There are some who think that the time for large scale international election monitoring is outdated and needs to adapt to the changing circumstances. Smaller teams with more political clout, working closely with local activists may be better placed to focus on what really matters – the substance of whether or not an election has reflected the views of the electorate, and if the conditions existed for those views to be formed in a reasonably free atmosphere. The Georgian Parliamentary Elections in October 2012 proved the effectiveness of domestic election monitoring, which ideally should form the basis for election monitoring. Reports of Election Monitoring Missions often focus on technical aspects of election organisation. Frankly, at least within the OSCE area, after twenty years of experience this should not be an issue at all anymore, and if it is it is best to be dealt with outside the context of election observation.
Two elections will be held in the Caucasus region in October – in Georgia and in Azerbaijan. There is no doubt they will be very well organised – better in fact than in some EU countries. Keeping focused on the important aspects of election monitoring in both cases is important. For Georgia this election closes the era of the Saakashvili government, with all its ups and downs and dramas. The country’s political system has started to settle down but the election is an important indicator of where the Georgian political system is. In Azerbaijan the test still lays ahead, and the election itself can only be the start.
The OSCE/ODIHR Mission for Azerbaijan is led by Tana de Zuletta, an Italian former politician. She is already in Baku, and she will shortly be joined by a team of twelve core members, 30 long term observers and 280 short-term observes. Previous reports of elections in Azerbaijan paint a rather grim picture, so De Zuletta has her job cut out for her. She will need to cut through the political fog to get to the issues that really matter, and focus as much as possible on those. The solution is not through ticking boxes but rather in trying to get behind the facts, or the facts as they appear. Her job becomes more important in view of the decision of some of the other parliamentary assemblies not to send observers. This cloud has a silver lining in that one hopes, it will result in more unanimity among the international observers.
Empowering local monitors has its risks and shortcomings, but if conditions for proper domestic election monitoring are missing this in itself should constitute a very grave sign that things are not well. The Mission needs to be on the look-out at the state of domestic monitoring in Azerbaijan and report on it in its final submissions. In Georgia civil society has shown in 2012 that domestic election observation works. In fact the role played by the international election monitors on that occasion was clearly secondary. A different approach to monitoring the forthcoming Presidential election in Georgia may therefore be appropriate, and should be considered even at this late hour.
This commentary was prepared by the editorial team of CEW.