From the Commonwealth Secretary-General

Kamalesh Sharma



As a regular feature in each issue of Global, news of recent presidential and parliamentary polls from around the world is published under the heading Election Watch. The reports generally give a snapshot of the parties and candidates involved in the campaigns, voter turnout, the results and any challenges to the conduct or outcome of the elections.

Advancing democracy is central to the Commonwealth’s focus, and observing elections is one of our distinctive strengths. Since 1990 more than 120 Commonwealth Observer Groups have monitored presidential and parliamentary elections in our member states – which welcome this constructive scrutiny and support.

The professionalism of national election management bodies is vital to safeguarding the integrity of electoral processes. Their independence and transparency is crucial to public and political confidence in the credibility of elections. The heart of democracy beats in parliament, and the will of the people expressed through elections provides the fresh blood it needs.

It was because of the pivotal importance of elections to a democracy that we established the Commonwealth Electoral Network. It brings together the national election management bodies of our member states, and is a platform for sharing experience and knowledge to promote good practices and provide opportunities for peer support.

Our aim is for a ‘gold standard’ to be upheld by national election management bodies in all Commonwealth countries. In June the second biennial conference of the Commonwealth Electoral Network took place in Kenya. Its theme was ‘Managing Elections in the 21st Century: Strengthening Institutional Capacity and Electoral Integrity’.

Commonwealth collaboration and interaction increasingly take place online, and the Commonwealth Electoral Network is one of more than 100 accredited professional networks and partner organisations that now manage projects, share knowledge and co-ordinate events using Commonwealth Connects, our secure cloud-based web platform.

A particular strength of the Commonwealth is the scope for peer review and partnership among our member states. Shared inheritances mean there is much in common when it comes to institutional arrangements and legal frameworks. This offers special opportunities in the case of elections for working together. The benefit derived is all the greater because of the rich diversity encompassed within our 53 member states.

The Commonwealth Charter now brings together in a single defining document the values we seek to uphold. Under the heading ‘Democracy’ the Charter refers to “the inalienable right of the individual to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections, shaping the society in which they live”.

Media freedom and diversity are essential, including fair access to impartial public service broadcasters. This is also expressed in the Commonwealth Charter, which states: “We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.”

Our collective commitment to democracy, development and respect for diversity leads us to regard free, fair, peaceful and credible electoral processes as the foundation for political, civic and economic inclusion and social progress. Building on our shared goals, sharing contemporary opportunities and utilising advances in connectivity to support one another, the governments and people of our member states work together to reshape the great and unique convening power of the Commonwealth.


About the author:

Kamalesh Sharma is Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat


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