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No Legitimacy without Integrity

Guinea’s presidential elections are scheduled for October 11, 2015. As part of the Electoral Integrity Initiative, the Foundation sent a delegation to engage with Civil Society partners and to discuss the value of modern democracy. Speech by Alan Doss, Executive Director of the Kofi Annan Foundation.


Mr. President, your Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, Allow me to start by thanking the organizers for inviting me to take part in this event as a representative of Mr. Annan and of his Foundation that I am heading. I know from experience what a challenge gathering so many civil society organizations around a common project is. I congratulate you for managing to do so in time to weigh on the integrity of the upcoming electoral process.

As Kofi Annan likes to say, political matters are too important to be left to politicians. Elections are a key moment in political life, having become the major transfer or renewal mechanism of the governing mandate granted by the people.

In this context, we need to acknowledge the vital role civil society plays in protecting freedom and the development of true democracy. Although elections have become almost universal since the end of the Cold War, I fear a number of them have discredited rather than strengthened the legitimacy of democracy.

Consequently, the trust that citizens grant their leaders and their institutions is degrading. The loss of legitimacy it entails makes the exercise of power more complicated.

This problem is not unique to Africa: it is a global problem, even if each democracy has its own characteristics.

Yet, even if democracy has its faults, it remains the least bad system of government that has been invented until now, as it allows the people to be heard and forces governments to listen to its needs. Moreover, democracy allows for a peaceful distribution and sharing of power. It is therefore to strengthen democracy that Mr. Annan created a global commission to work on the issue of electoral integrity.

First of all, we need to make clear what is meant by electoral integrity, even if these norms are now set in a number of international texts. It means elections through which any citizen can exercise his power and enjoys the freedom of presenting his ideas publicly in order to convince the majority of his constituents that he or she is worthy.

In order for this to happen, freedom of expression, of association and of assembly need to be respected. Citizens also have to be able to choose their leaders through a process that is free, transparent and trustworthy.

Finally, electoral integrity means that citizens have the possibility of challenging the results of the elections, when they suspect irregularities, through clear, independent, and impartial mechanisms. Only elections satisfying all these criteria can give the winner the democratic legitimacy he needs to govern.

The global commission on elections, democracy and security of Mr. Annan identified 5 obstacles to electoral integrity:

a. The weakness of the rule of law and therefore of the protection of the rights of the electors and the candidates;

b. Insufficient electoral commissions, lacking resources, skills or independence to fulfill their responsibilities in a trustworthy manner;

c. Lack of political prospects for the loser, who therefore needs to win at all costs;

d. Obstacles to the equal participation of all citizens;

e. An opaque and unchecked funding of political campaigns, giving too much power to wealthy individuals and private interest groups.

Guinea must probably overcome some of these challenges as well. Everyone must play their part: the state, the electoral commission, the political parties, the candidates, the voters but also you, the civil society. By pooling your resources as you have been doing, you can weigh in on the integrity of the upcoming electoral process.

Through the presence of your observers, through your communication and your sheer existence as an independent and neutral platform gathering the main civil society organization, you exercise pressure on the behavior of individuals and groups to ensure that the elections be carried out in the best possible conditions.

This initiative comes at a perfect time, since it should strengthen the credibility of the process, an essential factor for the peaceful and serene acceptance of the elections’ results by all political actors. Indeed, we know that in many elections, the refusal to lose is as powerful as the will to win, regardless of the results.

And unfortunately, as the Kenyans say, when elephants fight, it is the grass that gets crushed. Thanks to the parallel counting system you’ve considered, you can help prevent post-electoral debates that are sterile and dangerous for stability and social cohesion.

If I may, if will use this platform that you have offered me to suggest an idea that you could seize. Why don’t you invite the presidential candidates to sign an electoral integrity pact? This pact would include different commitments, like for example leading a responsible campaign on a program rather than on identity.

It could also include a commitment from the candidates to accept the results of the polls and to not encourage its supporters to use violence in case of defeat. By suggesting such a pact, you would take on the role of representative of civil society, expressing essential demands of democratic life.

To ensure the success of such a pact, you have to take into account the past experiences in Guinea of codes of conduct that did not necessarily fulfill their promises. You can also get inspiration from abroad. I have been myself involved in this type of initiative at Mr. Annan’s side in Nigeria at the beginning of this year.

If the “Abuja Agreement” cannot pretend to have alone ensured the success of peaceful elections in Nigeria, it certainly contributed to it. Civil society is the crucible of the whole society, where all political sensitivities, ethnic identities, and religious beliefs can meet around the superior interest of the country.

I thank you for your attention and wish you the greatest of success in your deliberations which are of crucial importance for your dear country.