August 19, 2016

Make Election Free and Fair


Moral degradation exists everywhere. With increased efficiency of modern mass communications, we have become much more aware of man’s inhumanity to man on a scale unheard of hitherto. Individuals tend to forget or completely ignore their obligations and duties to the society in which they live.  Mankind appears to have been blinded by material achievements thinking that materialism is the end of all things. Mankind has forgotten that materialism alone does not provide the true happiness or spiritual well-being sought after by mankind. Men must seek true happiness and spiritual well-being through their respective religions as an additional adjunct to materialism. Spiritual solace and materialism go hand in hand to provide true happiness for all.
Attitude towards People, Planet and Profit needs to be positively and beneficially changed and improved to gain Peace, Progress and Prosperity. Human failings, such as ego, greed, envy, enmity and hate that prevailed from time immemorial, have remained unchanged even to the present time. The Buddha’s enlightenment is such that His spiritual injunctions, particularly the Five Precepts and the Noble Eight-fold path, are prescriptions to eradicate these human weaknesses which cause pain and harm to others. The immortal observation of the Buddha that “Hatred can never be eradicated by Hatred but only through love and compassion”, is a valid statement that has gone unchallenged throughout the ages.
Knowledge about election (Awareness, Advocacy, Assessment, Analysis, Action) needs to be disseminated widely and extensively to all stakeholders all over the country in timely manner. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, free and fair elections require the recognition and affirmation of three sets of rights. These include: voting and election rights (these establish universal, indiscriminately suffrage, secret balloting and the right to individual appeal in situation where individual rights are compromised); candidature, party and campaign rights (these establish that everyone has the right to participate in government, to express political opinions, to campaign, to have equal access to the media, to be free from political violence and to the protection of the law); and the rights and responsibilities of the state (these establish the state as responsible for the establishment of an effective, impartial and non-discriminatory process for registering voters, providing education on electoral procedures, and ensuring a non-partisan electoral commission exists). It should be noted that these three sets of rights are premised on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 21.3: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”.
Electoral legitimacy is of paramount importance in ensuring a stable political environment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as the foundational document in the academic debate about what constitutes a free and fair electoral contest. Transparency International (TI) has taken a significantly different approach to defining the free and fair standard. In defining what makes an election free and fair, emphasis is placed on independent electoral commissions and transparency of polling mechanism. With an independent electoral commission, the ability of incumbents to manipulate the electoral process is greatly reduced. In regards to transparency, the polling process should be scrutinized by all parties. TI argues for sophisticated electoral procedures that include tagging electoral material with serial codes and closely recording the number of voters to ensure the free and fairness of the electoral contest.
European Union (EU) suggests that in order for an election to be deemed free and fair, it must reflect basic human rights. In regards to elections the EU argues: To be truly free and fair. They must be conducted in an atmosphere which is respectful of human rights. The right to take part in government through freely chosen representatives is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 21) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 25). The EU however, has recognized the inherent ambiguity of the phrase and has moved toward measuring whether or not an election has been conducted according to democratic standards. In the Handbook for European Union Election Observation Mission, free and fair is referred to as a sound bite for narrow assessment of an electoral process and is no longer promoted as a standard suitable to evaluate elections.
Law enforcement and evaluation of election monitoring are important for free and fair election.  This has become a common phenomenon as groups such as the Commonwealth have come to similar conclusions. The Commonwealth currently assesses elections in terms of whether or not the will of the people has been expressed. The Commonwealth has argued this approach allows the observer group to note electoral abuses but still conclude whether or not the election had reached an international standard. Although there have been a number of international forums and initiatives dedicated to establishing a clear description, free and fair remains a blanket term used to imply electoral validity. As Elklit and Svensson suggest: the phrase free and fair cannot denote compliance with a fixed, universal standard of electoral competition: no such standard exists, and the complexity of the electoral process makes the notion of any simple formula unrealistic. However, in order to provide an evaluation of election monitoring, a conception of the most basic standards of free and fair must be established.
Elements relating to voters’ opportunity to participate in the election without coercion or restrictions of any kind should be included in the freedom dimension. In a very comprehensive analysis titled “What Makes Elections Free and Fair”, authors Elklit and Jorgen set out to establish the most basic prerequisites for a free and fair electoral process. With regard to the fairness of an election, the authors refer to the notion of a level playing ground. Elklit and Jorgen have developed an extensive checklist for the criteria of free and fair that can be applied before, during and after the Election Day. While Elklit and Jorgen delineation provides a clear depiction of free and fair, it is important that a clear understanding of the phrase is established and how it applies.
Code of ethics for all stakeholders in the election needs to be abided by all concerned. In a general sense, it can be assumed that free and fair electoral practices are those that meet the most basic requirements of a nation’s electoral law. More specifically, these are electoral practices that work to fulfil the demand of democratic indicators as well as assist in the general capacity building of a nation’s political system. These practices include but are not limited to: an independent and non-partisan electoral commission; equal access to government owned/operated resources for incumbent and opposition parties; accessibility of electoral polls; freedom granted to opposition to campaign; universal, efficient and accessible voter registration, and strict regulations prohibiting and punishment of vote rigging and gerrymandering. It is only with a basic conception of free and fair that one can begin to explore and evaluate electoral monitoring.
Together we prosper and working together we deliver. This is Teamwork that will be effective and successful if all concerned stakeholders actively and constructively involved and participated. Elections have become a major factor in the stabilisation and democratisation of emerging democracies and post-conflict countries. More than a dozen such elections were taken place in 2010 and early 2011. However, the risk of a relapse into war and violence is considerable. Elections in these countries are a tightrope walk between war and peace, stability and instability. But there is no iron law according to which elections are doomed to fail. There have been a number of success stories in the past two decades. Such elections can be conducted successfully if important lessons are taken seriously and implemented. Apart from the difficult issues of timing and the choice of an electoral system properly tailored to local conditions, the establishment of an independent, well functioning Election Commission and an Election Complaints System are crucial elements for success.
Integral part of the democratization process is holding successful elections. Elections are a defining characteristic of democracy, and thus form an integral part of the democratization process. Elections represent an important dimension in the efforts towards democratic consolidation in any country. Stated differently, elections are not synonymous with democracy, but are a central component of a functioning democratic system. In discussions of election security and violence, it is relevant to consider the nature and underlying purpose of election violence. Elections are a contest for power, and are therefore inherently contentious; unless conducted fairly, they can (and often do) lead to violence. Political parties participating in an election use violence, intimidation and conflict to influence the results or timing of an election. This is particularly true when a particular side perceives the process as unfair or exclusive. As Jeff Fischer rightly observes, when electoral violence occurs under these circumstances, “it is not a product of an electoral process; it is the breakdown of an electoral process.” The challenge, therefore, is to ensure that elections are fair, credible and transparent. In the words of Fischer: “[A]n electoral process is an alternative to violence as a means of achieving governance. However, when an electoral process is perceived as unfair, unresponsive or corrupt, its political legitimacy is compromised and stakeholders are motivated to go outside the established norms to achieve their political objectives. Electoral conflict and violence become tactics in political competition”.
One man one vote is important in democratic control and governance process of open and voluntary participation in nation building. “Successful” however the process, elections must not be considered a “one-off” initiative or an end in themselves. Sustained attention is needed to advance not only the establishment of democratic institutions and processes to ensure good governance, but also the economic development of the emerging democratic country. Thus, while elections undoubtedly require advance planning and considerable investment of time and money, the achievement of even peaceful elections will be undermined if the citizens do not experience an improvement in the economic conditions that, more often than not, helped spur the conflict in the first place.
Not for power but for good governance and services of welfare towards Peace, Progress and Prosperity for all citizens, it is aimed at. The international community – and in particular the Western countries – more often than not have failed to insist on the implementation of these elements, despite their resounding rhetoric on the need for democracy and free and fair elections. They should do better and take more seriously the notion that, for the local population, these elements, in particular the existence of an effective and independent Election Commission and an Election Complaints System, are unmistakable indicators of the credibility of the electoral undertaking. Politicians and
diplomats should not forget the lessons of the presidential elections in Afghanistan in autumn 2009, which were a near-disaster in this regard.
Free but not fair, Fair but not free. Neither free nor fair. Free and Fair election is what we all want. Elections in emerging democracies and post-conflict societies have a great potential to plunge a country back into violent conflict, to undermine processes of stabilisation and to discredit democratisation. The presidential elections in Afghanistan in autumn 2009 are one of the recent examples for this risk. Elections are not only a tool of democratic participation but also a fierce contest for positions of leadership, power and access to resources. There have been difficult elections in conflict-ridden countries in late 2009 and early 2010, like those in Afghanistan, Sudan, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea.
Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood are foundation of Morality (character) for everyday life and the attainment of enlightenment. Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are elements of Concentration to achieve the goal of supreme bliss. Right View (understanding) and Right Thought (thinking) are essential necessities for Wisdom to lead the path. These are Noble Eightfold Path. One should not forget that there have been a number of (more or less) successful elections in post-conflict countries in the last decades, like those in Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the DR Congo as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia on the Balkans. There is no iron law according to which elections are doomed to fail in war-torn countries and emerging countries. Elections can play a significant role in stabilising and democratising them if handled properly.
Electoral support by the public and donors is necessary for the long-term success of a democratic political system. Those political, structural and institutional lessons learned and elements which are today considered by most practitioners to be indispensable for giving elections a chance to succeed in emerging democracies despite the enormous challenges the environment in these countries poses. This concerns in particular the existence of certain key elements, like independent Election Commissions and functioning Electoral Complaint Systems. As expressed by Diamond (1999, p. 65), democratic survival requires that “all significant political actors, at both the elite and mass levels, believe that the democratic regime is the most right and appropriate for their society, better than any other realistic alternative they can imagine”.
Experience is the best teachers. Earn while we learn. Learn while we earn. Through “Learning by doing” and “Learning by watching”, Lifelong learning needs to be nurtured not only about democracy but also about human rights, peace, development and prosperity.  For democracy to survive, most individuals in a society must agree to abide by the rules of the game and accept that their policy or leadership preferences will not always prevail. Proper institutions are also critical for the success of democracy. As expected, empirical research reports a strong correlation between the development of the appropriate institutions and institutional arrangements, on the one hand, and, on the other, the success or failure of democratic transitions around the globe. (Stepan & Skach, 1993).
As we all know, proper institutions, while necessary, are not sufficient for successful democratization. Rose, Mishler, and Haerpfer (1998) suggest in this connection that the relationship between institutional arrangements and citizen attitudes is comparable to the relationship between hardware and software in the working of a computer, democratic institutions being the hardware and public support for democracy being the software. Thus, again, though also not sufficient, public support for democratic governance is essential for the functioning and long-term survival of a democratic political system.
Noteworthy of the fact that while public support for democracy tends to be reasonably stable in consolidated democracies, the stability of attitudes toward democracy in non-democratic or transitioning societies is less well understood. In cases where citizens are experiencing elements of the democratic process for the first time, attitudes toward democracy are likely to vary as a function of the perception of these experiences; and this is particularly important since building or maintaining support for democratic governance is necessary if democratic transitions are ultimately to succeed and be consolidated.
Do (cultivate) what is good, To avoid all evil. To purify one’s mind – This is the teaching of all Buddhas. Be good to others. Keep our mind pure. Keep our election clean. Make election clean, free and fair. The new consensus of what constitutes “free and fair elections” is broader and more comprehensive in nature, aiming to ensure that the elections are conducted in a free environment with administratively fair rules. The most important criteria for a free and fair election include the following: (1) the right of all voters to participate in the electoral process without hindrance; (2) [freedom to campaign for all political parties]; (3) secrecy of the ballot; (4) reasonable speed in the counting of ballots; (5) accountability and openness of the electoral process to the competing parties and (6) an acceptable electoral law.
Freedom from fear in autonomous and independent voting is a requisite for free and fair election. There are, in particular, three basic conditions which need to be met before elections may be risked in emerging democracies:  A sufficiently secure environment is the sine qua non for organising and carrying out elections successfully. The majority of combatants and militias should therefore have been disarmed (or at least reliably pacified) and sufficient progress made in the building of army and police forces. The administrative and communication infrastructures of the respective country must have been re-established to a degree that they allow for a sufficiently smooth conduct not only of the elections themselves but also related activities, like voter registration, civic education etc.  Finally, the justice system and police must have reached a degree of functioning that enables them to deal with cases of fraud, abuse and other legal issues related to the proper conduct of elections; otherwise the opposition parties and the population at large will have no confidence in the fairness of the elections. It takes time to build the respective institutions and capabilities. Therefore, a third and widely debated question is: What is the right timing and sequencing of elections?
Autonomy and independence is one of the important principles for democratic election. Party finance has become a central concern for representative democracy. The core question relates to the autonomy of the representative process itself. Are public representative bodies sufficiently independent of private forms of power to be able to regulate the latter if that is what democratically elected representatives want to do? One obvious difficulty is that the representative process can simply be ‘bought’. All representatives do not just depend on citizens for votes. They also depend on donors to give them money to fight their election campaigns. Broadly there are three problems in defining arrangements for party finance: (a) Should there be limits on how much any one party or candidate can spend? (b) Should there be limits on how much any one donor can contribute? And (c) should public bodies themselves contribute to the financing of parties and candidates?
In this modern age, the media is one of the most powerful influences on how an election runs inside the country, and how it is perceived from outside. For many people, an election is a crucial decision about the future. If the election goes well, the country can continue towards democracy and peace. But if the election goes badly, it can undermine democracy and turn the country back towards conflict. For an election to go well, it must be free and fair. There must be free speech so all citizens and all political candidates can speak without fear. The media must be free to tell everyone what was said without pressure to twist the truth. That is the job of professional journalists – to fully inform citizens of the issues and their choices so they can decide for themselves for whom to vote.
Rule of Law must be strictly abided by all citizens, all stakeholders and media persons. Discipline is the symbol of democracy. The election must be fair. There must be rules to ensure every citizen has a secret vote. All candidates must have equal rights and opportunities to campaign without interference. The rules must be enforced fairly and everyone must respect the results of the vote. Elections are a great challenge for the media. Journalists need to know the election rules. They must report fairly on all candidates, parties and issues. The media should be the voice of the voters. Journalists must adhere to professional standards of accuracy, impartiality and responsibility. And they have to work amidst great excitement, under pressure from powerful interests, and with very little time. A further determinant of whether there is a level playing field in elections is access to the media. There is variation across the nation both (a) in how far the media are obliged to allocate time to candidates and parties in national election and (b) in provisions that are made for equality of access.
May the election be clean, free and fair.


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