Despite severe reservations about the atmosphere surrounding the elections, a US observer delegation has pledged to continue monitoring the polls in the hope of improving the opposition’s chances.
“The process leading up to the elections scheduled for July 26 is fundamentally flawed and, under the prevailing circumstances, the delegation would not normally recommend sending international observers,” said a statement jointly released Tuesday by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute.
“However, political parties and prospective voters, despite serious obstacles, are participating in this election. The outcome of the election is not a foregone conclusion, and it merits international attention.”
The statement came at the end of a weeklong assessment mission by a delegation headed by former US Ambassador to Thailand Morton Abramowitz and former US Congressman Thomas Andrews. The group met with political leaders, National Election Committee members, diplomats and other observer groups, before reaching their assessment.
According to its statement, the delegation concluded that “widespread political intimidation and violence have affected the ability of opposition parties to fairly compete in the campaign,” and noted that local officials and police were involved in this harassment.
The presence of international observers, however, might provide support and confidence to those subjected to intimidation, and even reduce violence and lead to improved electoral administration, the group said.
The NDI/IRI statement is the strongest criticism of the electoral process from an international observation group so far and comes a week after US diplomats said they would not participate in the drafting of a joint intenational assessment of the elections.
Other diplomats have said the decision is a US attempt to distance itself from the Joint International Observation Group, headed by EU chief election observer Sven Linder. The EU has been targeted by human rights groups and watchdogs, which have accused it of trying to whitewash the polls’ problems.
Washington, which has 25 observers in the joint international group, will announce its own findings about the polls based on the assessment of the NDI/IRI group and its own diplomats as well as the joint group.
The delegation, however, also expressed concern that the observers’ jobs should not finish with the poll itself. “Given the events following the 1993 elections, it is critically important that the international community carefully monitors the post-election period, including the seating of the National Assembly,” the statement noted.