Election observation in times of democratic instability – 14/05/2021 – Latinoamérica21

Since 2018, what researcher Daniel Zovatto calls an electoral “super-cycle” has been observed in Latin America, where a large number of elections are organized and planned, whether local or general. This intense calendar takes place in a troubled Latin American context regarding democratic stability and integrity.

Protests against autocratic-inclined governments and dissatisfaction with democracy and institutions have since been reflected in data from the Latinobarometer. This image shows no signs of recovery. It is in this scenario of obvious democratic questioning that the theme of election observation shows its importance.

It is the role of observation missions to conduct an in-depth collection of information on the elections both in the pre-election period – in the pre-campaign or in the campaign itself, and during and after the time of the election. election. With this information, it is possible to increase the transparency of the electoral process, to prepare specialized consultation material with suggestions for improvements, which, in turn, increases the legitimacy of the results. As a result, the company is involved in issues that are complex or that are rejected due to certain rhetoric that have emerged recently, such as elections.

However, the work of observation must be silent and without the intention of causing interference in any election-related process. It is not a practice carried out by the electoral authority, nor the inspection of electoral aspects, a function reserved for other political and social actors. Election observation is something that must be done on the basis of predefined criteria, with its own methodology for collecting and evaluating data and culminating in a technical study – preferably public – at the end of the work.

For this, the observation activity must have full political neutrality vis-à-vis the election, keeping the right distance in order to preserve its adequacy and which makes it possible to collect and analyze data referring to the procedures adopted by the institutions. and political actors in a technical and professional manner. Moreover, the result of this work must always be collaborative with the institutions, indicating ways without wanting to confront the authorities and the institutional competences, even if it is by criticism.

In Latin America, we have had a profusion of election observation missions since the 2000s. Some countries in the region have already adhered to this practice for decades. This is the case of Colombia and Bolivia which, based on data from the Organization of American States (OAS), already have 14 and 18 international missions respectively. However, it is from this new century that many other countries have joined, especially in the last ten years, when countries previously resistant to the practice decided to allow missions to be carried out on their territory. This is the case of the United States and Brazil, which have exactly two OAS missions.

We can enumerate a few reasons for this “resistance” on the part of certain Latin American states. From the third wave of democratization in the 1980s, there was a lot of hope on the continent for democracy and its sustainability. After all, many countries were leaving dictatorial military regimes and no longer wanted to follow this path. Membership in democracy was high, as shown by Latinobarometer data at the time. This includes the 1997 report which indicated 63% support for democracy, the highest point in the series.

Faced with this situation, countries did not bother to maintain democracy in its entirety, as they understood that joining it, holding periodic elections and having a universal vote was a sufficient strategy to maintain this support for high percentages. So why bother to look for ways to legitimize electoral processes which, until then, seemed to enjoy this status?

This even limited understanding of what election observation is has led several governments to simply judge that the practice would not be necessary, perhaps even with a somewhat superb stance. There was confusion between having a periodic electoral calendar with universal voting and the integrity of these electoral processes. For an election to be considered fair, it takes more than just voting on the scheduled citizenship day. Moreover, no process, whether electoral or not, is definitely free from review and improvement, which has also been somewhat neglected by political leaders in the region.

However, with the growing social discontent of governments, the pressure on electoral procedures increased due to the directions that Latin politics began to take, leading, in some cases, to the contestation of the elections and the authorities responsible for them. organization and administration. .

The various attempts by political actors to circumvent the rules of the game, allied to the very desperation of Latin American societies, have led to a worrying situation which has made certain countries see in election observation a means of containing the damage already caused. and initiate the restoration of their political systems with regard to integrity.

The importance of observation is also reflected in those who carry it out. There are national and international missions that travel the continent with the aim of monitoring elections and collecting data, forming an international collaborative network that aims to strengthen Latin democracies. We should mention here Acuerdo de Lima, an electoral observation and integrity network formed by civil society organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2000 and whose main interest is to contribute to transparency and legitimacy , legality and equality in electoral processes. This electoral surveillance is essential to improve the elections and also to save democratic values ​​in the region.

Considering what has been said and the current scenario, it is necessary to extend the practice of election observation in Latin America, strengthening its agents and clarifying the citizenship and institutions on their aspects and functions. More concern for electoral integrity is necessary in order to salvage support for democracy, and for this, election observation, both nationally and internationally, can be of great value.

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