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Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Democratic Institutions

WARSAW, POLAND – The following statement was delivered by the United States during the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland:

Democratic Institutions

Statement Delivered by Patricia Davis

U.S. Delegation to the

OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

Mister Moderator, in recent years, some commentators and academics have bemoaned the tendency to concentrate on elections as the focal point of democratic institutions, calling for more attention to processes such as freedom of the media and the right to engage in political activity.

Of course, democracy is a multi-layered, evolutionary process. Still, free and fair elections remain a cornerstone of democracy, which all OSCE participating states have freely accepted as the only form of government. Elections are the only tool for a people to decide who governs them and are ultimately the key factor in assessing the legitimacy of a president or parliament.

Mister Moderator, no State is beyond the need for improvement in the area of elections. Last year’s U.S. presidential election manifested certain problems with electoral procedures, particularly with regard to the tabulation of ballots. A transparent process and a resolute commitment to the rule of law and due process, however, ensured we met our commitment to free and fair elections and that the results were respected by all. Legislators have since worked diligently to correct problems with procedures through reform.

Last September’s Yugoslav elections were fundamentally flawed, but the will of the people persevered nonetheless. Despite Slobodan Milosevic’s attempt to stay in power, he could not do so in the face of a united opposition and a public which had had enough of his repressive regime. We congratulate the people of Yugoslavia for their success in claiming the right to choose their own leaders, and we warmly welcome the delegation from Yugoslavia to this meeting.

As noted by the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission, although several problems remained, the December parliamentary elections in Serbia marked considerable progress from the past. The U.S. delegation encourages the authorities in Belgrade to continue their reform efforts with the goal of meeting OSCE standards for elections at all levels of government. The United States also welcomes the ongoing willingness of Montenegrin authorities to work with ODIHR as the citizens of that republic go to the polls.

While this year’s parliamentary elections in Albania marked an improvement over the past, particularly during the campaign period, the second round and the need for additional balloting demonstrated the fragility of that progress. The problems observed in polling, the compilation of tallies and the courts’ consideration of appeals were disappointing. We welcome today’s participating representatives of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Albania. We urge Albanian authorities to correct shortcomings at all levels, from the polling committees to the courts to enhance in the citizens of that country confidence that their vote will be counted fairly. We call on all parties to respect electoral results and to work within the political system to produce the democratic change that is needed.

Local elections may be scheduled for later this year in Georgia and Kazakhstan. The law on local elections passed by Georgia’s parliament in August was controversial, and in Kazakhstan, opposition representatives have expressed grave concerns about the procedures envisaged for Kazakhstan. To improve on the record of parliamentary and presidential elections opposition and independent parties and candidates must be able to compete on an equal basis. If the official results eventually announced by the Central Election Commission are to enjoy credibility at home and abroad, opposition and independent media must be able to report and comment on the process.

Mister Moderator, the U.S. agrees with the conclusion drawn by the OSCE’s limited international observation mission that the electoral process in Belarus “failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections.” Regrettably, no part of the electoral process was transparent or fair. Belarusian authorities demonstrated a clear disregard for both democracy and human rights during this election by avoiding transparency in all stages and engaging in a campaign of intimidation. They delayed and hindered the participation of international and domestic observers, harassed opposition members and the independent press, confiscated independent electoral materials and newspapers, and prevented a standard parallel vote tabulation, placing the official vote into serious question.

We applaud the emergence of a more vibrant civil society and independent, democratic political pluralism in Belarus, as prerequisites for a more democratic society. These developments merit our continued support, particularly through the work of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group Mission in Belarus.

Mister Moderator, it is evident that significant improvements are required in a number of OSCE States to meet the commitment to holding free and fair elections that all of us have made. These problems are clearly borne out in ODIHR reports. We urge all participating States to review those reports and to work cooperatively with ODIHR to address these shortcomings.

Thank you.

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