Opening Remarks by Ms. Alice Walpole, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance IHEC Strategic Planning Workshop

10 March 2019, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

Chairman and Members of the Board of Commissioners
Officials and Staff of IHEC national, regional and governorate offices
Representatives of IFES
United Nations Colleagues,

I welcome the opportunity to address you today at the opening of this Strategic Planning Workshop of the Independent High Electoral Commission. It is a sign of the evolving maturity of an organization, particularly of an electoral management body such as IHEC, that you are allocating such importance and effort to comprehensive forward planning. This workshop will enable you collectively and systematically to discuss and define the strategic direction of IHEC in the coming years, as it pursues its vision and mission as Iraq’s electoral institution.

It has been twelve years since IHEC was established by law in 2007. During that period, there have been significant achievements. Several electoral events have taken place, leading to the establishment of representative governance bodies at the federal, regional and governorate levels. At the same time, there were also major challenges, both internal and external. Some of these challenges have been addressed in succeeding electoral processes, while others continue to persist to the present.

In defining the future strategic direction of the institution, it is important to reflect and learn from the lessons of these previous experiences, the successes as well as the shortcomings, the opportunities as well as the threats. I understand that you have just undertaken a post-activity review of the last national elections. I hope that the conclusions and recommendations from that process will be fully factored into your discussions for the next five days.

I had a chance to look at the agenda for this workshop. I am encouraged by the range of substantive areas, what you term as goals, that you intend to discuss.

It comes as no surprise that the first item relates to the voter registry. In my meetings with the Board of Commissioners and with electoral stakeholders, this has consistently featured as a key issue. How to establish a reliable and credible voter registry, a database that is comprehensive, up to date, and serves as a solid basis for enabling equal and inclusive participation of all the different categories of voters in the elections. In governorates such as Kirkuk, the integrity of the voter registry will, of course, be crucial to the credibility and acceptance of the election results. I trust that your discussions will be able to flesh out in more detail the objectives, strategies and implementation guidelines for ensuring the best possible voter registry.

The use of election technologies is another important topic on your agenda. You will undoubtedly draw on the lessons from your own experiences during last year’s elections. Comparative experiences from other countries are available. It is worth highlighting - and here I draw on my own experiences talking to voters in polling stations in Kirkuk city last May - that while it is important that the technology is sound and accurate, it is equally important that it is trusted as such by electoral stakeholders and the public at large. During last year’s elections, I met many voters who were afraid that the electoral technology was unfairly manipulating their vote in one way or another.

That is why stakeholder outreach is something that an electoral institution must take very seriously. So I am happy to see it on your agenda. A well-informed public, including political parties, civil society organisations, media and the voters themselves, can be your strongest allies in the smooth execution of an electoral process.

I would also like to touch upon some cross-cutting themes on your agenda. I look forward to hearing the outcome of your discussions on integrating a gender perspective into your goals and activities. I know you share my hope that, in the interests of inclusivity and equality, there will be women serving as IHEC Commissioners in future – and that there will be a significant increase in the number of women present at the next IHEC strategic planning workshop. (I note in this context that, when I attended your IHEC workshop here in Sulaimaniya before last year’s national elections, I noticed that I was the only woman in the room. Even the waiting staff putting out bottles of water were all male. So, already we have some improvement.)

Inclusive participation is also a cross cutting theme. I hope your discussions will identify key actions to enable the comprehensive, inclusive participation of all voters, including those who remain displaced. You might also focus on designing viable strategies for further enhancing voter access and improving turn-out for the next elections.

On electoral processes, the United Nations has been with Iraq right from the start, providing support, assistance and advice. We remain beside you for this strategic planning process, as you define your direction and priorities for the coming cycle. And we will be there to provide assistance and advice during the implementation phase. Our commitment remains for the establishment of strong, sustainable and capable institutions for governance.

I also welcome the continued engagement of international organizations such as IFES, USAID and others, who have been our partners in supporting the electoral commission over the years. I encourage IHEC to continue to maximize the opportunities of having such experienced international partners. And allow me to take this opportunity particularly to thank UNDP for their assistance which made this workshop a reality. We will continue our discussions with them on an electoral support project, the design of which will draw on the outcome of this strategic planning workshop.

In closing, allow me to challenge you to be imaginative and daring in the formulation of your goals and objectives, but also concrete and realistic in setting targets that are responsive to the demands of your electoral stakeholders. I look forward to the output from this workshop; and to working with you towards implementing the strategic plan and making those goals a reality.

Thank you.

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