Recent developments here in Estonia have raised questions over how to make sure that elections are held in a credible way. Here are some of the key universally accepted principles and requirements.
While elections are essentially the expression of the socio-political culture of a country and therefore naturally depend on the context in which they are held, a certain set of common standards has evolved over time. They are best described in the United Nations’ International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which came into force in 1976 and is binding to its subscribing states, including Estonia.
The ICCPR describes in its article 25 that elections should give
„Every citizen […] the right and the opportunity […]
a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.“
These are often summarized as universal principles for elections namely that elections should be universal, direct, equal, free, secret and personal. But what does that mean in practical terms. Here the Venice Commission provides some further guidance in its Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters.
In line with this document, credible elections need:
In order to maintain the credibility of an election and in consequence legitimacy of an elected official it deems useful to seek consensus about voting procedures and outcomes. In case of appeals and other forms of minority opinions, it is essential that they are dealt with in a professional and impartial manner.
If serious concerns about the validity of an election exist, an annulment and repetition of the process are ways to regain credibility and maintain legitimacy of the process.
* This article reflects the personal opinion of the Author.
Prof. Robert Krimmer is a Professor of e-Governance at the Chair of Governance at the Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance. This article was originally published in the Nurkse School Ideas Bank.