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World: OSCE Debates Its Election Monitoring

  • Roland Eggleston

The OSCE -- Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- has come under sharp criticism from Russia on the criteria it uses and conclusions it reaches in monitoring elections. Russia charges that the process is politically weighted. Leaders of the organization have just completed a two-day review in Vienna. Debate was lively but few minds appear to have been changed about the way the OSCE decides whether elections are fair and democratic.

VIENNA, 23 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- An OSCE spokeswoman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, said late yesterday that the closed-door meeting provoked an exchange of ideas that will now be examined to see if any of them can or should be implemented.

"This meeting has not led to any agreement on where to go forward. I think that what we have done during the past two days is to express our views and allowed the States which participated and the experts to express their differing views I think we want to look at maybe how we can take all these recommendations into consideration," Gunnarsdottir said.
The chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, AlexanderVeshnyakov, said that OSCE's observer missions should be politically neutral and should not deliver what he called "political judgments" immediately after elections are held.


The chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, AlexanderVeshnyakov, said that OSCE's observer missions should be politically neutral and should not deliver what he called "political judgments" immediately after elections are held.

At a press conference Veshnyakov charged that some of the OSCE's 55 member-governments try to use the electoral process to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

He also called for OSCE monitors to halt the process of publishing assessments of elections soon after they are over. Veshnyakov proposed that no report should be published until all electoral disputes had been settled by the courts. He said reports should then go to OSCE's permanent council for consideration and only then be presented to the general public.

The United States played an active role in the Vienna conference with both an official delegation and the participation of a number of individuals representing various groups. An official delegate, John Gale, who is the chief election officer in the western U.S. state of Nebraska, said one problem that needs to be faced is a lack of will in some countries to live up to the OSCE commitments on free and fair elections.

He said that when the political will to hold free and fair elections is present, significant improvements towards meeting OSCE standards for democratic elections follow.

The conference focused mostly on Russia's dissatisfaction with OSCE's monitoring of elections in Belarus and several other post-communist nations. But the agenda was widened to cover other issues.

One group discussed modernizing voting systems in the OSCE region, including the possible use of electronic voting machines.

Other experts discussed suggestions by Russia, Slovenia and some other countries for a new document on elections. The sponsors say they do not want to discard the original election document adopted in Copenhagen in 1990 but to supplement it with a new agreement which takes into account problems which were not mentioned in Copenhagen. These include referendums, recall elections, counting technology and electronic voting.

The OSCE spokeswoman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, said later it is important that any new document should not diminish the agreements in the original Copenhagen document.

"What we think is important when we are talking about Copenhagen is that we can talk about Copenhagen-Plus but we should be sure that we are not talking about Copenhagen-Minus... that we are not in any way diminishing the commitments because they still stand," Gunnarsdottir said

Other major contributions to the debate on election-monitoring came from the Council of Europe, from the European Commission, from non-government organizations in Azerbaijan, and from the secretary of the Central Election Commission in Kazakhstan, Vladimir Foss.
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