Contribution of Electoral Commissions to the Strengthening of Democracy in West Africa

July 5, 2011, 3:37 p.m.

Election Management Bodies in West Africa: A comparative study of the contribution of electoral commissions to the strengthening of democracy is a review by AfriMAP and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa written by Ismaila Madior Fall, Mathias Hounkpe, Adele L. Jinadu, and Pascal Kambale. The comparative study looks at the role institution building and increased expertise has had on democracy, more specifically on the role of electoral management bodies (EMBs). The study also looks at the impact that history and the transition between colonial powers to the new West African elite has shaped the way elections and governments function and the paths they have followed to get where they are. The creation and paths to formation of EMBs have shaped the democratic development of a country.  The most common challenges to electoral managment are voter registration, power of sanction, cost of elections, and electoral dispute resolution.  The more independent an EMB the more democratic a country will be, being able to guarantee that elections are free and fair.

One of the general traits of the reforms introduced in this area in the countries studied have been efforts to reinforce or initiate mechanisms to separate, even insulate, electoral management from the normal administrative responsibilities of the executive. The direct consequence has been the creation of electoral management bodies (EMBs) described as ‘independent’ of the executive in almost all the countries of the sub-region. This has resulted in the need to equip electoral management bodies with competent personnel, whose need for expertise has increased each time the electoral rules and procedures became more complex.

This collection of studies asks the question whether, and if so to what extent, the achievements in building institutions and expertise have in fact had a positive impact on democracy in the countries of the sub-region. It aims to judge the impact that the evolution of the structures and procedures for electoral management has had in practice on the quality of citizen participation in the running of their countries. The main findings of the different studies show that even if the problems are similar in each country and the responses to these problems have taken the same institutional and procedural route, the effect that the responses have in turn had on the credibility of elections and the quality of political participation varies considerably from one country to the next. The reasons for these differences are often located in historical factors and the general political context, rather than the institutional form of the EMB or the legal status of its members – even though these factors are not without consequences for electoral governance.

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