Inside Casa de Monitorização: The Role of Dialogue in Election Monitoring Processes
On 10 March 2019, Guinea-Bissau held legislative elections to choose the nation's deputies. These elections are of great importance because the political party that receives the most votes will form the government for the next four years. It should also be noted that since its independance, Guinea Bissau has gone through a total of sixteen coup attempts by the army and has never known a single peaceful transition of power. This time though, things went differently.
The elections took place in a context marked by tensions and mistrust among the country's main political actors. The voter registration process got ample media attention and came under fire from a number of critics due to problems encountered in polling stations, mostly with voter cards, but also regarding the selective nature of registration processes in certain zones, issues related to the centralization of data collection, the lack of civic education campaigns and insufficient electoral kits.
However, forums for concertation were set up under the initiative of the government with civil society organizations (CSOs) and political parties representatives. The forums were held in the capital Bissau every week following the official announcement of the date for election day. These spaces for dialogue held in the ad hoc government cabinet allowed the aforementioned stakeholders to closely follow the electoral process and give their opinion on its progress. By providing stakeholders with the opportunity to voice their concerns and make suggestions on how to correct flaws identified during the electoral process, forum participants felt that the transparency of the process was greatly improved, which in turn contributed to reducing animosities and tensions between representatives from different political parties.
It is important to note the crucial mediating role CSOs and the government – with the support of partners and the sponsorship of the republic's institutions – played together by drawing up the Electoral Code of Conduct and the Stability Pact, two key reference documents signed by all competing parties running for election to call upon parties to take their civil responsibility and to refrain from actions that might cause a rise in pre- and post-election tension or political instability.
The adoption of these documents, together with the civility demonstrated by Guinean citizens, contributed to an election marked by a climate of peace and social tranquillity, notwithstanding concerns raised by pundits throughout the electoral campaign about the risk of social division and the worsening of socio-political instability.
By providing stakeholders with the opportunity to voice their concerns and make suggestions on how to correct flaws identified during the electoral process, forum participants felt that the transparency of the process was greatly improved, which in turn contributed to reducing animosities and tensions between representatives from different political parties.
Voz di Paz is the CSPPS focal point organisation in Guinea Bissau and was involved in the concertation process through its participation within the Group of Civil Society Organisations for Elections (GOSCE) and the West Africa Network for Peace (WANEP). Through these organizations, Voz di Paz members were actively involved in the election process’ various accompanying stages, before, during and after the voting. Voz di Paz was present in different bodies of the electoral process’ Casa de Monitorização (monitoring house), in the field, contributed to data input and to the work of the policy makers’ chamber.
The election results were in essence an expression of the popular will and were accepted by the different political and social actors, in addition to being supported by the teams of international observers deployed on the ground.
However, Voz di Paz and other national CSOs shared with the government a set of recommendations for the next elections, which include the timely preparation of the whole process so that all citizens with electoral capacity can register and vote, create an official review body or mechanism to take into account complaints and concerns with a view to improve the process during the entire electoral phase, and finally improve civic education campaigns so that the population can next time participate in a more qualitative way.
The fact that no single political party managed to secure a majority of seats following the election results (the largest party obtained 47 seats out of 102) established a new dynamic in the country to which the parties need to adjust themselves. Particular attention ought to be given to the way political parties will respond to this new order, which is a direct result of a crisis which started during the previous legislature. Indeed, just as this new order may instil a positive spirit of collaboration between the political parties of Guinea Bissau, it might also create governance challenges and antagozine deputies with their constituencies if they were to choose power politics over addressing local and national grievances.