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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Democratic Institutions and Elections at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Warsaw, Poland – The following statement on Democratic Institutions and Democratic Elections was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland:

Democratic Institutions and Democratic Elections

Statement of Ambassador M. Wells

U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting

Mr. Moderator, democracy is more than holding elections. Nevertheless, the polling process remains a cornerstone of democracy – a necessary, if insufficient by itself, condition for a functioning democracy. The OSCE has taken an increasingly dynamic role in promoting free elections, and the OSCE’s efforts have led to progress in helping a number of participating States to develop democratic political systems.

There is still a palpable need for OSCE attention to electoral processes, including international observation, in many of our participating States. And, while there is often a need for improvement in election processes even in advanced democracies, elections in some States fail to meet the basic criteria for “free” and “fair.”

Change is an essential element for democratic political systems. One of the primary reasons that authoritarian systems collapse is that they are unable to evolve both politically and economically. It is therefore with profound disappointment that we have learned of the creation, this year, of a system based on the concept of “presidency for life” in Turkmenistan.

In the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the OSCE participating States committed themselves to “build, consolidate, and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” Sadly, with this latest development in Turkmenistan, the principle embodied in Paris – democratic systems which allow for the peaceful and orderly transfer of power from one government to the next and essential safeguards against an over-mighty State – is clearly not being respected in Turkmenistan.

On January 27, Uzbekistan held a referendum that created a bicameral parliament and extended President Karimov’s term in office from five to seven years. Uzbekistan’s parliament on April 5 confirmed the extension of his term to 2007 and opened the door to a subsequent seven-year term. The referendum extending President Karimov’s tenure violates the Copenhagen Document.

Unfortunately, the Belarusian authorities have failed to move toward meeting the four criteria established in 2000 by the OSCE as benchmarks for democratic elections in that country. The OSCE-led International Limited Election Observation Mission report on the flawed legislative and presidential elections cited problematic aspects of the legislative framework including: rule by presidential decree; insufficient provisions to ensure the integrity of the voting and no transparency during the tabulation of the results; restrictive provisions for observers; restrictions on free and fair campaigning; limited opportunities to challenge Central Election Commission decisions; and the lack of assurance of the independence of electoral commissions. In light of local elections scheduled for early 2003, it is particularly important that Belarus bring its electoral code up to democratic standards and that the inadequacies enumerated by the OSCE be addressed.

In other OSCE participating States, elections have yielded a mixed picture – with improvements in some areas and shortcomings in others. In Ukraine, for instance, a new election law adopted last October did take into account ODIHR’s recommendations from previous elections. This and other positive factors such as multi-party election commissions and more streamlined electoral dispute resolution mechanisms provided for an improved environment for the March 31 parliamentary elections in Ukraine. At the same time, these elections witnessed problems, including abuse of administrative resources, illegal interference by local authorities, shortcomings in the implementation of the new election law, and a campaign marred by some intimidation and harassment against opposition contestants, activists and voters. Moreover, in the July 14 by-elections held in the district of Oleksander Zhyr, a member of parliament who had taken the lead in investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, observers witnessed serious problems, including the highly questionable annulment of Zhyr’s candidacy the day before the elections. We urge the Ukrainian Government to act upon the recommendations of the May 27 ODIHR Final Report on the Ukrainian elections.

Beginning with the Macedonian parliamentary elections less than one week away, there will be several elections in Southeastern Europe in the coming months. These elections will provide citizens an opportunity to move forward and overcome the legacy of a decade of conflict. We urge all parties to refrain from fomenting ethnic tensions or instigating violence as means of gaining electoral advantages. This has been a special concern in Macedonia and Kosovo.

In Montenegro, we also call upon all parties to work with the OSCE Mission to Yugoslavia and others in overcoming problems which could threaten the degree to which the parliamentary elections in that republic will be free and fair. We wish the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina well as they take the responsibility for implementing the upcoming general elections from the OSCE. We have every expectation that the Serbian presidential elections will show further progress in the democratic transition of that republic.

Mr. Moderator, it is worth recalling the unique role of the ODIHR in providing assistance to participating States in developing and implementing electoral legislation. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is likewise a valuable resource in promoting free and fair elections. Reports made by the OSCE offer a constructive guide for participating States that wish to uphold commitments with respect to free and fair elections that each of our nations freely accepted. As our leaders recognized in Istanbul, prompt follow up to ODIHR’s election assessments and recommendations is of particular importance.

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