Peacebuilding lessons from elections in Liberia and Sierra Leone point to three policy priorities: support political inclusion for marginalised groups; transform institutions; and promote people-focused security.
Support political inclusion for marginalised groups: develop and support mechanisms to break down cultural and socio-economic barriers to political participation and ensure representation of marginalised groups, especially women, young people and ethnic minorities, in electoral processes and in the executive and legislature.
Actions could include exploring mechanisms such as incentives and quotas in political party governance structures, candidate lists and elected and appointed offices to achieve this. Empowering civil society can also help to shift the existing discourse and culture of exclusion and exert pressure for change. CSOs can strengthen civic engagement and the social contract. Their involvement in elections can help to maintain a focus on people over the state, and to build the link between the state and its citizens. The media are especially well placed to create the space for public participation and debate needed for elections to support peace.
Transform institutions: democratise political parties, strengthen parliament, reform election supervision and structures to deal with grievances, enhance civil society’s role and bring ordinary people into the reform process to build trust in elections.
Policymakers could help improve the performance of parliament and promote internal democratisation of political parties by providing technical assistance and encouraging the institution of stronger oversight mechanisms. Broadening representation and strengthening accountability in these institutions will help mitigate perceptions of exclusion and suspicion of corruption that contribute to electoral violence and undermine state-society relations. Enabling opposition parties to access state resources would help to ‘level the political playing field’. Criteria for access should be developed through a broad-based consultative process. An option could be to link resource access to internal democratisation, such as increasing the diversity of parliamentary and local council representatives.
Policymakers should encourage a more participatory process for the appointment of key electoral officials involving civil society and political parties. CSOs should be regarded as partners throughout the electoral cycle, rather than as service providers on election day. Civil society actors could be involved in strategy development, planning for elections and overseeing peaceful processes.
People-focused security: reform, refocus and capacitate police to emphasise protecting vulnerable people.
Police strategies for elections should focus on ensuring the security and participation of citizens, not just safeguarding the voting process. Strategies should be based around reducing fear and ensuring accountability for political violence. They should include election-specific training and mentoring programmes for police to build trust with communities. They should also link with civil society conflict prevention strategies. This could be part of wider strategy of democratising security governance, including building in greater civilian oversight and depoliticising the appointment of senior police officials.