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Opinionista

As democracy wanes across the globe, election observers play a pivotal role

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Mbali Ntuli is the founder and CEO of Ground Work Collective.

Election observation serves as a cornerstone of democratic governance, promoting transparency, accountability and public confidence in electoral processes worldwide.

There has been much ado about election observers in the past couple of weeks, with some views taking bizarrely comical turns, as has become common in any electoral season in South Africa.

The undeniable truth, however, is that election observation (a long-standing international and local practice) plays a pivotal role in ensuring the integrity, transparency and fairness of electoral processes worldwide.

It serves as a critical mechanism for promoting democratic values, safeguarding human rights and enhancing public trust in electoral outcomes. Through impartial monitoring and assessment, election observation helps identify irregularities, mitigate potential conflicts and uphold the principles of free and fair elections.

As democracy wanes across the globe, upholding electoral integrity is now more critical than ever.

Election observation entails a range of activities by domestic and international observers before, during and after elections. These observers, drawn from various organisations including government bodies, civil society groups and international institutions, monitor different aspects of the electoral process, such as voter registration, campaign activities, polling operations and the tabulation of results.

Normally, during the pre-election phase, established observer missions will assess the legal framework, electoral administration and voter registration processes to ensure they are inclusive, transparent and compliant with international standards. They also evaluate the political environment, including freedom of expression, media access and the conduct of political parties to identify any barriers to democratic participation.

On election day, observers monitor polling stations to assess the conduct of voting, adherence to electoral laws and the overall integrity of the process.

They observe the opening and closing of polling stations, voter turnout, the availability of election materials and the conduct of electoral officials. Observers also assess the environment for intimidation, violence or other irregularities that may affect the fairness of the election.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

This is the work the Ground Work Collective (GWC) will embark on for the 29 May national and provincial elections, having put out a call to all patriotic South Africans to sign up on our portal to be GWC Independent Election Observers, and be trained to perform this crucial function when the country goes to the polls to elect its leaders.

Following the polls, observers analyse the tabulation of results, the resolution of disputes and the overall credibility of the electoral outcome. They issue reports with findings and recommendations to improve future electoral processes, enhance accountability and address any deficiencies or violations observed during the election.

Global importance

Across the globe, numerous examples illustrate the importance and effectiveness of election observation in promoting democratic governance and fostering successful and credible electoral outcomes.

In Nigeria, for instance, the 2015 presidential election was widely hailed as a milestone for democracy in Africa, largely due to the robust presence of domestic and international observers. Their monitoring efforts helped deter electoral fraud, promote transparency and build public confidence in the electoral process, leading to a peaceful transition of power.

Similarly, in Ukraine, election observation played a crucial role in ensuring the integrity of the 2019 presidential election. Domestic and international observers closely monitored the polls, scrutinising voter registration, ballot counting and the overall conduct of the election.

Their presence helped expose attempts at electoral manipulation, reinforce public trust in the electoral process and contribute to a peaceful and democratic transfer of power.

Election observation missions have also been instrumental in enhancing electoral transparency and accountability in countries undergoing democratic transitions or emerging from conflict.

In Liberia, for example, the presence of international observers during the 2017 presidential election helped inculcate confidence in the electoral process, despite concerns about voter intimidation and logistical challenges. Their monitoring efforts contributed to a peaceful and credible election, paving the way for the country’s first democratic transfer of power in decades.

Undoubtedly, election observation serves as a cornerstone of democratic governance, promoting transparency, accountability and public confidence in electoral processes worldwide.

By monitoring elections, identifying irregularities and advocating for electoral reforms, observers play a crucial role in upholding democratic principles and safeguarding the integrity of electoral outcomes.

South Africa’s hard-earned democracy will be all the better for the work that the Ground Work Collective and other independent election observer missions will do come 29 May, and beyond. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Denise Smit says:

    What a pity you are a “draadsitter” now

    • Rodney Weidemann says:

      Why would you consider her a fence sitter?
      She left the DA most likely for the same reason all senior black members of that party have left (and there are many of them) – whatever that reason may be. She has since gone on to head an organisation dedicated to ensuring our elections remain free and fair.
      I would suggest that in her short time in the spotlight, she has done far more than either you or I to improve the situation in this country…

  • Johan Buys says:

    Democracy is about more than votes, or even accurate elections. Take Russia as example, the count was possible accurate but there is no democracy in an environment of assassination, detention, banning, etc. China does not even pretend to be a democracy.

    Then there are very large democracies where minorities are borderline subject to genocide. India is the largest democracy in the world but you don’t want to be a Muslim there.

    Democracy without individual, religious & economic freedom in a platform of the rule of law is not democracy.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    A loss to the DA in particular and party politics in general. Bright, eloquent, decently motivated. Any party with a shred of sense and a caring for democracy should be courting Mbali McDust. She could bring so much to the table.

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