For the past decade, the BRIDGE programme successfully managed to sharpen the abilities and increase competency of the Election Commission staff in Nepal
“Our knowledge of elections and democracy has been enhanced, and we have been exposed to pertinent issues in governance around the world,” says Surya Prasad Aryal, Under Secretary of the Election Commission Nepal (ECN), and Head of the Electoral Education and Information Centre.
Aryal is referring to Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE), a modular professional development programme for boosting the knowledge and expertise of election administrators. BRIDGE is an important element of UNDP Nepal’s Electoral Support Project (ESP) in its efforts to strengthen the capacity of ECN staff.
BRIDGE was developed by a global partnership of election assistance providers, including the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD), and UNDP. Through the Electoral Support Project, UNDP has been partnering with IFES and International IDEA to implement BRIDGE in Nepal. As of June 2019, the programme has reached 2,009 participants.
Aryal has been involved with BRIDGE since its inception in Nepal in 2008, after the completion of the Constitution Assembly (CA) Elections. Since the peace process had only recently concluded, the polls were vital for the country and received a lot of international attention. “The United Nations provided support during that election,” says Aryal. “Back then, in 2008 a BRIDGE showcase was arranged for the ECN, and the commissioners felt that Nepal would benefit from the programme as it provided knowledge on democracy, governance and elections from across the globe.” Therefore, following a joint International IDEA, IFES and UNDP needs assessment mission in 2007, the Election Commission adopted the BRIDGE professional development course.
BRIDGE workshops offer a comprehensive programme on democracy and governance, and, owing to its flexibility and adaptability to the local context, are used to meet the needs of the diverse stakeholders in electoral processes. It is therefore used as a tool within a broader capacity development framework and addresses a wide range of topics, including gender quality in elections, disability in elections, voter and civic education, among others.
Aryal is currently one of only five accrediting-level BRIDGE facilitators in Nepal, which also gives him the authority to certify that others meet the BRIDGE standards to work as BRIDGE facilitator. He has already accredited seven ECN staff members as well as other electoral stakeholders as facilitators. A 20-year veteran of Nepal’s civil service sector, he was actively involved in voter education and training activities in the 2013 and 2017 elections through initiatives that included orientations for people with disabilities, and instructions for teachers. He also supported the overhaul of the social studies curriculum in school textbooks.
An evaluation of the impact of the BRIDGE programme in Nepal, which was conducted in 2018, revealed that it had made a significant contribution to the ECN’s human resource development. Based on the statements of the respondents, BRIDGE has played an important role in sharpening their abilities, broadening their perspectives, building confidence, increasing competency and changing mindsets. “The fact that we completed all three tiers of the 2017 elections within a year is a strong indicator of the programme’s positive impact,” says Aryal.
The Electoral Support Project- Phase II (ESP) is a technical assistance initiative that focuses on long-term institutional and professional capacity development of the Election Commission Nepal (ECN) to conduct credible, inclusive and transparent elections. The objectives of the project are 1) to strengthen the capacity of the ECN to function as an independent and credible institution, 2) to allow the conduct of the election cycle in an effective, sustainable and credible manner, and 3) to increase democratic participation, particularly for under-represented and disadvantaged segments of Nepali society. The ESP is currently funded by the EU.