A timely Statement on democratic electoral processes from the World Council of Churches relevant also for us during this season in Malaysia.
Statement on democratic electoral processes
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1)
“Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning and reputable to be your leaders”
- Although the Bible offers no description of the definitive political system, it indicates that every system has both the potential for participation, and for the abuse of power. For Christians, the Hebrew prophetic traditions – as well as the Christian tradition – offer the reminder that people of faith must embrace the responsibility to be engaged in the civil political systems of which they are a part, but that they must also embrace the responsibility to advocate for justice, compassion and morality when those in authority abuse their power.
- Christians faithfully function within many different political systems and are often called upon to play influential roles within those systems. In so doing, they fulfil their calling to be salt and light which both seasons and enlightens any system in which they have been placed.
- One of the most significant developments in recent history is the increased use of democratic electoral processes. The United Nations’ “Millennium Declaration” commits the nations of the world “to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms”. In it, world leaders commit “to work collectively for more inclusive political processes, allowing genuine participation by all citizens”. Upon the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the UN “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, adopted on 10 December 1948, it is important to recall this text in light of recent electoral processes in Kenya, Georgia, the Ukraine and Pakistan; and in anticipation of elections in Zimbabwe, Angola, Russia, Armenia, Italy, the United States and Fiji.
- A critical look at electoral processes as a part of democratic governance is needed in order to safeguard a just, participatory and moral framework for the exercise of power in democratic systems. Though democracy has led to a greater degree of liberty and participation for individuals in their political systems, in some cases it has been misused in such a way that it has negated the rule of law, exacerbated corruption, and offered a political legitimization for the abuse of human rights. In addition, there is a growing tendency for certain economic, bureaucratic and media elites to exercise significant power without sufficient accountability to democratically elected authorities. It is the responsibility of the church to call attention to these abuses of power.
- In democratic systems, elections serve as a way for people to confer legitimacy on a participatory democratic political system. In order to ensure that an election truly reflects the will of the people, attention should be paid to pre- and post- electoral mechanisms. Electoral monitoring on election days does not suffice. A number of recent situations reveal that serious compromises to electoral outcomes can occur, both during the preparation period preceding the elections and after the elections (for example, in cases where there is a dispute over the result and a recount). In addition, dubious election laws, limitations to the full participation of minority and economically disadvantaged candidates and parties, manipulation of voter registration processes and voting machines, biased media coverage of candidates, and manipulation on the part of opposition parties can affect outcomes. Effective monitoring of electoral processes should seek to analyze these factors, and to address any perceived manipulations in order to ensure the legitimacy of democratically elected governments.
- In spite of these safeguards, it must be acknowledged that a democratically elected government does not guarantee the fulfilment of citizens’ aspirations. Democracy cannot flourish in a context of fear, nor in a situation lacking the institutions necessary for sustaining a democratically elected government. Effective public institutions, including an independent judiciary, an impartial police force, an accountable legislature, a responsible and effective public service, and a process for democratic evaluation and reform are necessary. The obligations of the international community are not limited to electoral monitoring, but rather to the encouragement of all of the necessary frameworks for the establishment of a truly participatory democracy.
- Democratic assessments offer an important tool for the identification of democratic deficits. They can also provide valuable information, which can enable civil society to engage in public debate about the objectives of democratization and the needed reforms in any democratic system. Such assessments can help to establish and sustain accountable, effective and participatory democratic governments, which minimize potential abuses of power.
- In addition, it must be acknowledged that – as in every political system – poverty and exclusion pose a major threat to full participation in the political life of a community, and to the proper functioning of society.
- In recognition of the importance of legitimate electoral processes and democratic frameworks, the World Council of Churches, through its ecumenical electoral monitoring teams, has accompanied churches in several countries to ensure fairness and justice in electoral processes.
- In all regions of the world we have seen evidence of the abuse of power, electoral irregularities, and examples of corruption, intimidation and electoral fraud. We believe that, in situations where people and societies have established democratic systems, that their governments should be based on the collaboration and participation of all citizens – regardless of race, ethnic background, economic status, different abilities, gender or religion.
Therefore, the central committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 13-20 February 2008:
- Urges all countries to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms through the establishment of independent judiciaries, impartial police forces, accountable legislatures, and responsible public services;
- Encourages democratic countries to constantly monitor the electoral processes through which people can freely and fairly express their political will, and to establish necessary processes for democratic evaluation and reform;
- Commends the work of the UN and non-governmental institutions in various countries, that have provided electoral assistance and assessment, including voter education programmes, technical assistance and information concerning the conduct of elections, electoral monitoring and observation;
- Requests the UN and other regional and international institutions to continue to provide all necessary assistance in order to ensure the realization of just and participatory elections in democratically established states;
- Appeals to churches to be actively involved, where appropriate, in civil political engagement and education through awareness-building programmes for voters, and to participate in the monitoring and assessment of electoral processes in order to ensure fair, just and participatory democratic elections.
 See the central committee background document Contemporary Challenges to Africa, January 1994, which stated, “elections alone do not constitute democracy….True participatory democracy…requires fundamental institutional change, authentic respect for individual and collective rights and freedoms, including economic rights”.