- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

In the first attempt to set international standards for election monitoring, the United Nations and more than 20 other organizations have agreed on a declaration and code of conduct to enhance the transparency of voting throughout the world.

“It’s an opportunity to make these organizations interoperable. The principles of the declaration encourage the various organizations to work cooperatively and enhance the transparency,” said Sean Dunne of the U.N. Electoral Assistance Division (EAD).

The declaration of principles, approved Oct. 27, aims to provide guidelines for assessing the integrity of elections and the progress of democratic transitions. It also codifies appropriate behavior for election-monitoring personnel.

Standards set

The code of conduct is intended to establish agreed principles that will guide the growing number of election-observation missions. It sets standards for election observation, including impartiality, freedom of movement, freedom to make public statements and free access to information.

The declaration of principles and code of conduct got their first field test when the International Republican Institute (IRI) applied them during Liberia’s presidential election in November.

The declaration relies on lessons learned from several decades of election monitoring, said Lindsay Lloyd, IRI’s Europe program director. “The recent growth of election observation is a welcome trend and has paralleled the global expansion of democracy,” he said.

Mr. Lloyd thinks the code will be useful to smaller regional groups that are observing elections in areas where democratic government has not been long established.

Credibility enhanced

Speaking at the announcement of the declaration in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the mere presence of international election observers “can dissuade misconduct, ensure transparency and inspire confidence in the process.”

“Credible elections can be a crucial step in the transition from war to peace,” Mr. Annan added.

The code provides guidance to election-monitoring personnel during various stages of an election, Mr. Dunne said. “The polling-day activity is visible and attractive, no less than voter registration and voter education — all are parts of the electoral monitoring system,” he said.

Work on the code began four years ago at the initiative of the U.N. Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Carter Center. It has been endorsed by international election-monitoring bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union.

Experience tapped

The new code and principles “draw on the work of IRI, NDI, OSCE, among other organizations that have long experience in this field,” said Mr. Lloyd. The IRI has monitored more than 160 elections and has been actively involved in the drafting process since 2003.

“We hope to ensure the quality and integrity of observation that helps in turn the integrity of the election themselves,” said Pat Merloe, a drafter of the code and senior associate and director of electoral programs at the National Democratic Institute.

Besides guidelines for monitors, the code includes rules for host nations. Countries are urged to allow monitoring bodies to work without interference and let them freely publish their reports. The code stresses the need for countries to give election monitors the freedom to meet with all political parties in the country.

Calling the drafting of the declaration unprecedented, Mr. Merloe said: “There has never been an elaboration of standards for election probes that has been joined by key international organizations. This is a crucial step and unprecedented in the wider democracy-promotion area.”

Host cooperation urged

Most monitoring bodies from outside the country holding elections benefit from the cooperation of private groups in that country, Mr. Merloe said.

The drafters of the declaration hope that independent committees and nongovernmental organizations will adopt the code. “We are trying to spread this code in as many as 60 countries,” Mr. Merloe said.

The code stipulates that independent organizations monitoring elections be invited by the country conducting the polls and cooperate with electoral authorities there.

It also requires participating groups to police each other. If for some reason organizations violate conditions of the code, they can be questioned by other election-monitoring bodies.

International monitoring groups already inspect technical aspects of the election process, such as the use of voting machines. Under the declaration, they are obliged to sign a memorandum of understanding with the host government guaranteeing access to such technology.

“The Carter Center has a special team to look into technology alone,” Mr. Merloe said.

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