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Participants presenting at the first Commonwealth Election Professionals workshop in Honiara, Solomon Islands

Participants at first Commonwealth Election Professionals workshop in Honiara, Solomon Islands

Blog: How the Commonwealth is building capacity among election professionals in the Pacific

20 November 2019

Next week, the Commonwealth Election Professionals Initiative Asia Training Event will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In this blog, Kele Lui talks about his experience of participating in the Pacific Training Event in September as Tokelau’s delegate, and why the programme is so valuable for Commonwealth election administrators.

I was extremely excited at the prospect of attending my first Commonwealth Election Professionals workshop, held in Honiara (Solomon Islands) from the 2– 6 September this year. However, I have to confess to also being quite daunted; this would be a new experience and I had doubts about how effectively I would be able to participate. As a territory of New Zealand, my country Tokelau is not a member of the Commonwealth in its own right, nor do we have a permanent election management body (EMB) with staff specialising exclusively in elections.

Launched in June 2013, the Commonwealth Election Professionals (CEP) Initiative provides professional development opportunities to Commonwealth election officials through regional capacity-building events. These are organised in collaboration with the election management body of the host country, which in this instance was the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission (SIEC). CEP training events take place over the course of five days, with each day devoted to discussion of a key electoral topic. This year’s Pacific CEP training took on the approach of focusing on issues relating to a central theme of “The EMB and the Temporary Election Workforce.” 

Our group in Honiara was comprised of 20 mid- to senior-level election officials from 13 national and regional Commonwealth EMBs. EMBs were responsible for selecting their participants, with the Secretariat providing comprehensive guidance to assist EMBs in nominating suitable candidates who would benefit from the professional development opportunity. In line with usual Commonwealth practice, all applicants were considered on a non-discriminatory basis and the final training group was selected to reflect gender balance.

It was a relief to find my self-doubt and misgivings were to prove unfounded. Looking back, I put this down to good preparation. The administrative and logistical support provided by the Commonwealth and SIEC teams also gave us an added sense of assurance to effectively participate. Every effort was made to ensure that we were well taken care of and able to participate fully.    

The training programme for each CEP capacity-building event is tailored to address regional needs and priorities. Participants are provided with preparatory materials, including a Participant Handbook, with which they are expected to familiarise themselves prior to the training. The CEP methodology, developed over the last five years, is designed to be highly participatory. To encourage a frank and open exchange, the training is held under the Chatham House Rule.

The CEP Initiative forms an integral part of the Secretariat’s electoral assistance programme to support Commonwealth EMBs in delivering ever more credible, inclusive and transparent electoral processes. In providing a confidential forum, participants are encouraged to share their national experiences, as well as any strategies developed to mitigate issues and challenges encountered. Participants and, in turn, their parent EMBs, benefit from the opportunities for regional networking, cross-fertilisation and knowledge exchange.

I was selected to speak on the topic of “Recruitment of Temporary Election Workers” - a subject I have personal experience of and felt quite confident to speak about. This topic enabled me to share Tokelau’s challenges and experiences of recruiting a large number of reliable workers from a very small and close-knit population. Listening to the experiences of bigger countries made me realise we are not alone on this steep learning curve.

I had embarked on the training with three specific goals in mind - centered on the coming Tokelauan elections next year:

  1. To look for opportunities to establish partnerships with EMBs around the region and the Commonwealth;
  2. To share Tokelau’s experience and journey – the challenges and lessons learnt; and
  3. To learn from other countries – their challenges, how they dealt them, and what Tokelau can take from this.

I learnt a great deal throughout the week, and walked out of the final session with a renewed sense of confidence. Most importantly, I believe I achieved my three goals. I listened, shared, discussed, learnt… and forged new friendships. Bonding was made possible by how the workshop was organised and facilitated, in that it was tailored towards participants sharing their stories in whole group discussions or smaller break-out sessions.

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire workshop and would like to thank the Commonwealth Election Professionals (CEP) for inviting Tokelau to this exciting and productive workshop.