Observing Democracy

By Conaway, Janelle | Americas (English Edition), January-February 2007 | Go to article overview

Observing Democracy


Conaway, Janelle, Americas (English Edition)


CAPPING OFF AN unusually packed electoral year in the Americas, the OAS observed recent presidential contests in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, as well as general elections in Saint Lucia. The succession of peaceful, transparent elections in the hemisphere--more than a dozen in 2006--indicates that democratic institutions are solid and getting stronger, Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza said.

"In country after country, we have seen citizens go to the polls, often with massive turnouts, to choose their leaders democratically," Insulza noted. "The region still faces enormous challenges, particularly because underdevelopment and extreme poverty continue to frustrate people's dreams and aspirations. But one very positive sign is that people are participating in the democratic process and consider democracy as the only viable path to follow.

"Democracy is maturing in this region where dictators flourished only two decades ago," Insulza said.

In Venezuela, the most recent Latin American country to hold elections, voters went to the polls on December 3 and reelected President Hugo Chavez to another six-year term. The day after the voting, the OAS Electoral Observation Mission--led by Ambassador Juan Enrique Fischer, former Uruguayan Permanent Representative to the OAS--noted that the elections had unfolded peacefully and with massive turnout.

Ambassador Fischer underscored the high level of participation and praised Chavez challenger Manuel Rosales, who conceded defeat, for his "civic behavior and his determination to strengthen democratic institutions" in Venezuela. The Electoral Observation Mission, which deployed eighty observers around the country, did note some problems--including complaints related to fingerprint-reading machines, which slowed down the voting process in some places--but said these difficulties were not generalized to the point where they could call the results into question. Chavez won more than 62% of the vote in an election in which turnout was around 75%.

"The democratic process in Venezuela emerges fortified after December 3," the OAS Mission said in its report to the Permanent Council

In Ecuador, voters first went to the polls for general elections on October 6, but no candidate in the crowded field earned the required majority for the presidency. In second-round of balloting on November 26, Rafael Correa won some 57% of the votes over the 43% garnered by Alvaro Noboa.

In the second round, the OAS deployed eighty international monitors across the country, who observed a general atmosphere of order and calm. In a preliminary report, the OAS Mission noted isolated difficulties which, while not affecting the overall results, "did raise questions that must be addressed so as to ensure that future elections are conducted more effectively." Citing issues related to election-day campaigning and proselytizing, it urged electoral officials and political parties to work together to establish clearer guidelines on such matters.

In the first round, the OAS Observer Mission in Ecuador was led by former Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa. Former Chilean Senator Jose Antonio Viera Gallo, who had joined the mission as a special guest of the Secretary General, led the mission on the second round and visited Correa two days after the elections to congratulate him on his victory. …

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