Elections have been a vital part of democratic transitions, decolonization, and the implementation of peace agreements around the globe, and the United Nations has played a major role in providing international assistance through these important processes of change.
The organization has supervised and observed plebiscites, referenda and elections worldwide and increasingly focuses its electoral efforts today on providing technical assistance to help Member States build credible and sustainable national electoral systems. More than 100 countries have requested and have received UN election assistance since 1991.
The Department of Political Affairs, through its Electoral Assistance Division (EAD), exercises key functions to ensure coherence and consistency within a broad array of UN entities working to provide United Nations electoral assistance in the field. The Division works to:
Ensure consistency in the handling of requests of Member States;
Ensure careful coordination and consideration of requests for electoral assistance and channel such requests to the appropriate office or programme;
Build on experience gained to develop an institutional memory;
Develop and maintain a roster of international experts who can provide technical assistance;
Maintain contact with regional and other intergovernmental organizations to ensure appropriate working arrangements with them.
Video: UN Electoral Assistance
History and Evolution
The history of the United Nations is interwoven with elections. In the late 1940s, shortly after its founding, the UN observed elections on the Korean Peninsula. During the subsequent era of trusteeship and decolonization, the United Nations supervised and observed numerous plebiscites, referenda and elections worldwide.
During the 1990s, the United Nations organized or observed landmark elections and popular consultations in Timor-Leste, South Africa, Mozambique, El Salvador and Cambodia. More recently, the Organization has provided crucial technical and logistical assistance in milestone elections in many countries, including in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
Demand for U.N. electoral assistance is growing, as is the duration and complexity of operations. Electoral observation, once a core activity in early UN support, is now rare, and technical assistance has grown exponentially. Assistance is closely regulated by the UN General Assembly, and its evolution is reflected in a series of resolutions since 1991.
Even as UN electoral assistance evolves to adapt to the changing needs and circumstances of its Member States, it continues to be based on the principle established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – that the will of the people, as expressed through periodic and genuine elections, shall be the basis of government authority.