Elections Situation Room was established to ensure that there is free and fair elections which are coordinated as effectively as possible. The Election Situation Room model of election engagement was pioneered in Nigeria, with the support of Open Society Foundations West Africa (OSIWA), to bring together many civil society groups under one umbrella.
The Situation Room model of election engagement has been implemented in three countries in 2011 and early 2012, namely Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal. The model was pioneered in Nigeria, in response to a realization of the need to enhance civil society coordination and ensure constructive and proactive engagement of the election process. The success of this engagement in Nigeria informed the replication of this model in Liberia and Senegal.
ESR was formed to ensure that there is:
- A platform for immediate sharing of information and recommendations among civil society groups and with others.
- Credible, real-time analyses that became some of the most sought-after election information during and after polls.
- Objective insights into the challenges of the election management body, helping to distinguish between unavoidable logistical challenges and possibility of fraud.
- Rapid response to emergencies – especially in the crisis situation that developed after the presidential election, as violence broke out in protest at the result. The Situation Room was a highly effective mechanism for mobilizing intervention from key stakeholders and respected personalities in Nigeria.
- A platform for engaging with official structures in a constructive manner. The Situation Room maintained a cordial relationship with government and the election management body throughout the election period.
Every Election Situation Room is aimed at collecting relevant information, analyzing the information, providing evidence based on the information and be in a position to alert the appropriate authorities in real time. This is to ensure that there is rapid response to incidences during pre-election, election and post-election period
ESR is designed to enhance collaboration, proactive advocacy and rapid responses to crises related to elections.
Aims for the Election Situation Room include:
- To improve the quality of the electoral process and ensure that votes count. The Situation Room is focused on helping government and the election management body deliver free, fair and credible elections.
- Collaboration amongst civil society groups: The Situation Room aims to provide a collaborative platform that allows for individual identities. It is a hybrid coalition, which both allows groups to pursue their own election work, and assumes joint effort to engage government
- To provide a platform for civil society groups to strategize and plan on election engagement
- To utilize the resources/information from the field through its members to provide analysis that will aid the election process. With the network of observers available to its members, the Situation Room’s objective is to utilize these information assets, ensure credibility of information available to it, provide recommendations, options and analysis based on the information, and mobilize networks to ensure that there is an effective policy or operational response based on these options.
- Rapid response: The greatest attribute of the Situation Room is the capacity for rapid response to emergencies that affect the election process.
In engaging the elections process, the following stages of an election require particular attention:
Election logistics: In most emerging democracies, this is problematic. There is always a disconnect between planning and actual execution; for example, materials may not arrive on time or there may be other flaws with the logistics arrangements. These gaps can mar the electoral process. It is important for the ESR to monitor this closely and to flag gaps wherever they exist. Getting information about the logistic arrangement is not always easy though; you may have to make extra effort to get concrete information and efforts must be made nonetheless
Collation process: Voting in polling stations during elections is usually uneventful. The major challenge comes in the counting and collation of results. A lot can go wrong and much that was not anticipated. When figures are invented or altered, it destroys the credibility of the whole election. The collation process was contentious both in Nigerian and Liberian elections. In Nigeria, the ESR saw collation as the weakest link in the election process. It is important for the ESR to be able to closely follow the collation of results at every stage of the process, thus through the night in most cases – and to flag irregularities. Collation of results is a very sensitive aspect of the election process and MUST be given every possible attention.
Electoral violence: The ESR should estimate the chance of election-related violence and should have a contingency plan for how to react to it. The ESR should be able to predict possible flash-points during the election, have a framework for documenting violence and mechanism for rapid response targeted at both the general public and government, especially the security forces.
Run-offs: Most run-off elections are contentious and sensitive. It is important for the ESR to plan adequately for a second-round scenario and deploy adequate resources to meet likely developments
Provide alternatives: Sometimes government or policy makers do the wrong thing simply because they have not analyzed or prepared appropriately. Be prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and present effective arguments for why things should be done differently. If you spend all your energy condemning, your voice will likely blend in among other government bashing and may impair your ability to make any difference. This is why the composition of ESR needs to reflect diverse experiences and skills. It’s not enough to identify problems. The ESR must have some proposals for how to address them.
Providing timely and reliable information to the media: ESR analysis and media releases have to be widely distributed to broad range of audiences. There is need for the information to reach both policy makers and the general public. While you may want policy-makers to take a particular decision, you also want the general public to have a proper understanding of the issue, so that they can also put pressure on government. In some instances, your advocacy may just be targeted at the public to help clear up misconceptions. In this era of information technology, the ESR must make good use of the web.
It is important that the ESR have an up-to-date website, twitter account, blog and broad mailing list, to ensure adequate distribution of information. The blog allows for feedback and in some instances helps to capture additional information from the public.
Maintaining confidentiality where needed: There are instances where confidentiality is necessary. Not every activity of the ESR should be publicized. If, for instance, there is a volatile security situation which the ESR is covertly trying to address, perhaps by talking to influential figures that might intervene, you don’t want to advertise that. This in no way suggests that the ESR should be run as a “secret club”, but discretion must be exercised regarding the kind of information that can be shared.
In instances, where whistle blowers in a sensitive position are providing information to the ESR, it is very important to protect their identity not just to protect their safety but also to ensure a steady stream of reliable information.
Safety first: Taking necessary steps must be taken to ensure that individuals are not put in harm’s way. Security must be factored into an ESR engagement plan. Such a plan should identify possible security risks and take steps to address them. Where necessary and helpful, the ESR may have to work with the police and other security forces that have been provided for the election process. In determining a location for the ESR, it is important to consider security challenges. An ESR should be located in a safe and stable neighborhood. Election-related engagement comes with some level of risk. If your life is in danger you need to walk away. You can always pick up the fight from another place. Do not play the hero or mindlessly court danger! It could endanger others, as well as yourself.
Reporting: At the end of the election, it is important to prepare a report which takes a holistic look at the election process with clear recommendations on how to improve the system. This report will naturally draw from the various press releases and statements of the ESR. However, it has to be more comprehensive than that to state clearly how the ESR wishes to help resolve some of the identified challenges in the system.
Documenting the Situation Room experience: This is highly desirable as it helps to maintain the institutional memory of the ESR when gaps between elections can be long and memory of individuals is unreliable. It gives an opportunity for peer learning and experience-sharing with groups who may want to see how the ESR functioned and the peculiar experience of a particular location. It is important that the process of documentation starts from the beginning of the ESR’s foundation to ensure that key events are adequately captured.
Maintaining the Situation Room platform beyond elections: There will be more elections and issues identified in the ESR recommendations that need follow-up. The ESR platform can serve as a rallying point for civil society engagement on elections and other related matters. Efforts must be made to keep the ESR alive beyond elections.