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Year 2 No. 5 May 2009

Integration of the Electoral Management bodies and credibility. Andrés Sosa

Andres Sosa

Member of the Editorial Council and International Editor of the magazine ELECTORAL WORLD



International Affairs Advisor of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama for the last 10 years.

Doctor in Economics an licenciate in International Relations.

Electoral Observer in the Dominican Republic, Chile and El Salvador.

Consultant of the President of the Budget Commission of the National Assembly of Deputies of Panama.

General Secretary of the Interamerican Council for Democracy (CID).

Consultant of International Cooperation for the presidencies of Chile, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela.

What are the Electoral Management Bodies? In general terms, the Electoral Management Bodies (EMB) are institutional structures dedicated to the management of the electoral processes, and they also take part in the electoral and post-electoral controversies that may arise among the main actors of the elections (parties and candidates).

IDEA (The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) has an excellent definition:

"An EMB is an organization or body which has been founded for the purpose of, and is legally responsible for, managing one or more of the elements that are essential for the conduct of elections, and of direct democracy instruments - such as referendums, citizens' initiatives, and recall votes - if those are part of the legal framework." (Wall et al, 2006:5)

These essential elements include:

a) watching that the requirements of the passive and active electorate are respected;

b) receiving and validating the nominations of electoral participants (for elections, political parties and/or candidates);

c) conducting balloting;

d) counting votes; and

e) totaling votes from polling locations.

In addition to these essential elements, an EMB may undertake other tasks which assist the conduct of elections and direct democracy instruments, such as:

a) conduct of voter registration;

b) boundary delimitation (in other words, electoral geographical division and all the tasks that it entails);

c) procurement of electoral materials;

d) voter education;

e) management or oversight of campaign financing;

f) media monitoring; and

g) electoral dispute resolution.

The design, operation and institutional performance of the state agencies are indicators of the quality of a democracy in terms of results, but also they are the reflection of the political culture of a society. Within the processes of transition and consolidation of the democracy in Latin America, the design and operation of the EMB have had a fundamental importance. In order to surpass the distrust towards the elections as a result of the authoritarianisms, in several Latin American countries the model of permanent EMB, autonomous in their functions and independent of the Executive and Legislative branches was promoted. How to explain this situation? How have they influenced, or what impacts have the independence and ample powers of the EMB had in Latin America?

Governing capacity over the electoral processes, as independent variables

It fits to analyze its impact on the social trust and the political credibility towards the electoral processes in the individual and in the democracy in general. I believe it fits to analyze how the type of transition influenced the design of the EMB in the countries of the continent where the high degree of distrust lead to their configuration as a fourth institutional power.

The perspective of analysis of the "quality of the democracy" is oriented to emphasize substantive aspects of the democracy as a way of government, where the legitimacy and the efficient operation of their institutions guarantee, through the citizens' freedom and equality, the satisfaction of the society.

The types of electoral structure are as diverse as the countries in such a way that every classification will always be debatable, and in certain aspects incomplete. The efforts to classify and to study the EMBs have been carried out in quite a satisfactory way; however the studies are not widely publicized. In this sense outstands one of the most extensive studies on EMBs, the Handbook on Electoral Management Design of IDEA (Wall et al 2006) that classifies the EMBs according to their independence and the development of their essential functions, but there are also the secondary functions and it fits to consider them because in the diversity of models of EMBs it is possible to find some that carry out essential and secondary functions, and in others this distinction is the bases for some models of electoral management. The EMBs are not homogeneous institutions, and their heterogeneousness derives from several substantial aspects; the above mentioned handbook proposes an initial distinction from the differentiation of whether the ordinary administration or an independent body carries out the essential functions of the electoral management.


Three models of EMBs result from this differentiation:


1. The Independent Model of electoral management exists in those countries where elections are organized and managed by an EMB which is institutionally independent and autonomous from the executive branch of government, and which has a body of specialized officers for this purpose.


2. The Governmental Model of electoral management exists in those countries where elections are organized and managed by the executive branch through a ministry, such as the Ministry of the Interior, and/ or through local authorities.


3. The Mixed Model of electoral management is generally composed of two bodies; in other words has dual structures, with a policy, monitoring or supervisory component EMB that is independent of the executive branch and a government EMB with tasks of electoral management and organization.


For the conformation of the EMBs in Latin America, several criteria and modalities have been followed; which for the purposes of the present article could be summarized in two: partisan integration and nonpartisan integration. Two factors which are fundamental to define the type of integration of the EMBs. In the first place, the requirements that must fulfill the members of the Organism, particularly if it is required or not that they are independent. In second place, the way they are appointed; in other words, if it is actually a negotiation between the parties, formalized by means of an institutional act; or on the contrary, the decision follows a non partisan procedure.


The nonpartisan integration takes place when the designation is not a negotiation or political imposition, and demands the condition of independent for the members of the Organisms. In the cases of mixed integration, it must be determined which of the procedures is the predominant. The objective of both systems is to seek honesty in the handling of the electoral process. Nonpartisan integration seeks the impartiality of the EMBs by means of its integration by independent people with sufficient autonomy against the parties. To this end, the handling of the electoral process is trusted to judicial agencies in some, and in others it resorts to the demand of political independence, jointly with the designation of procedures that do not include negotiation between parties.


As far as the influence of the integration of the EMBs on the credibility of the processes, this obviously depends specifically on the political-historical context. However, within the variations that this context can generate, it is possible to assume that the smaller the direct influence of the parties in the handling of the electoral process, the greater will be its credibility thus increasing the possibilities of confidence in the results by the parties and the population.


Supposedly, members really independent will guarantee a greater impartiality than representatives of the parties. The later (judges and party at the same time) are not impartial by definition; hence they do not offer confidence to the other parties or the community in general. Only in one case it could be assumed that partisan integration will produce guarantees of impartiality similar to nonpartisan integration. This is the case of the bipartisanism. If both parties are represented in the EMBs in conditions of equality, it fits to suppose that the decisions will only be taken by consensus, so that there are no possibilities of undue advantage for any of the two parties.


In light of the above, it is possible to suppose that regarding Latin America, except for the situations of perfect or almost-perfect bipartisanism, the transparency and the credibility of the electoral system have greater possibilities with a nonpartisan integration of the EMBs. Some studies based on the attitude of the electorate prove that nonpartisan organization of the elections tends to be associated to higher levels of credibility.


Freeing EMBs from the influence of the political parties requires to my humble understanding, first of all that political independence be a mandatory requirement to be appointed as a member, and, secondly, that the decision on the appointments does not depend on the parties or is politicized. In this area there cannot be half measures. A partial independence will not prevent the danger that the loss of legitimacy encompasses for democracy, and on the contrary, it much likely contributes to make it more fragile and vulnerable because it would reinforce the negative image of the parties and of the governments.


In the case of the Electoral Tribunal of Panama, its Magistrates and Alternate Magistrates (three incumbent and three alternates) are appointed by the Legislative, the Judiciary and the Executive branch (the President of the Republic) respectively and none of them should be a member of a political party.