Today, election observation is regarded as a valuable tool for improving the quality of elections. No doubt, election observers help build public confidence in the honesty of electoral processes.
Indeed, when electoral observers issue positive reports, it builds trust in the democratic process and enhances the legitimacy of the governments that emerge from elections.
After elections, observers publish their findings containing their assessment on whether the process was conducted in accordance with international standards.
It is against that background that the EU officially declared not to send electoral experts to Rwanda to witness presidential election slated for August 4.
At the same time, EU, affirmed to send electoral experts to Kenya to monitor presidential election, taking place in the same month. Here, I’m not making a comparison of two states, of which one better fits EU election observers. It’s at their discretion depending on their own assessment.
If they don’t come to Rwanda, it doesn’t matter so long as what the State does is conformable to the Supreme law of the land [the Constitution], international standards and best practices.
Absence of EU election observers won’t at all compromise the quality of the process and outcome of election. I want to believe that the elections will go smoothly, as scheduled.
Subsequent to EU announcement of not sending election observers, regional intergovernmental organisations inter alia the EAC and COMESA—to which Rwanda is party—decided to deploy their respective electoral observation missions to monitor the election. To me, this will add required value.
The presence of election observers, in and of itself, isn’t a barometer of democracy, but probable evidence that elections were conducted fairly and peacefully. Generally, however, observers have no power to interfere in the election process, but may only observe, assess and report. That’s an added value to the election.
There’s a common belief that genuine democratic elections are essential for establishing the legitimate authority of governments and for allowing citizens to hold their government accountable.
As such, the practice of international election observation has grown, with proliferation of observation organisations and the gradual emergence of professional community of election observers.
While public international law provides a great deal of guidance about state’s obligations and the rights and responsibilities of those within its jurisdiction, some parts of the electoral process have very few relevant obligations.
But, if EU has a bias against Rwanda’s presidential election it should prove their stance by empirical evidence. Whatever the degree of negative perception, genuine democratic election isn’t gauged by external forces but by the nationals of the host country, through free expression of their will and that’s the basis for the authority and legitimacy of government.
At a personal level, I wasn’t mildly surprised by unwillingness of EU to deploy election observers. Because in the first elections that brought President Kagame to power, as a democratically-elected president, EU, along with USA, expressed unwillingness to financially support presidential elections.
It is important to recall that Rwandans, from all walks of life, out of enthusiasm gave their support in cash and in-kind, and subsequently presidential elections were conducted successfully. Rwandans, resilient and stoic as they are, must always have a cool head in all circumstances.
It’s only Rwandans to defend and redefine their future, a future that isn’t contingent upon any country, whether rich or powerful, whether influential or self-styled role model. Rwanda’s future lies exclusively in the hands of Rwandans. The country’s future is a common heritage of present and future generations.
Since electoral observation mission is an international best practice, the host country is duty-bound to invite international/regional and domestic observer groups to monitor their elections and to facilitate the work of observers by providing accreditation and information.
While inviting election observers is a compliance with international standards based on a number of international legal principles, no single common set of internationally accepted standards for assessing elections.
These standards are incorporated in various human rights instruments as political commitments and best practices adopted and developed in the context of international organisations. Although formally, these commitments and best practice models are not legally binding, they serve as common standards of reference and are supposed to foster implementation in a way as obligatory standards.
More precisely, inviting election observers is sign of adherence to the ‘Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation’ and the ‘Code of Conduct for Election Observers’ endorsed by the United Nations way back in 2005.
The Declaration encompasses an agreed-upon definition of international election observation, and provides broad guidelines for credible election observation missions, such as the size, duration and scope of missions.
However, the Declaration doesn’t attempt to define ‘democratic elections’. The accompanying ‘Code of Conduct’ simply outlines standards of professional conduct for individual observers.
The writer is an international law expert.