Broad Political Engagement Is Essential For a Peaceful Acceptance of Election Results

In the third installment of the DPPA Electoral Series — interviews with senior United Nations officials on electoral support and its connection to broader conflict prevention efforts — Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ian Martin talks about the importance of working with the winners — and losers — of elections.

Elections are high-stakes affairs, and the UN recognizes the importance of working with winners and losers alike, as a way to lessen the stakes and enable a peaceful acceptance of results.

Ian Martin has served in a range of high-level roles at the UN, including as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Nepal and Timor-Leste. Reflecting on his experiences where the UN has supported electoral processes, Martin said that “It’s essential to show all the political actors that an election defeat or relative defeat is not at all the end of their constructive contribution to the political process following an election.” He also underscored the need for the international community to show that it wants to continue to maintain a dialogue with all parties, not just the victors but all political forces.

Martin also stressed the importance of ensuring complementarity in technical and political engagement in the UN’s electoral support. “An electoral process [is] an intensely political task, in which good technical exercise is important but it’s not the ultimate goal … electoral processes are there to serve political processes.”

He goes on to note the role of Special Envoys and Special Representatives with regard to managing the political situation that inevitably surrounds any election, “to engage intensely with the parties to try to make sure that the electoral process is on track,” while working to tamp unrealistic expectations regarding election outcomes or impediments to their realization.

DPPA launched its Electoral Series to mark 10 years of its collaboration with the United Nations System Staff College on the training course “Political approaches to preventing and responding to election-related violence.” The course explores connections between the technical quality of an election and the broader political and economic context, and how these factors shape trust in an electoral process and the acceptance of results. It is held several times every year for United Nations personnel.

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Politically Speaking

The online magazine of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs