With regular elections now a given role in SADC region, a call was made for the region’s parliamentarians to work towards ensuring the efficacy and integrity of national elections, rather than their regularity.
Members of parliament, who represent their countries on the Standing Committee on Democratisation Governance and Human Rights of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, agreed on the need to focus more on the quality of elections when their committee held a virtual meeting last week.
Outgoing chairperson of the committee Wavel Ramkalawan from Seychelles officially opened the meeting, which was held under the theme: “Towards accelerated domestication of the SADC Model Law on Elections: The role of SADC PF and national parliaments in promoting electoral and transitional justice in Southern Africa.”
Ramkalawan said: “It is the efficacy of elections, rather than their regularity, that matters in terms of adding value to the democratisation process. Even before the advent of Covid-19-related disruptions on the elections, the SADC region was already facing recurrent and emerging electoral challenges, which are undermining the integrity and credibility of elections”.
His remarks followed seismic events in Malawi, where the Constitutional Court – citing massive irregularities – annulled results of the 2019 presidential election and ordered a re-run, which saw a poll reversal and re-election of a new leader – the first time this has happened in the SADC region.
He said: “Building democracy is a complex process of many challenges, and the holding of credible elections is just a starting point. Often, elections become a victim of the broad democratic deficit and this compromises their integrity. When the integrity of elections is compromised, legitimacy of democracy is also compromised with undesirable ramifications.”
Ramkalawan suggested SADC PF and national parliaments, “working collaboratively with other stakeholders”, should assist the region to overcome various electoral challenges “so that SADC can move towards democratic consolidation”.
He challenged SADC member states to speedily domesticate the SADC Model Law on Elections and implement the Revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections to ensure electoral justice.
The outgoing committee chairperson said the Covid-19 global pandemic requires that parliamentarians “assume a central role in the governance” of their countries.
He explained: “Through their representation, law-making and oversight functions, parliaments are duty-bound to make sure executive actions during the Covid-19 pandemic remain within the limits of the national constitutions and international commitments. Whatever mode of lockdown our individual countries are implementing, parliaments must ensure democracy is not locked down.”
He added: “We still need to promote and protect human rights, especially for the poor and economically vulnerable, whose conditions have been worsened by the pandemic. Citizens look up to us, as their elected representatives, to make sure their voices are heard and reflected in decision-making and policy implementation.”
The Constitution of the SADC PF mandates is to promote the principles of human rights, democracy, peace and security, regional integration, human and social development, economic governance and gender equality through collective responsibility within the SADC region.
The chairperson said, over the past two decades, SADC PF had done a lot in promoting democracy, governance and human rights and democratic elections.
Ramkalawan noted that SADC PF had successfully mainstreamed the role of parliamentarians in promoting democratic elections since 1999 – when it started deploying parliamentarians to observe elections in SADC member states.
“We have leveraged the unique role of parliamentarians, as not only the products of elections – but more fundamentally, as critical players in implementing legislative reforms and ratifying regional and international election instruments to facilitate their incorporation into domestic laws and policy,” he said.
Ramkalawan said, SADC PF pioneered the development of the normative framework for democratic elections in the SADC region by adopting the very first election instrument in the SADC region and on the entire African continent in 2001, the Norms and Standards for Elections in the SADC Region.
“The Forum also developed a compendium of all regional and international electoral obligations applicable to SADC countries titled Benchmarks for Assessing Democratic Elections in Southern Africa in 2013,” he continued.
The SADC PF 44th Plenary Assembly of 2018 adopted the SADC Model Law on Elections in Maputo, Mozambique.
He elucidated: “The Model Law serves to assist Member States in domesticating the principles, guidelines and obligations stipulated in the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, adopted by the Ministerial Committee of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Affairs on 20 July 2015, in Pretoria, South Africa.”
The Model Law on Elections has become an important point of reference as countries draft or refine election-related laws. This ensures alignment of national and regional processes governing the management of elections.
The aim is to continually improve the way elections are run to reduce electoral disputes and ultimately improve integrity of elections and contribute to peace and stability, which are prerequisites for socioeconomic development in the resource-rich SADC Region.