This report, by a group of experts and distinguished former world leaders, examines how to promote and protect the integrity of elections.
Since 2000, all but 11 countries in the world have held national elections. Elections can further democracy, development, human rights, and security, or undermine them, and for this reason alone they should command attention and priority. More than 50 countries have embraced democracy in the last 20 years and now struggle to consolidate democratic governance. Global recession and rising economic inequality are putting pressure on many democracies, including older ones, to show that they are relevant to citizens’ concerns and wellbeing. In the Arab world, where democratic aspirations have long been thwarted, citizens now have unprecedented opportunities to realize those aspirations, but also face dangerous pitfalls. The rise of uncontrolled political finance threatens to hollow out democracy everywhere in the world, and rob democracy of its unique strengths— political equality, the empowerment of the disenfranchised, and the ability to manage societal conflicts peacefully.
For elections to embody democracy, further development and promote security, they must be conducted with integrity. Where elections have integrity, the bedrock democratic principle of political equality is honoured; citizens select their leaders, and hold them accountable. Where elections lack integrity, politicians, officials and institutions are not accountable to the public, which is denied equal opportunity to participate in and influence the political process. Public confidence in elections will be weak, and governments will lack legitimacy. In these cases democratic institutions are empty shells, deprived of the ethos and spirit of democracy.
Elections with integrity are important to values that we hold dear—human rights and democratic principles. Elections give life to rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to take part in the government of one’s country through freely elected representatives, the right of equal access to public service in one’s country, and the recognition that the authority of government derives from the will of the people, expressed in ‘genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot.’
But in addition to promoting democratic values and human rights, elections with integrity can also yield other tangible benefits for citizens. Evidence from around the world suggests that elections with integrity matter for empowering women, fighting corruption, delivering services to the poor, improving governance, and ending civil wars. To be clear, elections with integrity cannot by themselves develop economies, create good governance, or make peace, but recent research does suggest that improved elections can be a catalytic step towards realizing democracy’s transformative potential.
When conducted with integrity, electoral processes are at the heart of democracy’s ability to resolve conflict peacefully. The ability of a society to resolve conflicts without violence requires debate, information, interaction among citizens, and meaningful participation in their own governance, all of which have the potential to change people’s minds and allow governments to take authoritative decisions. Elections with integrity can deepen democracy and enhance public deliberation and reasoning about salient issues and how to address them.