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Publication | Report/Paper

Leadership in Crisis: Ensuring Independence, Ethics and Resilience in the Electoral Process

This publication was produced by IFES for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Feb. 2020.

Erica Shein
Katherine Ellena
Catherine Barnes
Heather Szilagyi
With contributions from:
Timothy Williams

Pull Quote Text
As the stewards of fundamental rights, EMB leaders face a specific set of ethical demands and dilemmas, often under immense political pressure. Leaders in other institutions, such as human rights or anti-corruption bodies, face challenging ethical decisions related to their line of work, but the ethics attached to the distinct and often isolating roles of senior election officials are worth considering specifically.
Leadership in Crisis: Ensuring Independence, Ethics and Resilience in the Electoral Process

Leaders of election management bodies (EMBs) operate in a unique and challenging space. They may be required to carry out their mandates during complex transitions involving all sectors of society, enormous political pressure and considerable tests of individual and institutional resilience. Effective leadership is also needed to navigate the many different crisis scenarios that can impact an election process, including technology failures, cybersecurity breaches,1 public health crises, natural disasters and post-conflict flashpoints.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) global experience has demonstrated that EMB institutions characterized by weak leadership are less likely to seek innovative solutions to emerging problems, instead focusing on maintenance of the status quo. Although ineffective electoral leadership is problematic in any context, the consequences can be magnified in new and fragile democracies. Seriously flawed or failed elections pose a potent risk to political stability in these environments, endangering investments in the electoral process along with other societal achievements. Credible elections, on the other hand, can catalyze democratization.

Despite the fundamental importance of strong electoral leadership to the integrity of elections and peaceful transitions, to date there has been no comprehensive body of research specifically focused on what constitutes effective leadership within and by EMBs. To address this gap, IFES initiated a project with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Global Elections and Political Transitions mechanism to craft an executive leadership training curriculum that can foster the leadership skills necessary to preserve EMB independence and ethics even in the midst of crisis.

Leadership in Crisis: Ensuring Independence, Ethics and Resilience in the Electoral Process