CEW Editorial Comment: Elections in the South Caucasus – Is the glass half full or half empty?

The Irish Chairmanship of the OSCE and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)will be hosting a meeting in Vienna on 12-13 July to discuss democratic elections and elections observation.

This Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) will provide a platform to discuss best practices in follow-up and implementation of the OSCE commitments on democratic elections and explore strategies and key issues in election observation. The SHDM will also address such election related matters as universal and equal suffrage rights, legal framework, media, campaign financing, and gender.

The meeting cannot be more timely for the countries of the South Caucasus in the middle of a crucial cycle of elections.

Since 1992 ODIHR has done sterling work in support of the process of democratization in the transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It accompanied the process of democratic development of many of the countries that now form part of the European Union, not least through support for their electoral process, and through monitoring of elections. The political elites in these countries may have been divided by ideology or political platforms, but they were united in wanting genuinely to make the passage to democracy complete. ODIHR has helped them achieve this objective.

ODIHR has also been much involved in the countries of the South Caucasus. Here however the results are mixed. All ODIHR election observation reports for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia highlight serious shortcomings. Sometimes the reports, and the accompanying statements – not least during the controversial post election press conference – emphasise the positive; at other times they emphasise the negative. The glass is sometimes half full, and sometimes half empty.

Times however are changing. Twenty years into their regained statehoods Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are changing too, and so are the expectations of their citizens. Half full glasses are no longer acceptable to them, and they should not be to ODIHR either. Election Observation reports need to be more robust and should stop taking heart from bright spots in isolation. It is time that the glass is full.

This is comment is prepared by the editorial team of Caucasus Elections Watch.