The UK government, in its 2007 White Paper, stated that effective states and better governance are essential to combat poverty and that democracy and elections are an important part of that equation. The UK government departments of DFID and FCO also recognise that elections are only one part of the process by which power is brokered and rights assigned, in all states. That said, elections are now widely seen as a ‘crucial step in the process of attaining political legitimacy throughout the world’.
Recent elections in a number of countries across the world have attracted great interest and in particular the tensions revealed in Kenya and Zimbabwe have thrown a spotlight on the state of democracy in some regions. The UK, alongside other members of the international community, has been involved in supporting the electoral process as a key component in the drive to establish legitimate governments. As attention focuses increasingly on the more fragile states, the role of elections in forging new political settlements requires further exploration.
Professor David Leonard is leading this DFID-funded project which seeks to improve the understanding of senior international policy makers and practitioners on how best to provide support before, during and after elections in a number of country contexts (to date: Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone). The project will review the political context in each country and assess the extent to which the UK and the international community has more generally designed their democratization initiatives and election support programmes to take account of the wider political context. The methodology includes interviews with key officials working both for the UK government (FCO and DFID) and members of the local political institutions (including electoral commissions, governance agencies and political parties) in the case study countries.