not take place in a vacuum, and there is no technical issue that does not have a political consequence.
What is your fondest memory from your work with IFES?
There are many good memories of great friends, colleagues and partners doing excellent work. But the best memories of my time with IFES will always be that it coincided with my marriage to Delphine and the birth and early years of my daughter, Charlotte; both honorary IFES alumni. Thanks for the time off, Zeinab and Ambar!