Bennett Freeman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
For Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Statement on Elections
2000 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review Meeting
Warsaw, Poland, October 17, 2000
In less than a month, the people of the United States will go to the polls to elect a new President and much of their political leadership. The balloting will constitute another chapter in a tradition that I am proud to note extends over two centuries. During that period Americans have trusted a process to invest government with democratic legitimacy. It was a radical concept at the birth of our republic, but it is no longer so. The 1990 Copenhagen Document recognizes that it is the right of citizens to choose their own governments. It committed participating states to foster democratization through, among other things, the holding of free and fair elections, promoting freedom of the media, and observing the human rights of their citizens.
None of us can claim to be a perfect democracy. The United States remains committed to creating a more perfect union at home -- and to working globally through initiatives such as the OSCE and the Community of Democracies to build freer societies anchored by accountable institutions and respect for human dignity. Indeed, there is no regional institution whose purpose and principles are more grounded in a commitment to democracy and human rights than the OSCE, and the United States takes seriously its responsibility to work with OSCE participating states to advance our common goals.
Over the past year, there have been several positive developments in the OSCE region whereby societies have progressed toward the goal of representative democracy. I am pleased to note that this year the Balkans has provided a setting for particular optimism. However, experiences have not been uniformly positive. There are four electoral processes since last we met about which my government has great concern: the elections just completed in Belarus, those still underway in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, and those completed late last year in Kazakhstan.
We congratulate Croatia on its electoral progress. The OSCE and international observers assessed the January and February national parliamentary and presidential elections as having made "significant progress" toward meeting OSCE standards. And we look forward to municipal elections next spring, which we anticipate will fully meet OSCE standards.
More recent, and more dramatic, is the outcome in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. We congratulate the citizens of that country, whose courage prevented their elections from being stolen from them by the Milosevic regime. Much must be done to secure and consolidate the citizenry's will to end their isolation and to embark on the transition to democracy and reintegrate with international institutions -- including the OSCE. The United States is prepared to do its part to assist in that transition.
Elsewhere in the Balkans, the OSCE has provided election structure and administration to countries in the aftermath of violent conflict. The OSCE has done a commendable job administering elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is now building on this experience in Kosovo. The OSCE, in collaboration with the UN and others, has worked diligently to prepare the Kosovars for their upcoming October 28 municipal elections. Although there are problems that must be addressed, we commend the OSCE for its continued efforts to assist Kosovo create an electoral system that meets international standards. We anxiously await a reporting of the election day activities.
Finally, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) continues to demonstrate its growing political maturity since becoming an independent state in 1991. Although the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) monitoring mission assessed the September 10 local elections there as having fallen short on a number of OSCE commitments, the conduct of these elections was better than last year's presidential elections. Still, there were notable inadequacies in the election law and in its implementation. Unfortunately, both rounds witnessed violence, and were marred by incidents of intimidation, ballot stuffing, and public voting. We are pleased the government has pledged to address the concerns raised by the OSCE and to vigorously investigate incidents of violence and other breaches of law. We encourage authorities continue in the direction of progress.
Georgia has held both parliamentary and presidential elections since last year's review conference. According to the ODIHR, the conduct of the 1999 parliamentary elections were a step toward compliance with OSCE commitments, although the election process failed to fully meet all commitments. Following this year's presidential elections, ODIHR concluded that further progress is necessary for Georgia to fully meet its OSCE commitments. ODIHR noted that the election process deteriorated after the close of polls, that tabulation procedures lacked transparency and that in general, procedural safeguards to support the integrity of the process were not implemented. We urge Georgia to implement the ODIHR's recommendations well in advance of the next elections.
According to the ODIHR, Armenia's 1999 parliamentary elections generally represented a step toward compliance with OSCE commitments. However, serious issues remain to be addressed, and further improvements are necessary for the election process to be in compliance with the Copenhagen Document. Issues of concern included the formation of election commissions and the transparency of the vote count and tabulation and publication of results. We urge Armenia to implement the ODIHR's recommendations well in advance of the next elections.
On a positive note, elections in Russia earlier this year showed that basic democratic processes and institutions are taking hold and that Russian citizens are comfortable making their voices heard at the ballot box. The OSCE cited concern over unbalanced media coverage and pressure on independent media but nevertheless called the election "a massive expression of the will of the Russian people."
In contrast, Lukashenko Government consistently refused to meet the conditions the OSCE Troika set in May. These four conditions, which would have created the possibility for free and fair elections were: first, a democratic election law; second, an end to human rights abuses and the climate of fear gripping Belarus; third, opposition access to the state media; and fourth, real powers granted to the parliament. Without these conditions, the vote in Belarus cannot be considered legitimate or democratic.
The Lukashenko regime further undercut any possible argument that it would carry out elections that met OSCE standards by persecuting the majority of the opposition, which understandably decided to boycott the electoral farce that Lukashenko had prepared. The regime responded by arresting those who passed out boycott leaflets and seizing 100,000 copies of an edition on the boycott of the independent trade union newspaper Rabochy. Even the minority of opposition members who broke ranks with their colleagues and tried to run in the elections as independent candidates did not escape the regime's wrath: nearly all of them were disqualified on minor technicalities. In this way, the regime deprived the electorate of any real choice in the elections. The United States supports the conclusions of the assessment mission of the ODIHR and the European Parliamentary Troika that elections were not free, fair, or transparent. We have no choice but to accept the 13th Supreme Soviet, chaired by Seymon Sharetsky, as the legitimate Belarusian parliament.
In Azerbaijan, the Nov. 5 parliamentary elections will serve as a bellwether of the government's commitment to democracy. There have been some positive steps, such as the Constitutional Court's August ruling against the retroactive application of the new election law requirement that political parties be registered six months prior to the announcement of an election. However, the U.S. has been deeply concerned by a number of developments. These include the CEC and court of appeals rejection of Musavat party and Azerbaijan Democratic party signatures, which would have disqualified those parties from running candidates in the proportional side of the elections. However, in a positive step, although it demonstrates institutional deficiencies in the system, President Aliyev has asked the CEC to allow the registration of all political parties, thus making it possible for these parties to conduct nation-wide campaigns. This is an important and welcome step toward the creation of a climate in which international standards for the conduct of the November 5 parliamentary elections can be met. We look forward to additional steps consistent with ODIHR recommendations, such as the request that a similar decision be made regarding candidates in single member districts who have been unduly denied registration.
Furthermore, as the ODIHR has noted, the legislative framework for the elections remains deficient in several important respects. Serious shortcomings include the failure to provide for a transparent vote tabulation procedure at the territorial level and the lack of provision for domestic nonpartisan observers; a step back compared to the 1998 presidential election, when they were permitted. The lack of a transparent vote tabulation process was a serious problem in the 1995 parliamentary and 1998 presidential elections. The U.S. urges the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the commitments it has made in the Copenhagen Document.
The October 1999 parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, an improvement over the previous January's presidential elections, still fell short of international standards. We support the OSCE;s request for the Government of Kazakhstan to release complete election results. The agreement to hold roundtables to review the ODIHR final report recommendations could be a step towards progress. We are pleased that the first roundtable took place September 2 with the leading opposition parties fully represented. We hope that the process started in September will continue with three more roundtables in 200l, moving towards a goal of electoral reform. We, however, do note concern regarding the Central Elections Commission's hurried announcement to form new electoral commissions. The independence of electoral commissions is on the agenda for the next roundtable, tentatively scheduled for January. Given the attention paid to the role of electoral commissions in the ODIHR report, it is unfortunate that the CEC acted before roundtable discussion of the issue and possible new legislation.
The December and January elections in Uzbekistan were neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice. The laws on elections and on political parties prevented the emergence of any coherent opposition party or bloc. The ability of local and regional officials both to manipulate the candidate registration process and to intimidate the voters further skewed the results. The OSCE declined to send a full election observation mission to parliamentary elections because of serious concerns that the electoral framework would not permit a truly pluralist, competitive election. After reviewing preparations for the presidential election, OSCE/ODIHR decided not to send official election observers to the presidential elections either. Based on similar concerns the USG decided not to provide any elections assistance. We are concerned that no reforms have been undertaken to address the problems in the election laws or procedures in accordance with ODIHR's recommendations.
Despite President Akayev's professed commitment to democracy, the bright promise of Kyrgyzstan has dimmed in recent years. The seriously flawed parliamentary elections of March and the harsh treatment of opposition figures have seriously damaged Kyrgyzstan's reputation. Kyrgyzstan's conduct of its parliamentary elections in February and March 2000 failed to comply with OSCE commitments. The government at national and local levels manipulated election results and used the courts to disqualify and de-register opposition political parties and candidates. Manipulation continues in the run-up to the presidential election on October 29. The government has jailed opposition candidates and has excluded legitimate and otherwise qualified presidential candidates through a Kyrgyz language test whose constitutionality is being challenged in the courts. The fairness and uniformity of the language test have also been questioned. Kyrgyz authorities have not taken OSCE ODIHR recommendations on board, and the government continues to tighten restrictions against NGO's and independent media in advance of the polling. We reiterate our call on Kyrgyzstan authorities to honor President Akayev's pledges to follow recommendations contained in the OSCE final report on the elections. We also reaffirm our support for a strong role on the part of OSCE/ODIHR to do everything it can to work with Kyrgyz authorities, opposition figures, and civil society to press for the observance of those recommendations, and then to report on the process after its conclusion.
The Government of Turkmenistan has made little if any effort to implement its human dimension commitments. The December parliamentary elections were marred by government hand-picking of candidates, intimidation of other potential candidates, inflated voting rates, and family voting. The OSCE chose not to send election observers because of their concerns with the serious shortcomings in the election process. In December the results were given a rubber-stamp approval, extending President Niyazov's term in office to a lifetime tenure.
Mr. Moderator, in closing, allow me to quote an unlikely source, a past ally of former Yugoslav President Milosevic, former FRY Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who in an October 2 Reuters report was quoted as saying: "The will of the citizens must come first. The people have the right to make mistakes from time to time, but no one has the right to make the mistake of not respecting the will of the people out of the conviction that he knows the people's interests better than the people themselves." Even while he was doing the wrong thing, Mr. Bulatovic was saying the right thing. Let us commit ourselves to allow our citizens to express their will, confident that it will be respected. Let us further ensure that the political environment is open and fair, so as to ensure an informed electorate that will chose wisely.
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