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Developing Countries: Free and Fair Elections

Volume 734: debated on Thursday 26 January 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they consider the conduct of free and fair elections to be a prerequisite for United Kingdom aid to developing countries.

The Government have committed to support at least 13 countries to hold free and fair elections by 2015. Elections are not a prerequisite for aid, but we provide direct support only for Governments who share our commitment to poverty reduction, human rights, public financial management and accountability to citizens. Where democratic norms are not respected, we ensure that those in need receive essential assistance by working outside Governments.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. The Government will be aware of the continuing concern about the organisation of the recent elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UK Government are significantly increasing aid to the DRC over this year, next year and the year after. Will the Government, as part of the discussion on that bilateral aid, insist on lessons being learnt in that country, which suffers from some of the worst poverty and violence in the world, to ensure that future elections are more reliable and more transparent and that the results are trusted by more of the population?

I have read the noble Lord’s blog on his experiences in the DRC as an election monitor and I give him credit for going out there to do that. He noted how enthusiastically people voted, but that is balanced against problems in the election. We are monitoring the situation. We expect the full results of the DRC National Assembly elections are to be published shortly. Some problems have been flagged up and we seek that the DRC electoral commission investigates all of them. We are extremely well aware of the problems in the DRC. It was flagged up to me, for example, that it is the worst place in the world to be a woman. The noble Lord will be extremely familiar with the problems and we are well aware of them.

I want to press my noble friend a little further on the issue of the DRC. I, too, had the opportunity to visit the country a few months ago before the elections, but the issues that were obvious then are still obvious today. Is my noble friend familiar with the DfID report, Electoral Assistance and Politics: Lessons for International Support, which states:

“Delivering free, fair and credible elections is … a considerable but important challenge, logistically, financially and politically”?

As my noble friend rightly says, the electoral commission has postponed issuing the results of the legislative elections yet again. The international election experts have left the country—frankly, I think, in disgust because they cannot get access to the election data—and the diaspora from the Congo, particularly in this country, are traumatised by the continuing fraud in elections in their home country. What will DfID do to try to make some sense of it all?

The first thing that I would emphasise is perhaps a sense of humility. If noble Lords bear in mind how long it took us to democratise from 1832 to 1929—in terms of the franchise for women—it is not surprising that, in some of these fragile states, it takes a long time to ensure that the elections are carried out fairly. Positive accounts are coming from the DRC about the elections, as the account of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, bears out. As I said, various concerns are being monitored, particularly by the United States. We are in close contact. My noble friend Lord Howell answered on this subject the other day and the Minister for Africa is also pressing on the matter. We share those concerns and we are taking this forward, but we need to bear in mind the difficulties.

My Lords, reverting to the specific Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about the DRC and the outcome of the elections, if the delegation that has been in London this week from opposition parties in the DRC is right and it is found that the elections have been entirely gerrymandered, will Her Majesty’s Government refuse to recognise the legitimacy of President Kabila and his Government? What about the opposition parties and their leaders who have been imprisoned in the DRC since the election and the closure of their television and radio stations and other media outlets? What have the Government to say about that?

One has to bear in mind the interests of all involved. It is striking that none of the observation missions—again, I make reference to the one that noble Lord, Lord McConnell, was on—judged that the overall result of the presidential election would have been changed by the irregularities that have been flagged up. However, it is clearly essential that the DRC electoral commission takes the necessary steps to investigate and address all reported irregularities.

Will the Minister join me in commending the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in promoting free and fair elections? I declare an interest as one of the Labour governors of the WFD. She will be aware that the foundation has put forward a business plan to the Department for International Development so that we can develop our work in the Middle East, north Africa and in other parts of Africa. We are still awaiting—for some time now—a response from DfID. Can she give an assurance that it will come in the very near future?

As the noble Lord clearly knows, the department is discussing with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which has done excellent work right across the world, how to take forward the work that DfID wants to encourage in supporting elections and everything that goes into making those elections work. That includes making sure that civil society is developed, that political parties are encouraged and that there is some basis on which these elections can work more effectively.