Samizdat 2000
by Christine Stone
Antiwar.com

What Peru Tells Us About International Election Observers

June 2, 2000

As predicted in this column last week the results of Peru's presidential election have elicited condemnation from the United States and the regional big wigs in the Organization of American States (OAS). Sanctions against Peru are in the cards, despite a lukewarm response to the idea so far from some Latin American countries. While the State Department seems to have toned down its more extreme criticism it is unlikely that Peru is going to be left in peace in the months to come.

Many people will have accepted the criticisms leveled at Lima because they were based on the findings of "international election observers" rather than politicians with an axe to grind. Such observers are also always described as being "independent." But some of the institutions present in Peru receive funding from the US government or its dependent agencies while some of their representatives have had a lot of experience beyond the southern hemisphere.

On 29th May CNN's nightly programme, Q&A, looked at the Peruvian election. Among other critics, Dr. Patrick Merloe, an observer with the National Democratic Institute, put the case for treating the poll as invalid and called for international sanctions to be imposed on Peru. Perhaps this was a bit out of order coming from the spokesman for a non-governmental organization. But, then, Dr. Merloe is a very experienced election observer and must know what he is doing.

Apart from his recent involvement in Latin America Merloe has been active in Africa as well as being described as the NDI's resident expert on the Caucasus. It was in the Caucasus that I have come upon him with other NDI observers.

In 1998 the Janus-faced organization, the IRI and NDI, provided strong teams of observers for the presidential elections in both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Dr. Merloe was present for both polls. They were highly critical of both processes. At a press conference in Baku after the Azeri vote a group of observers from the IRI made serious allegations of fraud. However, things did not go entirely their way: various local journalists demanded to know exactly where these violations had taken place. The IRI couldn't say it would all come out in their final report. Meanwhile Dr. Merloe and the NDI also gave a negative assessment of the poll.

Azerbaijan is an interesting case because elections held there in 1993 and 1995 had been genuinely fraudulent. In the 1993 presidential election an observer with my small, genuinely independent group had been urged to vote himself for president Aliev. A ballot paper was produced, filled in and, in the face of objections, dropped into the ballot box on his behalf by members of the election commission at a polling station in Baku. The OSCE issued a statement at the end of the poll acknowledging that there had been "problems" with the election but the result was acceptable because "it clearly manifested the will of the people." At this time, Heidar Aliev was popular with the international community, particularly the US, as he was seen as the guardian of foreign investment in the Caspian oil fields.

However, by 1998 Aliev had become more obstinate about distributing his favours and was causing difficulties about allowing foreigners to exploit the allegedly rich deposits of gas under the Caspian Sea. The Americans, therefore, started to cultivate an old ally turned enemy of Aliev's, Rasuel Guliev, as his possible replacement. Guliev had fled to the United States after criminal charges had been brought against him in Azerbaijan. But, despite the best efforts, it proved impossible to get him on the ballot paper as the West's preferred candidate.

In their desperation to ensure that the election lacked legitimacy the Americans then persuaded the main opposition candidates for the post to 'boycott' the poll à la Toledo. Large opposition-led demonstrations took place in Baku but Aliev held firm and the election took place. Even so, the tide had turned against him. In 1998 he was lauded as "the soaring eagle of freedom" while receiving a 5 minute standing ovation at a reception held at George Washington University. A year later, he found himself joining the list of pariahs the Meciars, Tudjmans and Lukashenkas slated to be removed from power.

The international observers' condemnation of Aliev's re-election was left, as it were, on the statute book – a glaring reminder that he was, somehow, in power illegitimately. Allegations of human rights abuse in Azerbaijan have been on the rise. The Congressional Helsinki Committee recently produced a highly critical report of the situation there. And, members of the Azeri opposition visited Washington last month. A strange intervention has also just occurred from a Cassandra-like figure called Mahir Javadir, the Iran based chairman of the weirdly called Party of Special Police Forces, predicting Aliev's imminent overthrow.

Apart from the professionals, others with a long history of support for the Clintonian agenda can also be co-opted to join the election observer circus. Bianca Jagger whose fame rests solely on being the ex-wife of aging rock singer Mick Jagger , was also involved in the monitoring process in Peru. In February she was complaining about the treating of the voters.

Jagger can hardly be described as an "independent" kind of person.

In 1996 soon after the international observers had condemned the parliamentary election as unacceptable (in what I would call the Peruvian model) she hurried to Albania to support members of the then-opposition who had started a hunger strike to protest the results. Later, she became an outspoken and firm supporter of the Kosovan cause. Kited out in designer 'fatigues' Jagger roamed the hills of Kosovo early in 1999 on behalf of the BBC looking for the victims of Serbia's oppressive policies towards the local inhabitants. In April she urged Congress to send in ground troops and stressed that "hundreds of thousands of people are on the brink of mass starvation" even though we now discover that the problem with Kosovan refugees was obesity rather than malnutrition!

But, surely, not everyone who signs up to monitor elections abroad is politically complicit in some kind of political maneuvering by Washington or Brussels? Certainly not. Many are what Lenin would have called "useful idiots" trapped in a system that does not brook any disagreement or dissent. For, rarely or never does a genuinely independent body arrive in foreign parts as an observer group. It is expensive, complex and time-consuming to set these things up. Added to which, elections are rarely monitored in places that are, as it were, on the tourist trail. What do Moldova, Kazakhstan or Albania have to offer? Nothing but the per diems and a dollop of self-importance. Better leave these things to the people who know what they are doing, the alphabet soups like the OSCE, OAS, PACE, EU, IFES, NDI, IRI and so on who can better organize the trips and set the scene. Their permanent staffs will include one or two people like the NDI's Dr. Merloe and the OSCE's Kore Vollen, various "academic experts in the region" plus a few compliant local "facilitators."

Arriving on expensive flights from all over Europe and the US will be the Nibelungen, the local election officials from places like Bradford, Bangor and Boston whose idea of abroad was once Disneyland or the Costa Bravo. However, after several round trips they soon learn the ropes with a little shopping thrown in even in places like Kyrgyztan. "What have they got around here?" an election official from Ohio asked the local OSCE representative as he arrived in poverty-stricken Armenia in 1998. "Rubies" came back the answer, as quick as a flash. Others have smuggled rugs, antiques and other goodies back home from their election outings.

At the top of the observer pile come the MPs from foreign parliaments in the EU and monitoring groups from the US Congress. There can be a quite a pecking order here with MPs from the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly (PACE) regarding themselves as the star turn. Yes, politicians from such leading "democracies" as Romania and Ukraine are now called upon to judge the legitimacy of other people's elections.

Groups like the NDI and OSCE will have had what they call LTOs (long term observers) in situ for some months. Aided by various analysts and experts they proceed to present a picture of the electoral process in the country under consideration usually highly-coloured and extremely selective. One particularly ripe example occurred before the parliamentary election in Montenegro in 1998 when observers were shown a film of opposition leader, Momir Bulatovic and various Serb bigwigs supervising the shelling from the surrounding hilltops of Dubrovnik in 1991. But the briefing failed to mention that the West's favoured son and Montenegro's president, Milo Djukanovic, was there too standing next to Bulatovic.

Others likely to be present are the 'media monitors' who produce various coloured charts to explain how candidate this or that had 30 minutes more exposure on the nightly news than his rivals. This is done in Europe, anyway, by the Dusseldorf-based media monitoring group, an EU-financed operation. Needless to say, their monitoring is highly selective. Whenever potential embarrassments might arise the European media monitoring teams simply fail to turn up to monitor, such as in Montenegro in 1997. Then the man the New York Times always apostrophises as the "Western-orientated reform-minded" Milo Djukanovic refused to allow his rival in the elections to appear on television.

After the briefings are over the observers are "deployed." Originally, international observers decided among themselves where to go and chose where and when to stop and observe. This has ceased. Now, they and their local translators are given a route and a list of polling stations they are expected to visit. Even worse, in some case they will be taken round the previous day and shown the places on their schedule.

Of course, this practice negates the whole process. It should come as no surprise to find that groups of the disaffected gather wherever the observers are due in order to make their complaints about fraud, ballot stuffing, inaccurate election registers etc. I remember arriving unexpectedly at one polling station in Montenegro where the chairman consulted his list and announced with amazement (and irritation) that observers were not due until 14.30 pm. As it happened, the polling practices in this place left much to be desired but, no doubt, when the team of OSCE, NDI etc. cars hove into view everything went swimmingly.

Does anyone ever dissent? In 1996 a handful of OSCE employees resigned over the conduct of the election in Bosnia where the turnout was deemed to be 106%. Otherwise, no one seems to want to put themselves on the line. There is also the Alice in Wonderland effect. In Armenia in the 1998 presidential election 80% of the international observers reported no problems at the post-election debriefing session. But a handful of, mainly young Americans, made alarming allegations about fraud, violence and mayhem. When the final assessment of the poll came to be made it was the minority view that held sway. Perhaps the majority feared that they had not been duly diligent and kept quiet.

Even when an election is criticized (as it sometimes has to be) the Peruvian solution pariah state plus international sanctions does not always follow. Even the OSCE could not fail to notice the grotesque fraud perpetrated in the Macedonian presidential election in November last year. A few critical remarks were made, a few runoffs were held to show 'impartiality'. And that was that. There were no calls for international sanctions or expulsion from this or that international organization for Macedonia which, as we know, just happens to be central to the West's "stabilizing" plans for the Balkans.

It is worth pointing out that in some of these elections serious violence has taken place. People were kicked beaten and thrown out of polling stations in Macedonia. 5 people were killed before and during the Russian election in 1995. Similar killings took place in Azerbaijan the same year. One presidential candidate in Ukraine was injured in a hand grenade attack last year. Aslan Abashidze, leader of the main opposition party in Georgia , presented compelling evidence that president Eduard Shevardnadze had made several attempts to assassinate him before the 1999 parliamentary poll.

However, nothing so serious has happened in Peru. There have been no reports of polling station violence in a country twenty times the size of Macedonia. As for Ms. Jagger's claim that president Fujimori has been treating the voters with food handouts – perhaps she might like to comment on the vast sums of money dispersed to Montenegro's president Djukanovic by the European Union so that he can pay off the pensioners as well as his various hangers-on prior to local elections scheduled for 11th June?

It will be instructive to see whether the isolation of Peru gets properly underway. France, Spain, Costa Rica and Japan have said they will implement any future sanctions' policy. But some neighbouring states who could be less cooperative. Dr. Merloe, no doubt, had them in mind when he hinted on CNN that Peru was not the only country in South America frowned upon by the United States. Presumably, he meant states like Brazil and Mexico both of which have been unenthusiastic (so far) about isolating their neighbour. In the time-honoured fashion they will probably be both bribed or leaned on by Washington, probably both, to change their minds.

When the Peruvians seek to set out their stall this weekend at a further meeting of the OAS in Canada it is to be hoped that they have fully understood the bogus nature of "independent" election observing and the "objective" manner in which it functions. Former strongmen like Heidar Aliev and even Aleksandr Lukashenka have shown remarkable deference towards the international observers. It is about time that someone stood up to this menace and refused to buckle under what is their real, mendacious and destructive agenda.

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