Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Electoral Observation Missions: An Instrument to Reinforce the Democratic Institution

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Electoral Observation Missions: An Instrument to Reinforce the Democratic Institution

Article excerpt

It is nine o'clock in the morning in Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. A group of professionals and college students from different countries are assembled together in a hotel in the center of the city. Their main focus of attention is a map of the country full of red flags pins indicating the centers they will be heading to at the end of the meeting. They are all international observers and participate in the Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) of the Organization of the American States (OAS) that began a few weeks earlier.

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The General Coordinator for the OAS/EOM gives the last instructions and ends the meeting with a cheery "good luck to all, we will be in contact soon." Dressed in jeans, polo shirts, walking shoes and coffee colored vests with the OAS initials and their id's hanging from the neck--for easy identification among the crowd--the observers leave for their assigned posts, which in this case includes all of Paraguay.

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The observers will take notes on the events of the day. Their main mission is to observe the development of the elections in reference to the rules and regulations of the country host, and to later write an objective and detailed report.

"More and more the EOMs reflect the true meaning of one of the central lines of action of our Organization, which is to reinforce the institution of democracy in our region," explains OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. The Secretary General emphasizes the importance of these missions adding that "for us, improving the electoral system means to observe the elections in situ, following the process, updating technology, using the experience to identify the good and the bad, to correct and improve the electoral practices in the countries, in conjunction with the local authorities. This is what we have been doing during these past years, and with very positive results."

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The experience in Paraguay is not unique; it is one of many electoral observation missions the OAS has sent to over twenty countries in the hemisphere. Costa Rica, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Suriname, Colombia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Bolivia, Peru and Haiti are some recent examples. Whether they are presidential, parliamentary, local or municipal, including intraparty elections, all elections contribute unique situations that are worth studying and analyzing.

"The Electoral Observion Missions constitute a political dimension of the Organization, and, in that sense, it is an instrument of political integration," adds Pablo Gutierrez, Director of the Department for Electoral Observation and Cooperation (DECO), who is responsible for the OAS/EOMs. Gutierrez, who has supervised over 35 missions, says that "the observation assesses the health of the electoral systems."

Today, the missions are not only a source for recommendations of improvement for the system of each country, but also a source for identifying positive aspects. The OAS has the capability to promote the exchange of good electoral practices among the countries of the region, which has led to concrete improvements in the electoral processes of the hemisphere.

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The OAS Electoral Observation Missions began with the Dominican Republic in 1962. Since then, the Organization has observed over 170 electoral processes in the Americas. Its evolution has been closely linked to the political transformations occurring in the countries of the region.

In the seventies the OAS deployed missions of a symbolic nature and low specialization level, presiding as a sort of arbiter of conflicts. A decade later in the 80s, when a significant number of countries transitioned from dictatorships to democracies, the OAS observation missions contributed to the legitimatization of these processes. During this period the missions analyzed, although not systematized then, different aspects of the elections and in some cases even collaborated with the local electoral organisms to make improvements. …

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