Former President Dr Goodluck Jonathan has urged African Union (AU) to set minimum acceptable standards for appointing the leadership of electoral commissions as a means of building citizen confidence and ensuring credibility of elections on the continent.
The former President stated this on Friday at the International Leadership Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he emerged as the chairperson of the newly inaugurated International Summit Council for Peace (ISCP), a body made up of mainly African former Presidents and ex-Heads of State. The two-day conference tagged ‘Africa Summit and Leaders Conference 2019’ has in attendance government officials, former African Heads of State, clergy and traditional rulers from across Africa. South African President was represented by Mr. Gwade Mantashe, national chairperson of the African National Congress (ANC) and minister of mines and energy.
In a keynote speech titled ‘The Need for Good Governance and Peaceful Electioneering Process in Africa’ former President Jonathan noted that the credibility and legitimacy of electoral processes are hugely dependent on the competence, impartiality and independence of electoral management bodies (EMBs).
He also stressed that many African nations face election-related crises in cases where the citizens have no confidence in the electoral process, especially when they suspect that the election umpires do the bidding of the partisan appointing authorities.
The former President said: “It is interesting that almost all the EMBs in Africa are identified with the prefix ‘Independent’, but the jury is still out on whether these agencies are truly independent as their names imply.”
As a means of deepening democracy on the continent Jonathan therefore urged the African Union to establish minimum standards and benchmarks for constituting electoral management bodies and encourage member-nations to ratify such declaration.
He said: “The AU should, through its Political Affairs Department, set up a team of electoral experts to study different models and recommend the system they consider best for the continent.
“Such benchmark should also take cognizance of the need to review the election of judicial processes to ensure that, where election tribunals are set up to specifically handle election cases, one judicial officer do not handle the role of appointing all members of the tribunals.
“Since neutrality of the security services is absolutely necessary in ensuring free and fair elections, it is also important that the Africa Union should establish a code of conduct guiding security officials in charge of elections. All these recommendations should be accommodated in AU’s procedures for elections that should serve as guidelines for election observers.”
Jonathan praised South Africans for the peaceful conduct of last May’s national and provincial elections, adding that the credibility of the process stemmed from the fact that all the stakeholders in the elections had confidence in the electoral commission and the security systems.
He said further: “Once you get to that point where all role players in elections can express confidence in the umpire and the security systems, you would have solved more than 70% of your electoral challenges. Sadly, not many African countries have got to this point. The point where they can beat their chest and boast of political freedom, inclusiveness, independence of the electoral management body and credibility of the political process.”
As the Chairman of International Summit Council for Peace the former President is expected to lead the charge for the association’s crusade for peace and good governance on the continent.
Speaking further Jonathan argued that “Africa’s leadership problem has more to do with weak institutions than the case of leaders serving in office for long periods of time. When the democratic institutions are strong they will develop firewalls that will resist attempts to alter the constitution and manipulate electoral processes for selfish reasons.”
According to the President: “Democracy is not about holding periodic elections but conducting credible, transparent, free and fair polls. African elections must meet minimum acceptable standards for democracy to be beneficial to the people of the continent.
“African nations must improve their electoral processes by establishing systems that will support and deliver credible elections. That is the impetus the continent needs to achieve lasting peace that will catalyse growth and sustainable development.”