On March 15th I attended a conference where Ana Gomez, Member of the European Parliament explained to the audience her experience of leading a delegation of 200 international observers to the 2005 general elections in Ethiopia. She described how her team witnessed wide fraud of ballots, experienced harassment from officials of the TPLF regime, manipulation of results from counting bureaus.
The audience which was mainly composed of Ethiopians who want change of Meles Zenawi regime, strongly pleaded with the MEP to get another big European team of observers for the upcoming Ethiopian elections, scheduled for May 2010.
WorldPublicOpinion.org conducted a poll of 16,863 respondents in 17 nations to find out what people thought about elections observers. The majority of people would like to see international monitors covering their national elections. The most enthusiastic are Kenyans (85%) and Nigerians (74%).
As Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org explains, “… people around the world are looking to international observers to help resolve ambiguities in elections. Their numbers suggest that international observers could add considerably to the perceived legitimacy of election outcomes.”
However, I personally see a certain irrelevance to sending monitors of elections in places where any prior democratic credentials in the country didn’t exist. I consider an observer in the concept of prevailing comprehension, as an evaluator of a momentous situation which occurs on election days. This is where I have a problem with the whole exercise of elections’ observers.
It’s not on Election Day that a democratic process should only be measured. It’s even a financial mistake and misjudgment of thinking that the presence of observers is doing some good for the concerned political regime. For an undemocratic regime, calling in independent elections’ observers could even be dangerous as it cannot handle them or harass them as effectively as it does with its own citizens.
Democratization must be tested and evaluated in steps. How can someone administer a test without having taught the lesson on which they want to set an exam and appreciate how the student is doing? That’s the question, particularly when there hasn’t been any homework to test if the student is at least committed to learning the democratic lesson?
I think those countries and organizations sending observers to general elections in undemocratic regimes are wasting taxpayers’ money as long as no democratic credentials can be tested from the outset. Sometimes dictators want to seek observers because it could cleanse them from the negative opinions which categorize them in the eyes of many.
Generally, EU observers and others come for example to such undemocratic African countries to validate. The exercise doesn’t have to be about validation, but assessing a continuously tested process, where elections day has to be the last day of exams. Otherwise, the West and other institutions sending elections’ observers to undemocratic regimes are throwing away taxpayers’ money at a time many governments and organizations are experiencing huge deficits in their strategic budgets.