At the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Electoral Network’s Biennial Conference, Deputy Secretary-General Josephine Ojiambo spoke of democracy as a “work of constant evolution”, with election commissions bearing a leading responsibility to advance good electoral practices.
“Lifting the quality and strengthening the relevance of our election management bodies is a continuing work in progress – all must strive to learn and apply the lessons from each new election and rise to the emergence of new challenges, as well as greater demands for transparency and integrity,” Dr Ojiambo remarked.
The conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, from 22 to 24 June brings together the heads and senior representatives of electoral management bodies from 39 Commonwealth countries to review good practices and principles for elections.
Among the issues on the agenda are the regulation of election campaign finance and managing the power of incumbent governments. Delegates will also look at ways electoral commissions can ensure equal access for all, including women and minority groups, to the electoral process, as well as the use of new technologies including social media.
Deputy Secretary-General Ojiambo said: “This meeting is an opportunity to make a practical contribution to the very essence of what it is to live in a Commonwealth community. By learning and lifting the quality of what we do in the electoral sphere, the tide of democracy rises for all Commonwealth citizens.”
In his opening statement, the conference host, Mr Mark Ramkerrysingh, Chairperson of the Elections and Boundaries Commission of Trinidad and Tobago, urged the representatives of the election commissions to “always bear in mind the importance of transparency, accountability and accuracy in electoral administration”.
“Never forget that the quality of a country’s election is, to a large extent, dependent upon the quality of its election management body,” said Mr Ramkerrysingh, who takes over the reigns as Chair of the Commonwealth Electoral Network’s steering committee.
“I sincerely hope that we as electoral management bodies shall utilize the knowledge gleaned over the upcoming two days, and work tirelessly within our respective countries, to be seen as a force for good and upholders of the highest Commonwealth ‘gold standard’ in electoral management.”
Mr Ahmed Issack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission of Kenya, and outgoing CEN chair, said he wished his successor well saying the network is “in very good hands”.
“The CEN continues to facilitate dialogue and the change of knowledge between electoral management bodies and has created an environment supportive of peer networking,” Mr Hassan said.
The Commonwealth Electoral Network was established in May 2010 in Ghana, after it was first endorsed by Commonwealth Heads of Government in 2009. Its aim is to facilitate experience sharing, create peer support mechanisms and embed good electoral practices in the Commonwealth’s 53 member countries. The last Biennial Conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2014.