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Government opens elections to scrutiny of foreign monitors

After months of speculation as to whether foreign observers would be invited to monitor Slovakia's national elections, the government of Premier Vladimír Mečiar decided on August 18 to extend an official invitation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The OSCE wasted little time in getting its mission started, holding a press conference on August 20 to announce that some 100-150 observers from approximately 20 countries would be attending the September 25-26 elections.
The election mission is officially being organized by the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which works under the wing of the OSCE. Head of mission Kare Vollan said that the aim of monitoring is to assess the election process in comparison with international standards, not to resolve clashes on the Slovak political battlefield.

After months of speculation as to whether foreign observers would be invited to monitor Slovakia's national elections, the government of Premier Vladimír Mečiar decided on August 18 to extend an official invitation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE wasted little time in getting its mission started, holding a press conference on August 20 to announce that some 100-150 observers from approximately 20 countries would be attending the September 25-26 elections.

The election mission is officially being organized by the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which works under the wing of the OSCE. Head of mission Kare Vollan said that the aim of monitoring is to assess the election process in comparison with international standards, not to resolve clashes on the Slovak political battlefield.

"We have no power to enforce anything," said Vollan, adding that the mission's strategy was to apply pressure on authorities and give public statements on particular problems.

Slovak opposition politicians welcomed the OSCE presence, saying that if irregularities occured during elections it might hurt Slovakia's image abroad. "It might have resulted in the European Union taking steps against Slovakia's integration intentions," said Ján Figeľ, a deputy for the opposition SDK and head of the Center for European Politics.

Peter Kresák, Vice-Chancellor of Bratislava's Comenius Univers-ity and a candidate for the newly-formed SOP party, said that elections represent a process in which the most fundamental political rights of the population are realized in practice. "That is why the attendance of observers cannot be taken just as an inspection, but as an instrument that helps avoid possible shortcomings and improves the quality of democracy," Kresák said.

Tactics

"The mission will have a core staff of seven people, a media monitoring group and twelve long-term observers deployed throughout the country," said Vollan. Long term observers will monitor pre-election processes, such as the election campaign, and the political and legal aspects of the elections.

According to Vollan, the observation mission will have regular meetings with the authorities such the Central Election Commission and District Election Commissions, with all political parties running for seats in Parliament, with media representatives, members of the international diplomatic community and international organizations educating Slovaks on civic and democratic topics.

The OSCE will issue a preliminary statement on the electoral process the day after the elections, and a more detailed final report should be released in some 10 days after that.

According to the rules of 1990 Copenhagen Convention, the official OSCE invitation should have preceded elections by three months, but the Mečiar government gave the monitoring mission less than six weeks lead time. The election date was set in July, but Mečiar was still maintaining on August 7, in a speech on Slovak Radio, that "the elections are an internal matter of Slovak citizens, and our aim is to secure full democracy for citizens by non-intervention from abroad."

On August 13, Mečiar invited observers from18 European countries to monitor elections. The invitations, which were not sent to neighbouring powers like the Czech Republic and Hungary, aroused the indignation of Slovakia's opposition parties. Five days later, the Slovak Foreign Ministry sent an official invitation to the OSCE.

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