Adequate understanding of the various elements, stages and fragile points of the electoral cycle in any given country is crucial to better plan and respond to electoral conflict. The aim should be to create realistic expectations from the outset as to what is achievable and needed in the short-term, as well as identifying what are the objectives of mid- and longer-term initiatives. Adding to the complexity of the inter-connected cycle of stages, each phase and the transition to the next, usually comes with its own set of fragile moments, both internal and external to the electoral cycle.
South Africa will undergo not only the key stages of the pre- and electoral period with the habitual activities that takes place in most countries with periodical elections such as voter registration updates, boundary delimitation and candidate registration, but also a number of significant foreseen and unforeseen events outside of the electoral cycleMany diverse sources are needed to understand and predict election related conflict with some degree of accuracy. Although robust conflict indicators may have been identified and points towards an escalating situation heading for the abyss - electoral conflict may or may not erupt. That said, conflict and violence during the electoral cycle is not necessarily cyclical or predictable.
The value of using the electoral cycle approach in projects meant to curb electoral conflict is still well-motivated since it helps visualize the sequential and interdependent steps, components and phases that make up an entire electoral processes. It can be a useful tool in identifying where conflict is likely to emerge using past data or predictions/indicators that are new for this cycle.
The key stages include the legal framework, planning and implementation, training and education, registration of voters, registration of parties and candidates, electoral campaign, voting operation and Election Day, counting and tabulation, verification of results, complaints and appeals and post-election activities. Conflict may arise during all these stages. In most countries, conflict escalates and turn violent in the days following the elections either before or right after results are announced. In South Africa, the pattern is more sporadic with violent episodes emerging also in the pre-electoral phase.
Because of the multidimensional nature of electoral support, elections are a fragile moment in any given country but it also presents an opportunity to weld together divided societies if the results are produced through a robust and credible process. The process itself is therefore key to how results are perceived. An example is where flawed elections or the perception thereof, have been used by radical groups to gain a foot-hold in fragile state institutions. In a similar vein, populism and extreme nationalism are thriving when societies are divided and polarised by conflict. Elections, although correctly conducted from a procedural and technical point of view, are always at risk of being challenged by the interest group that have something to gain from conflict.
A specific methodology will be used for delivering capacity enhancing training to provincal conflict mediation panels and other key stakeholders entitled “Leadership and Conflict Management skills for Electoral Administrators” (LEAD) training modality. LEAD entails both a training of trainers (ToT) and a cascade component. The methodology is designed to promote skills in the crossroads between leadership, election-related violence and conflict prevention. Three crucial leadership skills can be disentangled in the LEAD: vision (ability to set direction, diagnosing and analysing problems and grasping essential aspects of the developments), competence (ability to make decisions, create alignment and motivate staff and collaborators) and integrity (capacity to maintain commitments, keep promises and ensure consistency between values, actions, expectations and outcomes). Those who have been trained as facilitators will be co-facilitating cascade workshops together with senior facilitators to grow into an independent and certified LEAD facilitator, able to deliver further workshops using the LEAD curriculum without external support.
The innovative LEAD training derives from a solid partnership established between ECES and the Centre for Creative Leadership - Leadership Beyond Boundaries (CCL-LBB) that aims to develop capacity in the crossroads between conflict management and leadership by building on the specific experiences of key stakeholders.