Former National Chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega has said that an overhaul of the electoral system in ECOWAS Member States is critical to strengthening democracy and achieving credible, free and fair elections in the sub-region.
Jega made this known during a Technical Session at the ongoing High-level Parliamentary Seminar of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament yesterday in Winneba, Ghana.
He noted that the independence, relative autonomy, integrity of the electoral body with a good legal framework will bring the desired reforms in the electoral process of ECOWAS countries for good governance.
Jega said that achieving credible elections also requires the collaboration of all stakeholders, adding that the electoral body alone cannot not succeed in delivering credible elections if other sectors are compromised.
“When we examine the conduct of elections in the last two decades in ECOWAS Member States, we can see some progress that has been made but obviously there are lots of challenges which remain.
“To address these challenges, we need to pay attention to bringing about substantial and substantive reforms of the electoral processes and electoral systems which we use in the West African Sub-region.
“Most specifically we need to pay attention fast to the integrity of the election management body itself. This is key because whatever lacks integrity is unlikely to bring outcomes to integrity.
“We need to ensure that there is a robust legal framework which also has integrity as a framework for the preparations and conducts of elections, and I think quite often the legal framework to which electoral bodies conduct elections leaves much to be desired.
“It is very important that attention has to be paid in the appointment of the election management body to not only personal integrity but competence and impartiality, if not neutrality.
“These are very important values that can help not only establish an effective and efficient and component body but can also withstand negative pressures either from incumbent regimes, or from political parties, or even from candidates.
“Because regrettably, most of our political parties, both incumbent governments and candidates, want to win elections either by hook or by crook.
“And if you have a weak election management body or an election body that can be politically factious then there will be challenges of achieving the core objectives of elections as it relates to democracy and governance,” Jega said.
Prof. Kojo Afari-Gyan, Former Chairman, Electoral Commission of Ghana also called for collaboration across all stakeholders to guarantee the conduct of free and fair elections in ECOWAS Countries.
Afari-Gyan said that personal integrity of electoral staff and systems integrity are also critical factors that must be enforced for a free and fair process.
He said that if the staff of the electoral body fails in personal integrity, once there is system integrity; it would be easy to detect what went wrong and where it went wrong.
“Democratic consolidation is a multifaceted process of implemental gains in the performance of the functions mandated to be done by the institutions that form the democratic state,” he said.