By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
MR. Theo Dowetin is the West Africa programme officer for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance also known as International Idea, an intergovernmental organization focused on providing knowledge to democracy builders and supporting democratic reforms among others.
Dowetin who operates from the Ghana office of International Idea was recently in Nigeria to collate reports on a research on inter-party dialogue. His visit coincided with the recent United Nations Development Programme, UNDP sponsored inter-party dialogue in Abuja.
Dowetin, has before now gathered experience across Africa in election monitoring, peer review missions and in related endeavours took opportunity of the inter-party dialogue to speak on the role of institutional, individual and team integrity in the success of elections. He spoke on the role of the Inter Party Advisory Council, IPAC and other related issues in an interview on the sidelines of the political leaders summit.Excerpts:
SO, what is International Idea?
It is an international inter governmental organization. It has 27 member states from around the world. In Africa, we have 6 member states, that is Ghana, South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana. In West Africa the programme involves supporting political parties, inter_party dialogue, supporting women political party participation in representation and working on citizens led democracy assessment as well as electoral capacity building.
So, exactly what have you come to do in Nigeria?
We are here for two things. To first help with an electoral capacity building that has been organized by INEC of Nigeria and also to hold validation of our research on inter party dialogue. Actually, we have conducted research and dialogue with parties from ten West African countries and the last of them is Nigeria.
We have the draft report and we took opportunity of this inter and intra party dialogue summit to raise some of the issues which we think would go to enrich the draft report. The draft report would be incorporated into the draft regional report before publishing.
So, we intend to have Nigeria as part of the countries that would be publishing the inter party dialogue experience. The experience includes some of the successes, some of the challenges, some of the prospects and we’ll make recommendations as to how inter party dialogue structures can be strengthened, especially towards enhancing the integrity of elections. And so, that is basically what we are here to do.
So what is your experience of inter party dialogue in Nigeria?
The difference that I see in Nigeria is that the parties themselves have their own structure and this differs from some of the experiences we documented in other West African countries. For instance in Ghana, the inter_party dialogue is managed by the electoral commission and the chairman of the electoral commission chairs the inter party dialogue.
In other countries, it is the executive arm of government that convenes the inter party dialogue. Sometimes, the inter party dialogue is convened when there are national issues for debate. In certain other countries it is not a permanent structure like in Cape Verde.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of having the Chairman of the electoral commission guiding the inter-party dialogue?
The advantage is that unlike the situation in Nigeria where funding is a challenge, in Ghana the electoral commission makes provision for the dialogue in its overall budget and so, it funds the dialogue directly
But then the issue is that in Ghana people are not paid to attend dialogue workshops, in fact, parties call for the meetings.
Why so, do they benefit anything?
One difference from what I have seen and heard is that when IPAC meetings are called in Nigeria, it is usually the small parties that attend. It is the opposite in Ghana because when IPAC meetings are called parties send their heavyweights because that is where issues are brought forward for the electoral commission to consider. Besides, the parties are not many and they send their main representatives, those who are very articulate and understand the issues.
So, in Ghana the major parties are always looking forward to IPAC meetings or even request for IPAC meetings especially when there is an issue, they request for IPAC meetings.
To what extent has inter-party dialogue helped to strengthen the democratic process in Ghana and have you been able to identify the vacuum it could fill in Nigeria?
In Nigeria we are in the process of compiling our reports but what I can tell you about some other countries like Ghana is that many of the electoral processes were catalyzed by inter party dialogue. For example, the use of transparent ballot boxes, the use of photo ID for elections and the process of voting outside the polling stations. You know in the past, voting was done in the classrooms, you would take your ballot and take it to the classroom and cast your ballot in secrecy.
But now screens are used in the open because the parties raised the issue that in the classroom the voter may have foreign materials on him or her which could be put in the ballot box because the ballot box was in the classroom where nobody was seeing what the individual was doing. But now, it has been put outside in the open.
In Nigeria my thinking is that the problem is with IPAC not being able to bring onboard all the parties that matter, notably the major parties.
In Ghana it is usually the big parties that request the electoral commission to convene IPAC meetings but in Nigeria it is almost the reverse which is a bit worrying.
What are the factors that directly affect the successful conduct of elections?
The integrity of the entire society itself within which these other issues are taking place is a factor, so it is not only the individual. It is not like the team, like a department. In elections we have permanent staff and ad_hoc staff and usually, the permanent staff are said to have more integrity. It is said that you cannot vow for the integrity of the ad_hoc staff, so there is what is called team integrity. Then we have what we is called institutional integrity that relates with the processes and procedure.
When you cast your vote and for instance the outcome of the election is challenged, there should be what is called the audit trail, which pertains to ways for you to come back, trace the issues and help identify the problem.
If our political parties do not practice internal democracy it will reflect when they are in power or engage with other parties. If candidates’ selection processes or even party leadership selection processes do not have integrity and do not follow sound procedures, it will lead to the lack of integrity in the institution of political parties. So we have individual integrity, team integrity, institutional integrity and then systemic integrity.