The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2018 35 Assia Ivantcheva currently serves as senior adviser in the Elections and Political Transitions Division at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG Center). In the past, she has led DRG portfolios at USAID/Serbia and Montenegro and at the USAID regional mission in Kyiv, covering Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. She also served for three years as a senior official at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Warsaw. O n the eve of the 2017 general elec- tion in Kenya the streets of Nai- robi were empty. Schools, shops and restaurants were closed, and an urgent question hung in the air: Will there be violence between supporters of the two camps on Election Day? Many residents left town or sent their families and children away, uncertain when they would be able to return home safely. The tension was palpable. Everyone agreed Since the 1990s electoral assistance has come into its own as a branch of foreign aid and as an academic discipline. BY ASS I A I VANTCHEVA USAID Election Assistance LESSONS FROM THE FIELD ON DEMOCRACY FOCUS that the zero-sum, winner-take-all dynamic around elections had to stop, but no one was confident the desire for peace would prevail. It was typical of the type of sensitive, fragile and polarized environment the U.S. Agency for International Development steps into to provide critically important electoral assistance. Beginning in the late 1980s, the world experienced an “elec- toral boom,” with the number of developing countries holding competitive elections for executive office more than doubling by the end of the century. The rapid emergence of multiparty democracies in both old and new nation-states after the end of the Cold War brought still more elections. At the same time, USAID’s support for democratic elections expanded with bipar- tisan backing from Congress, increasing exponentially following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Electoral assistance has not only developed into its own sector; it has become a subject of academic study and an academic discipline—today’s graduate students can get a master’s degree in electoral assistance. Over the years USAID has provided assistance to developing countries in five main areas: election legislation and adminis- tration; civic and voter education; electoral oversight through A group of Kenyan youth march for peace before the general elections in March 2013. USAID/KENYA