Politics and Methodology – The Dilemmas of Election Observation Missions

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) and their Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR) is said to define the ‘Golden Standard’ for election observation.

Discussing the evolvement of election observation: From the left: Geir Jørgen Bekkevold (KrF), Siri Skåre, director of NORDEM, and Jan Petersen, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and recent Head of the ODHIR Election Observation Mission. (photo: NORDEM). 

During an event hosted by NORDEM 12th of October it was asked to what extent the election report is a result of compromise or political strategies and how the different election observers, representing both members from ODIHR and Parliamentary delegations, are able to reach consensus and speak with one voice when presenting their findings and recommendations?

'Crucial development in methodology'

In addressing these issues NORDEM had invited Jan Petersen, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who recently acted as Head of the ODHIR Election Observation Mission to Russia, Geir Jørgen Bekkevold (KrF), Head of the Norwegian Parliament's Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Siri Skåre, director of NORDEM with extensive experience with OSCE election observation.

Skåre opened the session by stating how there has been a crucial development in the methodology used for election observation by the OSCE. “When I started back in 1993, most elections were basically only described in terms such as ‘free and fair’. However, as Petersen later stated, the OSCE today would never use such terms as elections represent a highly complex process.

'The process, not the result'

Petersen further emphasized that ODHIR missions are concerned with the process and not the result of the election and very few would dispute the importance of a rigid election observation methodology. However, methodology is not simply detached from politics. Petersen noted that there is sometimes a need to also say something about the political background in the country when assessing an election.

Speaking with one voice

Election observation should also appear as a relevant and important comment on the state of democracy. One way of ensuring this is making sure that both election observers representing parliamentarians and ODHIR agree on the conclusions and findings following an election.

“In the past there are many examples of how these different branches of election observers have not spoken with one voice, but this is really changing” Bekkevold stated.

“We as Parliamentarians know that we should be receptive of the conclusions of ODHIR because they have had observers present for a longer period of time. It is in everyone’s interest that we speak with one voice” Bekkevold added.

Published Oct. 14, 2016 5:43 PM - Last modified Oct. 25, 2016 9:08 PM