IFES Q&A with Former Program Officer for Europe and Asia
Jiv Sekhon is currently Assistant Director, International Services Section at the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). In that role, he is responsible for the AEC’s international projects in the Pacific region, including AEC support for the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand Electoral Administrators network (PIANZEA) and AEC assistance in Tonga, Solomon Islands and Fiji. He is currently acting as Director of the section. Prior to joining the AEC, Jiv worked as a Program Officer for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in Washington, D.C. supporting projects in Southeast Asia including in Burma, Cambodia and Indonesia. Sekhon began his career with the Australian Agency for International Development working on governance programs and oversaw Australian electoral support in Indonesia.
How did you get into election management?
I began my career with the Australian Agency for International Development, which has now merged with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. Given my fields of study in economics and law, my first role was managing Australian support for governance programs. This included supporting projects focused on economic policy, civil society development and democracy and governance. I had the opportunity to be based in Indonesia and oversaw assistance to the electoral process. From there, I naturally became interested in election administration which led me to pursue opportunities with IFES and now with the AEC.
What do you consider to be the greatest challenges for democracy and governance projects?
There are numerous challenges in delivering these types of projects. For me a significant one centers on political dynamics. Effective support of this nature often goes to the heart of the political process and can have wide ranging effects on power structures. As foreign institutions, we are often dealing with difficult and sensitive relationships with counterpart institutions, different arms of government and the broader citizenry. It is often challenging to negotiate in this environment for foreign organizations and it requires particular skills to manage this effectively. Our assistance depends heavily on the cooperation and ownership of a wide range of actors and our relationship building, commitment to international standards and professionalism is central. Aside from these contextual challenges, there are also numerous operational challenges involved in running election projects in short time frames often when the legal and administrative environment is evolving rapidly and the need for assistance becomes greater as the election period looms.
Considering the 2014 presidential elections in Indonesia, what do you consider to be necessary components or best practices for the country to successfully implement valid elections?
The Indonesian election process in 2014 was remarkable on many fronts. The presidential elections have been extremely competitive and have tested the resolve, procedures and processes of the election commission (KPU) and the commitment to democracy of a wide range of actors including political candidates, political parties, civil society groups and others.
For me, it once again highlights the importance of the work we do to strengthen election administration and assist with delivery of an open and transparent electoral process. In Indonesia, the KPU’s commitment to a transparent vote counting and tabulation process has built confidence amongst the wider community and allowed a number of groups to verify results independently hence building credibility for the final result. The experience there also highlights the need for robust election dispute resolution processes which are transparent and impartial. These are all being tested in Indonesia again much as they were in previous elections. Ensuring that these mechanisms are impartial and robust goes a long way to ensuring that the key parties buy into them and accept their outcomes.
Did you feel that your work at IFES helped you grow professionally? Which IFES experience (technical or other) do you value the most?
Absolutely! During my time at IFES, I had the opportunity to work with a great set of motivated, professional and dedicated colleagues both in D.C. and the field. I enjoyed my time on the IFES Indonesia, Cambodia and Burma programs and assisted in other areas. The highlights for me were the opportunities to support multiple and varied projects in Indonesia in support of a wide range of electoral issues, and also to help establish emerging assistance in Burma. A personal highlight was also assisting with a delegation of commissioners from Indonesia during the 2012 IFES U.S. Election Program. As clichéd as it sounds, the biggest highlight though was the opportunity to work with the wonderful set of people in IFES both in D.C. and the field. I learned a lot from these experiences and thoroughly enjoyed my time.