Credible and transparent elections are one of the key first steps for post-conflict societies to establish long lasting peace and security.
UN Photo/Staton Winter
A Liberian woman arrives at a polling station in Monrovia to vote in her country's presidential run-off election.
UN Peacekeeping assists election processes in many ways including through the provision of security, technical advice and logistical support.
Once the parties to a conflict agree to cease fighting, the holding of elections is often written into the peace agreement, and represents a major step in establishing a legitimate State. UN Peacekeeping operations are often mandated to play a direct role in this process.
In recent years, UN Peacekeeping has provided crucial technical and logistical assistance in milestone elections in many countries, including in the DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, Liberia and the Sudan.
The role of UN Peacekeeping
Over the years, the United Nations has provided several kinds of assistance to countries during elections:
- technical assistance
- election monitoring
- organization and supervision of elections
Nowadays, as a general rule, the UN takes a supporting role in assisting the national electoral administration body of a country.Most of the work of UN Peacekeeping is focused on technical assistance to national authorities administering elections.
Countries can request assistance to their national authorities in charge of administering elections. Our work in this area involves:
- Security: UN uniformed personnel including UN Police and UN Military personnel carry out patrols to ensure voters can exercise their democratic right without fear of violence;
- Technical advice on the reform of electoral laws and the establishment of procedures to ensure the vote is safeguarded;
- Logistical support such as distribution of ballot materials;
- Public information and voter education assistance through a variety of UN communication channels available to the field missions, including radio.
For example, the referendum on the independence of South Sudan was held peacefully on schedule in January 2011, with the overwhelming majority, 98.83% of participants, voting for independence. The Sudanese authorities were responsible for the referendum process with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) working alongside the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) to provide major support, including the printing and distribution of more than 10 million ballots as well as training for the staff of some 5,000 polling stations. The Mission leadership, and a high-level panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General, supported dialogue between key Sudanese parties in order to prevent conflict and build confidence in the process.
While election observation by the UN is no longer common, the UN has in exceptional circumstances responded to requests to assess or even validate the integrity of an electoral process.
For example, in 2010 the Head of the peacekeeping operation in Côte D’Ivoire, UNOCI, was asked to certify the presidential elections.
Organization and supervision of elections
There were instances in the past when the UN was fully in charge of organizing the elections in a Member State. For example, UN Peacekeeping missions have played a crucial role in:
- Cambodia 1992-1993: The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) oversaw the electoral campaign and registration of voters, as well as the elections which took place in May 1993. Over 4.2 million people, nearly 90 per cent of the registered voters, cast their ballots to elect a Constituent Assembly. The head of UNTAC declared the elections free and fair. In September 1993, the Constitution was proclaimed and a new government, led by two prime ministers, was inaugurated.
- Timor-Leste 2001: The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) organized elections in August 2001, two years after the people of East Timor voted to become an independent country. The elections were to elect an 88-member Constituent Assembly tasked with writing and adopting a new Constitution and establishing the framework for future elections and a transition to full independence.
Click on the pins on the map to find out where we are assisting or have recently assisted in elections around the world.
Partnerships to ensure peaceful and credible elections
UN Peacekeeping works in partnership with other organizations, including other parts of the UN, to ensure credible and transparent elections.
UNDP offers strategic assistance throughout the electoral cycle, from designing more effective systems to resolving disputes after the votes are counted.
All told, the UN provided electoral assistance to more than 100 countries during the past two decades.