Viewpoint by Rene Wadlow
The writer is President of the Association of World Citizens and its Representative to the United Nations, Geneva.
GENEVA (IDN) – The social, economic, and political situation in Venezuela grows more tense and complex by the day. On January 27, Pope Francis speaking from Panama said. “Faced with the grave situation it [Venezuela] is going through, I ask the Lord that a just and peaceful solution is sought and achieved in order to overcome the crisis, respecting human rights and the good of all the people in the country.”
Armed violence either from within the country or from Colombia or Brazil is a real possibility somewhat on the pattern of the Contras of Nicaragua. The recognition by the U.S. and some Latin American States of Juan Guaido, President of the Senate and self-proclaimed ‘Interim President’, is unprecedented.
Venezuela issues are made more complex by the international context of tensions between the U.S. and the Russian Federation. Oil production and the large Venezuelan reserves are never far back in the minds of those involved.
There have been calls for new presidential elections from both within Venezuela and outside, claiming that the last elections which saw the victory of President Nicolas Maduro were unfair, corrupt, or badly carried out. Many potential voters boycotted the elections and several opposition leaders said that they were prevented from running being in jail.
New elections might be one avenue to come out of the current crisis situation with less violence. The representatives of France, Germany, Spain and the UK urged that new elections be called in the next eight days or these countries would recognize Juan Guaido as Interim President until new elections could be held.
The Government of Venezuela refused these calls for new elections saying that Venezuela was a “sovereign country”. Nevertheless, new elections might be a way out of the crisis, in which case international election monitors would be necessary. The European Union had been invited to send observers to the 2018 election but declined to do so. There were only informal observers.
Citizens of the World have often called for international, basically UN supervision, of elections. The organization of elections remains a prerogative of the national – administrative sub-divisions of the State, and local governments.
However, in cases where the election campaign can be tense and prone to violence as was the presidential election in a number of countries or when there has been a past history of fraud, international, independent monitors are important agents of fair elections and help to protect human rights, to strengthen the rule of law and to ensure pluralistic democracy.
Electoral fraud is rarely at the counting stage. One can recount a stuffed ballot box and come up with the same number of votes. This is why the whole electoral process needs to be monitored by independent election agents.
Election observation work is an important activity for the 56 member States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights housed in Warsaw, Poland. The Office for Democratic Institutions, originally called the Office for Free Elections, first played an important role in the democratic transition in post-communist countries.
While its observation of elections is its most visible task, the Office also conducts a number of other useful election-related activities: reviewing electoral legislation, training observers, and publishing guidelines and handbooks about electoral issues, but only for the States members of the OSCE.
The Office for Democratic Institutions is concerned with a wide approach to election monitoring including the following:
– Respect for basic fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of assembly, of association, and expression;
– Respect for the civil and political rights of the candidates and voters;
– Compilation of accurate voter lists;
– Equal opportunities to campaign in a free environment;
– Equitable access to the media;
– Impartial election administrative bodies;
– Unhindered access for international and domestic election observers;
– Effective representation and participation of women:
– Effective representation of national minorities;
– Access for disabled voters;
– Honest and transparent counting and tabulation of the votes;
– Effective complaints and appeals process with an independent judiciary.
The United Nations has no comparable permanent election monitoring office, but on an ad hoc basis the UN played an important monitoring role in the first multi-racial elections in South Africa, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has provided election aid and monitoring in countries such as Nepal as that country was coming out of a decade of armed violence.
The government of Venezuela would have been wise to request international monitoring for its presidential elections. Now it is too late. It is not at all sure that a new election will be held to replace the contested one.
The election has indicated a wide current of support for change but have also highlighted division of views within the ruling circle; much of the civilian elite backing the Parliament, the military and the Supreme Count backing Maduro.
The demonstrations have also indicated to the world community as a whole the need for independent election monitoring. Steps should be taken quickly for the UN to provide such services drawing on the rich experience of the OSCE. [IDN-InDepthNews – 31 January 2019]
Read also: ‘An Open Letter to the United States: Stop Interfering in Venezuela’s Internal Politics’ signed by 70 scholars on Latin America, political science, and history as well as filmmakers, civil society leaders, and other experts — including Noam Chomsky, Laura Carlsen, Miguel Tinker Salas, and Greg Grandin (first published by Common Dreams on January 24).
Photo: Demonstration on Avenida Bolivar, in the center of Caracas, to support President Nicolás Madura and protest the economic war that, according to the government, has been launched against Venezuela. 17 December 2016. CC BY-SA 4.0
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