Thursday, 7 February 2008

Election monitors, like polls: Do we trust them?

International election observers, particularly those from various European structures, used to be considered by people living in countries which struggle with the establishment of democratic institutions as an important tool to limit potential electoral fraud and to grant legitimacy to those who got elected, be that President or MP.

However, recent developments in the region and particularly Georgia, cast serious doubts on political motivations of observers’ decisions. Well, there was always a suspicion of it, but what happened in Georgia was so blatant that could lead to serious breach of credibility towards the whole system.

Immediately after the Georgian presidential elections, they declared that the elections ‘generally met standards’, thus giving so much desired legitimacy to Georgian president Saakashvili. Then, soon after they published a report detailing serious irregularities, which under any other circumstances should have cast serious doubts on the conduct of election. And now a senior US representative in the region Matthew Bryza, who previously endorsed the elections, warns that Georgian elections could not be considered as a good example for others. So why did not they shout about before? Why now, when their “concerns” do not worth a penny? Was it because of Saakashvili’s “pro-Western” status? Rhetorical question, indeed.

We are just 2 weeks away from presidential elections in Armenia. What happened in Georgia has already seriously damaged observers’ reputation. In order for observers to regain it, they have to behave like proper independent observers, regardless of vague “pro-Russian” or “pro-Western” labels. Their preliminary conclusion, which is normally made the day after the election, should not differ substantially from final one. If they are not sure, they’d rather wait few more days and then declare their findings which are very important in terms of acceptance and legitimacy of the results. Otherwise, they risk equalling their reputation to that of polls in Armenia. Nothing could be more damaging.

P.S. On a kind of bizarre note, via Reporter_arm, below is a clip with John Prescott, head of PACE observation mission in Armenia for upcoming presidential election. During his own election campaign in Britain back in 2001, he (then deputy prime minister) actually punched one protester who threw eggs towards him.


nazarian said...

The international monitors should not be taken very seriously. Their interest is not transparent and clean elections - they are more interested in preserving stability. Ask any of the people that were monitors in the past elections in Armenia and that's what they will tell you (yes, I have asked).

artmika said...

The problem is that their verdict is very important for Armenian authorities and future developments since it will determine - at least for outside world perspective - their legitimacy.

And yes, increasingly international monitors do not care about the formal role they are aimed for, but rather preserving stability or whatever, but only if it is in accordance with their 'interests' - may sound cynical, but apparently true...

Onnik Krikorian said...

Also remember that stability means evolution as well. Armenia has not declined in terms of democratization since 1996. It has in fact improved, and the amount of freedom for opposition candidates this time round just can't be compared to that in 2003.

Moreover, unlike Georgia before the Rose Revolution, Armenia is progressing and not regressing. It might not be quick enough, but since the 2007 parliamentary election democracy has drastically improved.

If improvement continues then of course, international observers are going to take that into account. As long as the elections are better than in 2007, in 2003,1998, 1996 that's all any of us can hope for.

Sad, but true. It's also what can only be expected in a transitional country that has no culture of established democracy among the political parties let alone the population.

As for Prescott, cool

artmika said...

My other relevant posts:

Full-blown credibility crisis for OSCE/ODIHR observers over election monitoring in Armenia

Carte blanche to Armenian authorities?

US expresses concern over Armenia's presidential vote count

artmika said...

U.S. Critical Of Armenian Vote, Arrests