As Armenians make their way to cast their votes in what has been described as perhaps the most important election in the history of modern Armenia they will be watched by 647 international and 31,451 domestic observers, who have been accredited by the country’s Central Election Commission, and who will observe polling at all the 1982 polling stations throughout the country.
In the ninth part of its series of briefings on the 2012 Armenian Parliamentary Elections, LINKS Analysis looks at the role of international organisations in election observation, and the increasing importance of the work of domestic observers.
Election observation has come a long way from the days of the 1960s and 70s when election monitoring was often conducted by the UN particularly in countries in the third world which were about to become independent. Those observation missions often involved only a handful of people. The major change in election observation came after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent dissolution of the USSR. The countries of Eastern and Central Europe had to be assisted in their transition from totalitarianism to democracy, and election monitoring was one of the tools that was used in order to ensure a level playing field between political players. The job was taken on by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and particularly by its agency promoting the human dimension of the Helsinki accords - the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Very quickly the ODIHR/OSCE Observation Missions became very elaborate affairs and the pattern was copied by other international organisations in Europe and beyond.
The OSCE/ODIHR Mission to the Armenian elections will be the largest international mission and in many respects is recognised as the leading agency. It will have 258 observers, some of whom have been in the country for some weeks, but most would arrive only a day or two before the election. Nine other international organisations including the Council of Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States the European Parliament, and diplomatic missions in Yerevan will add a further 389 international observers.
The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission formally started its work in Yerevan on 22 March, with a 14-member core team and 24 long-term observers who are deployed to 10 locations throughout the country. The Head of the Mission is Radmila Šekerinska from Macedonia. The Mission issued two interim reports in the pre-election period. In the seven weeks since it has been established the Mission has sought to build a picture of the current political situation in the country, met all the key stakeholders and familiarised itself with the issues and likely problems.
Based on some inter-organisational agreements, the Mission will, as is customary, present its first findings during a press conference which will be held within hours of the polls closing. The Press conference will be jointly organised with the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. This practise however is also a controversial one. The drafting of the interim statement is often a matter for discussion between the different organisations and although information collected by the observers around the country feeds into the process, the conclusions are based on a wider set of considerations. Parliamentarians on the missions are also often accused of being either too weak in their comments, or of using inciting language and not take into account the opinions of the long term observers. Journalist and others who attend the press conference will be waiting for the key phrases that have become synonymous with these events, “free and fair” if it has been a good election, or “short of international standards” if it has been a bad one, or a number of other variants in between. This “verdict” of the international monitors can be decisive in a period of heightened political tension, may influence parties losing the elections as to whether or not to accept the defeat, and can have a lot of other international consequences for the country concerned. In the case of Armenia, the Press Conference scheduled to be held on 7 May at 14.00 in Yerevan will impact significantly on the future of relations of that country with the European Union. Many find the whole procedure very unsatisfactory. Some say that these preliminary findings are released too soon, when sometimes counting has not even finished. Usually this is done simply because the visiting parliamentarians are in a hurry to go back home and need to have the event over and done with as soon as possible.
Some critics also accuse the OSCE/ODIHR missions of using ambiguous words which are often manipulated by governments who have committed electoral fraud. Others see the whole process as interference in internal affairs. The CIS observers who never participate in the press conference, but hold one of their own, are usually much more accommodating of local authorities.
Internal problems within the OSCE, problems that sometimes arise between the international organisations and a general feeling that the process of election monitoring needs to be seriously re-assessed means that the way election monitoring is done may change in the future. For the Armenia elections this weekend however the methods of the past will still be used, no doubt with the same criticism ensuing.
What is also changing however is the role of local or domestic monitors. These monitors are sometimes representing the political parties themselves, sometimes NGOs with different levels of relations with the political parties. The role of these monitors is becoming increasingly important. In the last Parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia it was these domestic monitors that were able to hold the system to account, recording with the use of videos and mobile phones, gross violations the length and breadth of Russia, many of which were posted on the internet for everybody to see. Their work could not be ignored by the Russian authorities, nor indeed by the international community. The role of domestic observers is likely to increase significantly and in the future we will probably see less international observers and more domestic observers – also better trained and more motivated than before.
The 31,451 domestic observers monitoring the 6 May poll in Armenia represent 54 organisations. If they do their work correctly they will be able to provide a very good picture of what happened on election day, and also in the hours after polling closes when votes are being counted. The international monitoirng effort will need to listen carefully to these views before drawing their own conclusions
More information on the OSCE/ODIHR Elewction Observation Mission is available on the ODIHR Website
The Press Conference of OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE PA, EU and PACE will be held on Monday 7 May at 1400 hours Yerevan time and can be watched live at at www.ustream.tv/channel/armeniaeom.
This is the ninth in a series of briefings on the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Armenia, prepared by LINKS Analysis. This article may be quoted and/or reproduced in part or full as long as a clear attribution to the source is included with a reference to this website.
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source: LINKS Analysis (c)