In a paper he delivered on Tuesday 23 May at the ECOWAS Court of Justice Conference on Zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government in Banjul, the Gambia, Mr. Paul Ejime described election as multi-stakeholder enterprise that requires every actor to play their parts effectively.
“It is important to note that the same stakeholders who should facilitate free, fair, and transparent elections can ultimately undermine the process by their conducts or disposition, actions/inactions,” said Ejime.
Mr. Ejime, who spoke on Lack of Free, Fair and Transparent Elections as a Key Source of Conflict: Holding ECOWAS Member States Accountable for their Treaty Obligations and the Sanctions Regime, lamented that in many cases, governments which are supposed to put in place the mechanisms for credible elections, often undermine the process for the selfish interests of politicians.
“The partisan disposition of many governments, including by rigging of election to obtain or retain power; starving electoral commissions of funds; control of the Parliaments and the Judiciary; altering the national constitutions and electoral laws; narrowing the democratic space, human rights violations; applying undue pressure on the electoral umpire and clamping down on the opposition… combine to undermine free, fair and transparent elections in the region,” Ejime added.
He noted that “many of the Electoral Commissions in the region were anything but independent or autonomous because their members are appointed by the Government, and are, therefore, unable to resist political pressure from the government, or inducements by political parties, or candidates.”
He also listed the other stakeholders who undermine electoral process to include Security Agencies, the Parliament, the Judiciary, Civil Society Organizations, the Media, the electorate, and Development partners. He added that the situation “has led to instability and the resurgence of military incursions in politics in the ECOWAS region”.
For electoral processes to succeed, he said stakeholders must play their part under defined rules of engagement in all stages of the electoral cycle – before, during, and post-election.
He added: “No matter how free, fair, and transparent, elections alone cannot guarantee freedom, democracy, or good governance, noting that “elections have been a significant source of violent conflicts and political instability in the ECOWAS region”.
Presenters and participants at the four-day conference, which opened on Monday, 22nd May 2023, include Ministers of Justice and Attorney General, eminent judges and lawyers from ECOWAS member states as well as experts in governance, constitution, human rights, and elections.
The conference, a major annual programme of the ECOWAS Court, is expected to produce recommendations on the way forward for credible elections and consolidation of democracy in the ECOWAS region.