The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions
Sandwiched between Iran and Turkey close to the trans-Caucasus oil pipeline, Armenia is at a sensitive geostrategic crossroads. Will Parliamentary elections trigger another colour-coded revolution?
Parliamentary Elections Briefing Introduction
Even before Armenians went to the polls on 12th May, 2007, for parliamentary elections, the political atmosphere had become heated with accusations from the opposition and allied NGOs that the government was planning to rig the outcome while the government accused opposition leaders of treasonable behaviour. A week before the vote, the police arrested the last foreign minister of the former President Levon Ter-Petrossian accusing him of money-laundering, while the opposition countered that a prominent pro-government party leader and magnate was buying votes by funding charitable activities. Threats of mass demonstrations against President Robert Kocharian if his parliamentary allies won the elections – as opinion polls predicted – raised the spectre of another “People Power” revolution in the former Soviet Union.
The BHHRG observers visited 7 polling stations in Virpazar, Bar, Sveti Stefan and Kotor. The atmosphere between the evenly-balanced memberships of the individual election commissions was relaxed. Everywhere three pro- and three anti-independence commissioners were present. Queues were witnessed early in the day but by late afternoon the flow of voters had become a trickle. Although the members of the electoral commissions expressed no doubts about the proper conduct of the poll in their own stations, unionist members made complaints about the one-sided nature of the referendum campaign and the local media coverage of it. Shortly after voting ended at 21.00 exit polls were read out on TVCG giving victory to the ‘yes’ campaign. Leaving aside the fact that BHHRG had seen no evidence of any exit polls during 21st May, it seemed out-of-order for the Montenegrin public to receive the projected results from two NGOs – Cesid and CTD rather than from the Republican Referendum Commission. Appropriately, a list of their foreign ‘donors’ appeared on a screen behind the presenters. Immediately, the ‘Yes’ campaign started to celebrate its anticipated victory.
BHHRG visited Montenegro in the pre-referendum period to observe the conduct of the campaign. Large billboards urging people to vote ‘Da’ (Yes) were plastered all over the scruffy capital, Podgorica. It took some time to find any ‘No’ posters although there were many more in coastal areas, for example, and the north of the country. The ‘Yes’ campaign concentrated on Montenegro’s historical past and harking back to the republic’s noble ancestry, the authorities have erected large statues of the country’s last monarch, King Nikola, astride his horse - one stands in Podgorica while another was delivered to the depressed industrial town of Nikšić shortly before the poll. Apart from the daily Dan, all newspapers in Montenegro (e.g. Pobeda, Vijesti and Republika) were vocally pro-independence. Television coverage was even less diverse although the authorities claimed that independently owned Montana and Elbig TV were somehow immune from bias. The most egregious propaganda vehicle was Montenegrin state television, Television Crna Gora (TVCG). It took many forms, mostly directed to Montenegro’s brief period of independence: grainy black and white film of King Nikola, his courtiers and family was played and replayed; the new/old crimson Montengrin flag embossed with the Njegoš coat of arms fluttered above rallies of enthusiastic citizens and, members of the Academy of Sciences solemnly took possession of sets of leather bound tomes containing a recently completed history of Montenegro.
Independent Montenegro: Liberation or Balkanization
HITS: 2241 | 12-01-2007, 15:57 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Montenegro , Elections, Political science
Montenegro's example could have far reaching consequences if others seek to emulate its successful drive to independence.
On 21st May, the people of Montenegro voted for independence by the narrow margin of 2009 votes (55.5%) in a referendum which puts the final nail in the coffin of what was Yugoslavia. Since 2003 Montenegro and Serbia have been joined in a loose federation established with the assistance of the EU and which demanded a three year moratorium before either side could choose to opt out. However, Montenegro a small country of c.620,000 has operated as a de facto independent state since the late 1990s when it broke most of its ties with and economic dependency on Serbia, even adopting the DM in 1999 and, later, the Euro in 2002. It also developed its own diplomatic relations and quasi-embassies in important foreign capitals like Brussels and Washington.
In the presidential election held in Belarus on 19th March 2006 the incumbent Alexander Lukashenko won a convincing 82% victory. This result had been widely predicted as had the international community’s hostile response – in the weeks leading up to the election the main observer mission, the OSCE, prejudged both the conduct and result of the poll, deeming it to be neither free nor fair before a vote was cast.
At first sight, the proportions of Mr Lukashenko’s victory seem barely less grotesque than the stratospherical electoral triumphs of the West’s favourites. Over the last 15 years, the Western-controlled OSCE observer missions have swallowed without demur a 97% victory for the “rose revolutionary” Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia in 2004 or a modest 89% from Kyrgyzstan’s “tulip revolutionary” Kurmanbek Bakiev, or 92% for Georgia’s Eduard Shevardnadze back in 1992 when he was still Washington’s favourite reformer, or even Heydar Aliev’s 93% in Azerbaijan in 1993. Yet the same team which never raised an eyebrow about elections where one regime insider was endorsed as the successor of a predecessor whom the West had tired of could not conceive that 82% of Belarussians voted for Alexander Lukashenko.
On 10th December, 2006, the unrecognized republic of Pridnestrovie (PMR) held its fourth presidential elections in a calm, orderly and efficient manner. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group sent two representatives to observe the elections for President and Vice-President of the Republic of Pridnestrovie (PMR) on December 10, 2006. The team visited polling stations in Tiraspol, Rybnitsa, Grigoriopol, Kamenka, and the villages of Podoina, Rashkov, and Malajesti. The observers met the Head of the Regional Electoral Commission in Grigoriopol and the representative of the Grigoriopol region on the Central Election Commission. The election itself proceeded smoothly in every polling station visited by BHHRG. Both the electoral commissions and the electorate were well-informed on the electoral regulations and procedures. The chairman and secretary of the local commissions, as well as their deputies, had attended seminars on the correct conduct of the elections at the regional commission level. In turn, they had instructed the members of their local commissions in preparation of Election Day.
With a population of 38 m. Poland is by far the largest of the 8 countries from the ‘New Europe’ which joined the EU in 2004. In the 15 years leading up to accession to the union it suffered a profound assault on its economic well – being as ‘shock therapy’ kicked in and factories were closed putting millions out of work. At the same time, farmers were badly hit as state subsidies dried up. Some of the large state farms in the north of the country managed to convert to modern agribusinesses, often with new Dutch or German owners. But most small farmsteads were pronounced economically unviable, often only providing a subsistence living for their owners. Many of these developments are visible to anyone travelling around Poland even though the media both domestic and foreign foster the impression that the country is ‘booming’ using statistical sleights of hand worthy of Stalinist “growth” figures. Commentators and neo-liberal Polish politicians, like PO’s Jan Rokita, regularly state that Poland should not follow the ‘old European’ model of France and Germany. Its “fast-growing, low-wage and low-tax system is perceived as a threat by the stodgier, high-unemployment economies of France and Germany” says the International Herald Tribune.
Parliamentary and Presidential Elections in 2005 have brought a group of unpredictable nationalists to power On 23rd October, 2005, Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski was elected President of Poland, becoming Poland’s third president since 1990. Earlier, on 25th September, Kaczynski’s party, Law and Justice (PiS) gained the largest number of votes in elections for the Parliament (Sejm) and Senate, just ahead of the free market, Citizens Platform (PO). As his campaign posters proclaimed, Mr. Kaczynski’s central pledge was the creation of a Fourth Polish republic which would be founded on the country’s moral revival. The results of both elections also marked the third time that the country’s voters had veered from left to right: the outgoing Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD) minority government had been shaken for some time by corruption allegations and popular discontent with its policies which were a continuation of the broad trends set by its predecessors since the first post-Communist government in 1989.
Apathy NOT fraud undermines Azerbaijan’s Parliamentary Election
Controversy surrounds Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections. Unfortunately, the international media’s focus on the main opposition’s claims of “massive fraud” distract attention from the deeper crisis of legitimacy affecting all Azeri political parties. Barely 40% of registered voters took part in Sunday’s polls. Ordinary Azeris seem cynical about all politicians and their mass abstention sent the message “a plague on all your houses.”
Past performance by a governing elite universally accused of corruption in this potentially oil-rich society and by an opposition riven by personal rivalries barely disguised by the formation of several “united” fronts has led many Azeris to regard politics and politicians with open disdain.
This is a pity because it suggests an unhealthy outlook for Azerbaijan’s chances of establishing democracy, but also because the actual conduct of the elections and the counts in polling stations visited by this Group’s observers was of a high standard. Maybe if Azris had had more confidence in the candidates, many more of them would have voted, At the local level in their neighbourhood polling stations, the standard of conduct of the voting and counting should have given them reason to trust the ballot if they had really wanted to elect a candidate. (Final results are not yet available and so caution about the collation of results is naturally still in order.)