UN General Assembly, 1994


A. Major United Nations missions

22. Over the past 12 months the United Nations conducted two major electoral missions within the context of peace-keeping operations. In April over 800 observers were present for two rounds of elections in El Salvador. Elections were held in Mozambique from 27 to 29 October; the United Nations deployed some 2,000 observers. Specific details of the El Salvador mission are contained in the final report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission to El Salvador (ONUSAL) (S/1994/561 and Add.1).

23. The United Nations undertook a major coordinating role in the international observation of South Africa’s first general elections in April 1994. In addition to its deployment of 2,120 observers, the United Nations coordinated its observation and deployment with the Commonwealth, EU and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Although that coordination made the mission more complicated than a single-organization operation, the potential economies and strengths of such collaboration are worth reviewing and evaluating for the future. The Field Operations Division of the Department of Peace-keeping Operations is currently conducting such a review. Specific details of the observation mission in South Africa are provided in the final report of the Secretary-General on the question of South Africa (S/1994/717).

B. Support for international observers

24. In his 1994 report (A/48/590), the Secretary-General described the positive experience obtained from missions designed to provide coordination and support for international observers provided by Member States, international and non-governmental organizations. Although that approach was found effective and economical even for short-term observation (the election days only), it was found most useful when undertaken from a long-term perspective, allowing observation of the registration process, the electoral campaign and the election and final vote count. In the light of that experience, this approach has been used for an increasing number of electoral observation missions.

25. Between 16 October 1993 and 15 October 1994 the Electoral Assistance Division organized three support missions for international observers. The most comprehensive mission was undertaken in Malawi, where an electoral assistance secretariat was established that also provided technical assistance in boundary delimitation, civic education, constitutional law, human rights and training of poll workers. Experts in specific fields were provided by the Division, the Centre for Human Rights, the British Overseas Development Authority, the EC and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

C. Support for national observers

26. The Electoral Assistance Division adopted a new approach to electoral assistance in providing support for national observers for Mexico’s national elections. The emphasis in that operation was on providing training for potential domestic observers that would contribute to the creation of a national network of election observers. Through that approach, Mexican nationals were able to undertake a consistent and comprehensive observation of the August elections. The mission also reviewed the Mexican electoral system and provided comments to the electoral authorities.

27. In October 1994, the Division organized a general review and assessment meeting with representatives of the Mexican observer network in order to evaluate the training and observation activities undertaken. The feedback from the meeting will provide essential input for the design of future missions of this nature by the Division and should assist the Mexican national observer network in identifying areas for further work prior to their next observation activity.

28. The primary advantages of this form of electoral assistance are its emphasis on long-term capacity-building within a country and its contribution to the creation of confidence among citizens in their own electoral process.

D. Observation

29. In earlier reports the Secretary-General referred to this form of assistance as “follow and report”. Although such assistance was not provided frequently, there were several cases where it was decided to send a single officer to follow an electoral process in order to provide the Secretary-General with an internal report. Based on experience to date, this form of assistance has been found to be of negligible benefit and will therefore be authorized only in special cases.

30. The approach has frequently been used when the request for observers arrived too late for proper assessment and action. In other cases a Member State has insisted on the need for a United Nations presence at the time of the election. The United Nations is clearly dedicated to supporting countries requesting assistance for their further democratic development. The weaknesses of the approach, however, include the minimal impact of a single observer on the electoral process, the ultimate value of an assessment report provided after the election and the time and travel costs of organizing a United Nations mission that may ultimately be more symbolic than substantive.

31. Although such observation will not be precluded in the future, it will be undertaken only in special circumstances. As the guidelines for electoral assistance become better known, it can be expected that Member States will submit requests for electoral assistance in a timely manner, thereby assisting the United Nations to serve them most appropriately and effectively.

E. Post-election assistance

32. The conduct of credible elections is recognized as an important standard in assessing the intent and actual performance of a democratic system of government. However, credible elections do not ensure that the ensuing weeks and months will lead to a strengthening of democratic processes and institutions. The post-election phase in too many countries has been marked by breakdown and later transitional failure. Because the holding of credible and periodic elections is only one component in a broader context related to democracy and the promotion of pluralism, the potential value of post-election assistance has become apparent in many countries.

33. In its resolution 48/131, the General Assembly recommended that the United Nations provide assistance before and after elections have taken place, including needs assessment missions aimed at recommending programmes that might contribute to the consolidation of the democratization process. However, the prospect of undertaking activities in this relatively new field raises several important considerations.

34. An election, while part of a long-term process, is a specific event that requires a variety of activities to be undertaken within a clear time-frame. Despite country-to-country variations, the organization of elections involves a series of clear and well-defined activities. Several years of experience with electoral assistance has provided valuable lessons as to the key problems to be expected and well-qualified institutions and consultants can now be easily identified. In contrast, democratic consolidation is a more ambiguous domain, with unclear boundaries and potential overlapping of organizational mandates. Experience with previous transitions may not be applicable to many of the situations that should be addressed. As a result, jurisdictional claims by organizations wishing to provide assistance may often be based more on interpretations of mandate than on effective field experience. A final concern is that the magnitude and duration of post-election activities, which are both necessary and urgent, are considerably greater than those required in the provision of electoral assistance.

35. Based upon the concerns outlined above, the Secretary-General believes that the involvement of the Electoral Assistance Division in democratic consolidation should be very carefully delimited in order to ensure that any programmes undertaken are truly within the implementation capabilities of the Division. In that context, the latter might initiate the following activities as a contribution to this field. Firstly, it should continue to provide post-election assistance to electoral institutions, contributing to their organizational development, systems design (i.e. the creation of permanent registration rolls) and the overall sustainability of the electoral process. Secondly, in the case of major assistance missions, the Division should produce a post-election report containing recommendations for successive steps in order:

(a) to continue the development of democratic institutions and processes;
(b) to maintain the impetus for international support generated by the election process; and
(c) to contribute to resolving any lingering questions or tensions arising from the elections. In special cases, post-election activity might also include the conduct of needs assessment missions.

36. The Electoral Assistance Division would have difficulty serving as an effective implementing agency for post-election activities. However, it may contribute to important clarification and definition of this field, together with the UNDP Division of Management Development and Governance. Working in cooperation, the Electoral Assistance Division and the Division of Management Development and Governance might undertake several case-studies, identify projects that might help reinforce pluralism in democratizing societies, establish an inventory of organizations active in the field and evaluate their capacities. One result of such activities might be the preparation of suggestions for future United Nations activity in this field.

F. Technical assistance and advisory services

37. Technical assistance continues to be the most frequently requested form of electoral assistance provided by the United Nations. Between 16 October 1993 and 15 October 1994, the United Nations provided 43 series of technical or advisory services. For many Member States, however, several different forms of technical assistance were requested. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, the Department for Development Support and Management Services provided assistance with training, civil registration, electoral processes and civic education. The range of assistance that can be provided by the United Nations has continued to expand, given the growing expertise of the Centre for Human Rights, the Department for Development Support and Management Services, the Electoral Assistance Division and UNDP in their respective fields.

38. In the past year the Electoral Assistance Division has provided technical assistance in such fields as electoral systems, election organization and budget, boundary definition, civic and voter education, informatics, logistics, procurement of election materials (such as ballots, staining ink, ballot envelopes, ballot boxes, etc.) and training of election administrators.

39. As in the past, UNDP has taken an important role in the provision of technical assistance, often providing coordination for the various technical components of a programme. UNDP has also been instrumental in assuring timely financial support for technical assistance projects, whether through indicative planning figures or cost-sharing arrangements.