elections. As a result, the contests for
national offices were held in July, and
elections for local offices were scheduled for the following October.
In Haiti, the election observation
team helped turn back what was
widely seen as a deeply flawed process at a polarized and critical time.
A joint OAS-Caribbean Community
(CARICOM) election observation mission sent to Haiti for the November
2010 presidential and congressional
elections identified significant irregularities in the process, including
disorganization, ballot stuffing, intimidation, and vandalism of polling
stations. This was compounded by a
generalized mistrust of the electoral
authorities. Opposition candidates,
charging massive fraud, challenged
the results and called for cancellation
of the elections that had produced
the second-place victory of then-President René Préval’s handpicked
successor, Jude Célestin. In response,
President Préval requested an OAS expert commission to verify the results.
The commission’s January 2011 report concluded that opposition candidates Mirlande Manigat and Michel
Martelly were the top finishers in
the November vote. For the run-off,
which finally occurred in March
2011, the electoral authorities adopted
many of the technical changes suggested by the OAS team. The contest
was held bet ween the two candidates
it determined had placed first and
second. Martelly won the final vote.
FLAWS IN THE PROCESS
Despite these successes in calling attention to fraud and voter intimidation, election observation missions
have often been criticized as irrelevant to the broader electoral—and
even democratic—process. Critics
have cited missteps such as missions
arriving too late to make any difference, perceived bias toward the
government, and weak, ineffective
reports that have legitimized questionable elections.
Several recent cases demonstrate
the point. In 2008, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega refused to invite an OAS mission to monitor his
country’s municipal elections on the
grounds that the missions were controlled by the United States.
His position changed three years
later, when opposition skepticism
about the constitutionality of his decision to run for a second consecutive
term as president in November 2011
persuaded Ortega to accept international oversight. The mission, which
arrived four weeks before the election, identified some organizational
irregularities in the process and encountered some obstruction to its
work on election day. It also reported
that despite rumors of impending violence, the voting was peaceful and
relatively normal. But it did not challenge the validity of the political and
electoral context before the mission’s
arrival, which many considered con-
TEAMS DERIVE THEIR
Should the OAS have accepted the
invitation to monitor what critics suggested was a flawed and unconstitutional election process to begin with?
In the eyes of the opposition, the mission’s credibility was undermined by
agreeing to serve in a role that effectively legitimized an election that allegedly violated national law.
But if electoral observers had questioned Ortega’s candidacy, they could
be accused of interfering in a country’s internal affairs. By accepting
the situation, the mission was condemned to irrelevance—at least in
the eyes of opponents who argued
that the result was to ratify a violation of democratic norms.
Election observer teams derive
their strength from perceived impartiality. But such impartiality can be
compromised by the make-up of the
missions themselves. The observation mission sent to Venezuela for the
referendum to recall President Hugo
Chávez in 2004 was headed by Valter
Pecly Moreira, then the Brazilian ambassador to the OAS and considered
by many an ideological ally of Chávez.
Similarly, the election observation
mission dispatched for the 2006 Venezuela presidential vote was headed
by Juan Fisher, then the Uruguayan
ambassador to the OAS—again, a
country seen by many as being sympathetic to the Chávez government.
The perception of bias in favor of
the ruling party, rightly or wrongly,
contributed to the widespread impression that both missions turned a blind
eye to flaws in the voting process and
were deferential to the government.
Fisher’s report essentially praised
the electoral process, while Pecly
Moreira’s mission limited itself to
identifying minor technical irregularities in the voting that did not
affect the results, including poor information about the electoral process, inconsistencies in the legislation,
overcrowded polling stations, and
delays in voting. It did not address
opposition complaints about voting
technology, the use of petition lists
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012