Election Preparation: An Important Area of International Cooperation
Experts from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Needs Assessment Mission arrived in Uzbekistan with the purpose to assess the pre-election environment for the upcoming October 2021 Presidential elections in our country, including preparation for the elections.
International observation and international recognition
Participation of international organizations and foreign observers is essential for the conduct of open and transparent democratic elections. Election observation in most countries is an important aspect for promoting political rights of people.
The Election Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan stipulates that observers from other countries and international organizations can participate in all activities implemented during preparation and conduct of elections, as well as be present at polling stations and counting of votes on election day.
Over the past years, there has been an increase in the number of foreign and international observers in elections: if in the 2016 presidential election was observed by 555 (296 in 2015) foreign observers, then in the 2019 parliamentary elections their number was 825 (331 in 2014). This indicates that the elections in Uzbekistan are taking place in the context of cardinal changes and democratic reforms, a new political environment which is attracting more attention of the international community.
The last elections were observed by representatives of international organizations such as the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as observers from legislative and electoral bodies of foreign countries.
By participating in elections, observers collect information to assess the current electoral process, study electoral legislation and practice and evaluate performance of electoral commissions.
Mandate of the Bureau
One of the main tasks of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as support sustainable democratic institutions and the rule of law.
The OSCE participating States undeniably and rightly believe that human dimension issues are not an internal affair of the state but are a subject of separate attention from the participating States at the international level. To this end, the OSCE member States established an “Office for Free Elections” (in Warsaw) in 1990 to facilitate contacts and exchange of information on elections among participating States. The Office has begun to implement limited-scale election observation measures.
Since 1992, this structure has been renamed the “Bureau of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.” Its mandate has expanded to include other aspects of the human dimension.
Since 1994, the ODIHR began comprehensive observation of the electoral process - before the start of the elections, during the elections and after the elections.
In the Charter for European Security, adopted at the OSCE Istanbul Summit in 1999, participating States made a special commitment inviting ODIHR to observe elections. In 2006, at the meeting of the Council of Ministers in Brussels, participating States reaffirmed the ODIHR's election observation mandate.
Cooperation between Uzbekistan and the OSCE/ODIHR is increasingly strengthening during the electoral process.
As a result of such cooperation, special attention is paid to a broader and more complete guarantee of the electoral rights of citizens through further democratization of the national electoral system, harmonization of electoral legislation and practice with generally recognized international democratic standards.
This partnership has a 22-year history. Since 1999, the Bureau's Mission has been participating in observation of the parliamentary and presidential elections in our country. And this, in turn, has an impact on the conduct of fair, genuine and transparent elections in Uzbekistan in accordance with generally recognized best practice and in conformity with the electoral commitments undertaken by our country.
In this direction, the acceptable recommendations issued by the OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission based on the results of each election are being implemented into the electoral legislation and practice of Uzbekistan, and the national legal framework for elections is being improved.
Over the past period, Uzbekistan has complied with a number of recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission. This is clearly evidenced by indicators such as systematization of laws and regulations in the field of elections and their unification into a single Electoral Code, introduction of information and communication technologies into the electoral process.
The role of the OSCE/ODIHR in the development and adoption of the Electoral Code should be noted separately. The ODIHR Observation Mission final report prepared on the early 2016 Presidential Election also contained the recommendation to consider harmonization of the national electoral legislation. In this regard, the adoption of the Electoral Code by the initiative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sh.M. Mirziyoyev was an important step towards strengthening of our national legislation and further improving the conduct of democratic elections, as well as further improving the image of Uzbekistan in the international arena.
When developing the Code, a number of international standards and foreign countries’ best electoral practices were used. Also, international expertise was carried out of the draft Code, recommendations and the corresponding conclusion were received from the ODIHR and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
What is a needs assessment mission?
In accordance with the rules established by the OSCE participating States, the ODIHR, within their powers related to the electoral process, assists participating States in improving electoral legislation and its application. The Office develops election observation manuals used by observers, evaluates conduct of elections in accordance with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, and issues recommendations.
The Bureau can carry out observation before, during and after elections. Pre-election observation begins with deployment of a Needs Assessment Mission (NAM).
Usually, a NAM is sent to a country several months before the start of a particular election to assess pre-election situation, including preparation for elections.
The main task of the Mission is to develop recommendations on feasibility of holding electoral events, and if such events are necessary, to determine which format best suits the identified needs. The term of operation of a NAM is several days. The Mission includes staff from the ODIHR's election department, as well as other professionals.
During the visit, a NAM holds meetings with representatives of electoral bodies and state authorities, political parties, media, civil society institutions, with staff of OSCE field missions, as well as with representatives of diplomatic missions of OSCE participating States and other relevant international organizations and prepares recommendations on electoral activities.
The NAM report includes recommendations on the specific format, scope and scale of an election-related event.
The NAM may recommend one of the following formats for electoral activities:
a full-scale election observation mission;
limited election observation mission;
an election assessment mission or a dispatch of a team of experts.
The report indicates the number of experts required to implement tasks of the proposed mission, as well as identifies the number of long-term and short-term observers who may be deployed from participating States to carry out comprehensive observation.
In particular, for the 2019 parliamentary elections, for the first time in the history of Uzbekistan, the ODIHR NAM was invited six months prior to the elections.
The NAM report positively assessed the pre-election period, the preparation process for the elections and the measures that were taken to ensure holding of free and democratic elections.
In particular, the NAM report separately notes that the basis for sending a full-scale mission is a new stage of large-scale reforms implemented under the leadership of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sh.M. Mirziyoyev in the field of economy and public administration, including the liberalization of currency regulation, simplification of the visa regime, rapprochement with neighbors, release of a number of political prisoners and reformation of the law enforcement system.
The report considers positively implementation of a number of the OSCE recommendations by Uzbekistan: adoption of the Electoral Code; elimination of restrictions on participation of certain categories of persons in elections who are held in places of deprivation of liberty; abolition of quotas for seats in the Legislative Chamber which contradicted the principles of direct elections, and others.
In connection with the above, the NAM has concluded that it is advisable to send a full-scale OSCE/ODIHR mission to observe the parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan is ready for a constructive and open dialogue with the OSCE/ODIHR, and will also widely and effectively use the current cooperation to conduct all stages of truly free, democratic and fair elections.
Gulnoza RAKHIMOVA, Permanent member, Central Election Commission of Uzbekistan