Serving as a facilitator for new democracies

Interview with first Secretary General of A-WEB, Kim Yong-Hi

The Association of World Election Bodies (A-WEB), the international organization in the electoral field, officially launched with the participation of about 120 countries around the world. At the inaugural assembly held in Convensia in Songdo International City, Incheon, South Korea on October 14, total 327 attendees gathered, including 132 distinguished guests, such as chairperson, commissioner, secretary general levels from 120 EMBs around Asia(26), Europe(28), the Americas(26), Africa(36), Oceania(4), in addition to 58 people from election-related international organizations. It was the first international festival of electoral organizations in history. During the assembly, it was decided that the A-WEB secretariat be located in Songdo International City, Incheon and that Korea hold the position of the first Secretary General of the Association. Therefore, it is expected that Korea will take up the leading role in the international electoral culture.

Magazine N had an interview with Mr. Kim Yong-Hi, who was elected four-year-term Secretary General of A-WEB to hear about the background of A-WEB’s establishment and its plans for the future. Kim also assumes the responsibility as the Deputy Secretary General of the National Election Commission of the Republic of Korea (NEC) and has taken up the positions of Director General of Election Department, Director General of Political Party Assistance Department and Chief Election Officer at the NEC.

What is the background of the establishment?

Just like environmental and economic issues, the matters regarding the spread and settlement of democracy is becoming a global issue that cannot be tackled by only a few countries. The international community is aware that despite the much assistance provided to transitional democracies, we have not seen any clear result yet. I believe that the root cause lies in the failure to produce a stable, sustainable government. Now an understanding was formed in the international community that the assistance in the electoral systems needs to be done through multilateral organizations.

What is the role of A-WEB?

First of all, A-WEB will systemize and share the election management knowhow and knowledge earned in the electoral processes and procedures which are collected by election management authorities in advanced countries. One of A-WEB’s major projects is to share the experience of advanced countries with transitional or developing democracies. At the same time, we understand that every country has its own electoral culture and have gone through different democratic development. Hence, A-WEB will offer a different system suitable for each country.

What were the grounds that Korea took up the both role of the Secretariat and the Secretary General?

I think the development of our history played a part as an important asset. Many foreigners were surprised by the fact that Korea has accomplished democracy in such a short period of time after the loss of national sovereignty and the Korean War. I believe that the wishes of transitional democracies that desire to follow in our footsteps were the basis of our achievements in A-WEB. Also the international community highly values the election management system in Korea. A British weekly newsmagazine, The Economist, measures the state of democracy in 167 countries and releases democracy index every year. Korea is always among the 25 countries in the full democracy category and ranks before the US and Japan. Especially in terms of the election transparency and fair participation, Korea earns high marks.

Were there any difficulties in establishing A-WEB?

The first challenge was the perspective that we don’t need a duplicated organization. As a matter of fact, there exist international organizations of a similar nature, such as regional election associations and UNDP that provides assistance to transitional democracies. Even though we have regional election associations, there has been no global organization. I believe that we can push ahead with the projects through A-WEB that have never been pursued. Even though we have international aid agencies, there has been no organization that reflects the voice of election management bodies in the countries on the receiving end. I persuaded the advanced countries that the birth of A-WEB will bring a great synergy effect to the international assistance. It is regrettable that Japan did not participate after all.

What kinds of effect will A-WEB bring?

I expect that the biggest effect will be the symbolic effect. If the world watches that the one and only divided country, Korea takes the lead to spread democracy, it will bring a great deal of improvement in our national image. The world recognizes the economic development of Korea. However, in order to be deemed as an advanced country, democracy and culture need to be promoted as well as economy. The fact that Korea houses the headquarters of the international organization and contributes the development of democracy in the transitional countries will upgrade the national image. In addition, when our electoral equipment and programs are spread to the world, this will also lead to increase in export and job creation.

What are the plans for the future?

I will make efforts to secure finance so that the newly launched organization can settle down. We have plans to transfer various educational programs to the countries desperate for democracy. Also, whenever elections are held in those nations, A-WEB will send international delegation to observe, participate and evaluate the event. It all depends on how we do from now on. A-WEB may be able to play a role in supporting the legal system to elect a democratic government in a newly born country or may remain only as a friendly gathering of election management bodies. Please keep showing the interest in A-WEB and see how it unfolds.

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