The Association of Asian Election Authorities (AAEA) was conceived to promote and institutionalize open and transparent elections, independent and impartial election authorities, professionalization of Asian election authorities, citizen participation in the electoral and civic process, information sharing, and the development of resources for election-related information and research. These objectives can be achieved through an exchange of experiences and information relating to election law and procedure, technology, administrative practice, and voter/civic education programs among Asian election administrators and civic leaders.
This important process began with the January 1997 Symposium in Manila. Over 150 participants, including election administrators and NGO representatives from more than 25 countries, gathered to discuss a wide range of issues including the formation of a permanent regional association of election authorities. At the conclusion of the Symposium, attendees unanimously voted to establish a Working Advisory Group to meet within 90 days and consider the issues involved in the development of an association of election authorities in the region.
The Working Advisory Group, consisting of election officials from give Asian countries, met in Manila at the end of April to follow up on the mandate decreed by the Symposium’s participants. During two days of candid discussions, the Working Advisory Group created a draft charter for the proposed association developed a preliminary funding strategy, discussed programmatic activities for association members, and set forth initial plans to hold the 1998 Conference for the Founding of the Association of Asian Election Authorities in the Philippines in February, 1998. This initiative parallels the emergence of similar association in the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The mission statement of the association is straightforward:
“…to provide a nonpartisan forum for the exchange of information among election authorities to discuss and act on ways to promote open and transparent elections with the objective of supporting good governance and democracy.”
Following the Working Advisory Group meeting, IFES distributed a draft charter and other information about the group’s deliberations to Asian election bodies which were represented at the 1997 Symposium for their consideration and review. The edited draft was presented to participants at the February 1998 Conference which was modified on a number of points.
The Charter was formally ratified by eight regional election authorities (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Mongolia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippine, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka) who signed it in Manila. Several additional election authorities indicated their interest in joining this new initiative upon receiving required approvals from their home offices. In addition to election officials from South and East Asia, the founding Charter group now includes three election authorities from the Central Asian region – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – who have expressed interest in integrating with their Asian counterparts and supporting cross-regional information sharing initiatives.
The AAEA held its first meeting of the executive board on 5 March 1999 in Katmandu, Nepal. The meeting was an opportunity for the Association’s leadership to discuss various administrative issues and to determine the course of future programming. In the aftermath of the meeting, AAEA, with assistance from IFES serving as the Association’s interim Secretariat, has initiated the activities necessary for the institutionalization of the Association.
In May and June, the AAEA undertook its observation mission. A team of seven election officials from AAEA member commissions traveled to Indonesia to observe the 7 June national parliamentary elections.
In September, Mr. Im Suosdey, Secretary General of the National Election committee of Cambodia (NEC), informed the Honorable Bishnu Pratap Shah, Chairman of the AAEA that he NEC has voted to apply for membership in the AAEA. The Secretariat was pleased about the NEC’s decision, and looked forward to a long and fruitful relationship. The Executive Board of the AAEA set for formal discussion the NEC’s membership at its next meeting in Spring 2000.
According to the AAEA’s procedures, the next Executive Board meeting must be held in the year 2000. The Executive Board proposed at its last meeting that the next one be held in May 2000. Among the issues that will be discussed are Cambodia’s membership, the location of the permanent Secretariat, membership dues, and the establishment of an active on-line community.
In 1999, the first Executive Board Meeting was held on March 5 with the following attendees: Nepal, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. Taiwan sent two other observers. The discussion focused on the obstacles in maintaining and developing the AAEA due to lack of continuous and diversified funding. Wanting to set the dues at a level that would no be a financial burden to the Election Commission of each country, they maintained the US$500 a year rate as approved in the 1998 conference.
The Board decided that it cannot have its headquarters in IFES/Washington indefinitely. A committee was formed to search for a permanent venue for its Secretariat in Asia. It also decided that IFES should recommend the appointment of an Executive Secretary to the Board.
Two Board members, which of Kazakhstan and Taiwan, reiterated that positions in the Board are held by the National Election Commission members, not by individuals. Therefore, even if an Election commission replaces its Chief either by retirement, resignation, disability or death, their position in the Board can only be filled by the succeeding Chief of the same Election Commission. Thereafter, it tasked IFES to contact the COMELEC of the Philippines to fill their Board seat which they were elected on their expression of intent to join the AAEA in 1998. The vacancy was occasioned by the appointment of COMELEC Chairman Bernardo Pardo as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. In February 2000, the Honorable Harriet Demetriou, Chair of the Philippines Commission on Elections, informed the AAEA of the Commission’s intention to fill its Board seat. Chairman Demetriou served as the Commission’s representative on the Board. With this fifth seat filled, all position in Executive Board was filled.
IFES suggested that the AAEA website should be updated and made comprehensive by the secretariat. Ms. Yao, a Member of the CEC and an observer in the Board meeting provided a Chinese copy of the AAEA Charter for publication on the website. A logo was deemed needed for AAEA. The assembly members may decide on its design, size and color/s. Because of the impending Global Electoral Organization (GEO) Conference in Ottawa, Canada, the Board decided to send Vice-Chair Zagipa Balieva of Kazakhstan and Dayananda Dissayanake of Sri Lanka to represent AAEA in the GEO conference. Airfare and other travel cost were funded by USAID.
It was decided that the next Board meeting will be in February 201. Pursuant thereto, the next Executive Board Meeting took place on February 6-7, 2002 in Manila, Philippines. In attendance were the officials of the Election Commission of Nepal, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Philippines. By acclamation, COMELEC Chairman Alfredo Benipayo of the Philippines became the next AAEA Chairman. It was also decided both by IFES ad AAEA that it was time for AAEA to move the secretariat in Asia from IFES headquarters in Washington D.C. It was moved to COMELEC, Manila. Thereafter, on recommendation of IFES, Teresita Dy-Liacco Flores, who was fresh from her retirement as commissioner of COMELEC, was appointed Executive Secretary. IFES volunteered to pay the equivalent of a little less than US $400 a month to the executive secretary from a period of six months. Thereafter her services were offered for free to AAEA as volunteer worker.
The Executive Board decided to raise the membership annual fee from USD $500.00 to $1000.00 per annum and for COMELEC, Philippines to house the Secretariat.
In 2002, however, the President of the Philippines appointed Chairman Benipayo to the position of Solicitor General. A new COMELEC, Philippines to house the Secretariat.
During the term of Chairman Abalos of the Philippines, the General Assembly voted to accept two new members: the Election Commissions of Cambodia and Indonesia. Thus, from the original twelve (12) members, there are now a total of fourteen (14) members in the AAEA.
On August 21, 2003, the Executive Board met in Taipei, with the Central Election Commission of Taiwan as host. In attendance were three (3) chief Election Commissions namely, that of Philippines, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka. They were Chairman Benjamin S. Abalos, George Huang and Dayananda Dissayanake, respectively.
Three (3) Resolutions were approved: Executive Board Resolution (EBR) No. 1-03 approved a budget based on projected revenues on the assumption that all 14 members will pay their annual membership due regularly. Thus based on the projected revenues of One Million Five Hundred Forty Thousand Pesos (PhP 1, 540, 000.00) and projected expenses in the sum of Two Hundred Fifty Seven Thousand Pesos (PhP 257, 000.00), the budget was approved. As the Financial Statements will show, the projected revenues materialized only in part. In 2002, five (5) Election Commissions form the following countries paid their annual dues: India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. In year 2003, Election Commissions from four (4) countries paid annual dues, namely: India, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. In year 2004, Election Commissions from three (3) countries paid annual dues, namely: India, Philippines and Taiwan.
Executive Board Resolution No. 2-03 authorized the Executive Secretary to open a Savings Account and a Current Account in Philippine Pesos and a separate US $ Savings account, all with the Land bank of the Philippines, Intramuros Branch, Manila. The Resolution also designated the AAEA Chairman and the Executive Secretary as signatories in said Bank accounts.
Executive Board Resolution 3-03 authorized the holding of a General Assembly in January 2004, emphasizing the necessity of the AAEA to partner with NGO’s and other agencies for the holding thereof. The same was postponed to a later date considering that a number of members were in the peak of election preparations in their respective countries.
In the later part of the year 2004, the members of the AAEA Executive Board decided to hold a General Assembly in Taipei, with the Central Election Commission of Taiwan as host. The decision was graciously accepted by Taiwan’s CEC. The CEC requested that it can be held on March 24-25, 2005 to give it enough time for preparation.
Taiwan’s CEC lost no time to venture into thorough and speedy preparations. It has tapped the cooperation and collaboration of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy as one of two sponsors. The AAEA Secretariat worked for making the UDNP as a co-sponsor of the conference. Both efforts proved successful.
On the 2005 General Assembly met in Taipei, with the Central Election Commission of Taiwan as host. In attendance were the officials of the AAEA Member Election Bodies of India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Papua New Genuine, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Taiwan. Electoral officials of Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and Timor Leste also attended the 2005 General Assembly.
On 25th March, the association conducted the election of New officers. The election was initially presided over by the out-going Chairman of the AAEA, Chairman Benjamin S. Abalos Sr. However, Chairman Abalos manifested his desire to take the floor to nominate his successor. Accordingly, he turned over the chair to Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake to preside. Commissioner Dissanayake accepted the task to be the presiding officer during the election.
With consensus of eight (8) members out of the fourteen (14) who were present, Commissioner Dissanayake announced that the following are deemed elected: Chairman Masa J.S. Chang of Taiwan as chairman of the Board, Director Rajesh Aggarwal of India as Vice-Chairman and Deputy Chairman Mizrob Kobirov of Tajikistan, Commissioner Rusadi Kantaprawira of Indonesia and Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake of Sri Lanka as members.
On 17 November 2005, Sri Lanka conducted their fifth Presidential Election. AAEA was invited by Commissioner of Elections Dissanayake to send an observation team.
On this occasion, however, the AAEA, under the leadership of its Chairman Mr. Masa J.S. Chang – also the Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Taiwan – sent twenty-two observers from member countries. Due to the need to oversee preparations for Taiwan elections scheduled for December, Mr. Chang was unable to Head the Mission. In his stead, he recommended Mr. Benjamin S. Abalos, Chairman of the Commission on Elections of the Philippines and former Chairman of the AAEA. Accompanying Mr. Abalos were election authorities from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Tajikistan. Significantly, although the observers were invited by Commissioner Dissanayake, they functioned independently and not as representatives of their respective governments.
The majority of the AAEA Observer Mission was present in Sri Lanka from the 10th of November to the 20th, and closely monitored political developments in the country during the immediate run-up the elections, election day, and the immediate post-election periods.