The issue of violence around elections is as prevalent as ever. Venezuela and Georgia recently went through contentious elections and emerged unscathed. Kenya may yet face similar fears in their upcoming elections, especially with recent outbreaks of violence from disaffected youth gangs. What are global leaders doing to deal with security and elections?
Last month, the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy, and Security released a lengthy report entitled “Deepening Democracy.” The report, written by an international panel of academics and practitioners including Kofi Annan, Madeline Albright, Amartya Sen, and several former heads of state, provides recommendations on important issues and challenges facing democracy and elections around the world. Their main recommendations focus on the challenges on rule of law, building electoral management, reinforcing institutions, reducing barriers, and regulating political finance. Another main theme is security, which in fact is one of the title purposes of the Global Commission.
Having read the report, I have to ask: where are the recommendations directly concerning security? I should preface this post with the fact that the main recommendations of the report are insightful, important, and practical. However, I believe the most crucial and interesting findings of the Commission are not as emphasized as they should be, especially considering their relevance for security governance. They were buried in the body of the report, so I will take the time to highlight them myself in this blog post.
One of the understated issues in the report is the necessity of an ethos of democratic participation, a fundamental aspect of security. This includes support for the rule of law, institutionalization of democracy, top-down initiatives by elites, and bottom-up community calls for democratic values. Sociopolitical support is vital to curb electoral violence
Another understated recommendation of the report was a balanced endorsement of political leaders as well as bottom-up initiatives. The elite classes in political groups guide the debate or conflict and their opt-in to democracy is vital to the process. What sets this report apart from others is the additional focus on grass-roots initiatives. Fewer individuals separate from mainstream politics with the presence of community engagement and subsequently buy-in to the electoral process. Reduced alienation often means reduced violence.
The last finding of the report that I find noteworthy carries a great deal of relevance for conflict studies: democratic elections (and the political system behind them) should enable elections and political contestation to not be a zero-sum, “Winner-takes-all” event. Many episodes in history show the danger in setting up political contests with high stakes. Post-election violence is a considerable fear in many circumstances and the potential foundation of chronic violence and resurgence. Providing a win-win solution removes one of the direct triggers to violence, especially in post-conflict societies.
My central point is this: the Commission’s report matters for security, even if its authors did not stress this theme themselves.