EU deploys election observers

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The European Union (EU) will for the first time in Lesotho’s political history deploy an election observation mission to monitor and assess the country’s electoral processes ahead of the October 7 polls.

EU professional election observers will be spread across the country’s 10 districts to assess every aspect of the electoral process, including political party campaigns as well as general preparations for the elections nationwide. Launched in Maseru on Wednesday this week, the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) is the first election observation mission ever deployed by the EU to Lesotho.

On the same day, the mission deployed 22 observers to begin long-term observation across Lesotho ahead of the general elections. The mission will be permanently present in all the 10 districts of Lesotho for six weeks. Upon the invitation of the government of Lesotho, the EU EOM started its activities in Maseru on August 27 with the arrival of a core team of nine experts led by Chief Observer Ignazio Corrao. Corrao, an Italian, is a member of the European parliament.

Election observation is an essential component of EU activities to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law worldwide, aimed at contributing to the strengthening of democratic institutions, building public confidence in electoral processes and helping deter fraud, intimidation and violence. It also serves to reinforce other key EU foreign policy objectives, notably peace-building.

Speaking at the launch, Corrao pointed out that the team of 22 observers will later be joined by 30 more temporary observers, a delegation from the European parliament and representatives from the EU states’ diplomatic representations. He said the observers have been drawn from all 27 member states as well as from Norway, noting that this team is instrumental to the mission’s conduct of a full and comprehensive assessment of the electoral process, in line with the EU’s established election observation methodology.

Their findings in the 10 districts of Lesotho will inform analysis of the EU EOM’s core team about election-related developments across the country. “Today we are deploying 11 teams of long-term observers, each with two members, who will assess every aspect of the electoral processes, including the campaigning by political parties, and preparations for the elections across Lesotho.

“Long term observers are instrumental to the mission’s conduct of a full and comprehensive assessment of the electoral process, in line with EU’s established election observation methodology,” said Corrao. He further stated that after the elections, the EU EOM will present its preliminary findings to the public and remain in Lesotho until completion of the electoral process and later publish a final report of the election observation team, including its recommendations.

“The EU is bound by a code of conduct which requires, among others, strict neutrality and non-interference. It undertakes its work in accordance with declaration of principles for international electoral observation. It was endorsed under the UN auspices in 2005. “The EU EOM operates under a separate and distinct mandate from the EU delegation in Lesotho, and it is independent in its findings from EU member states and all institutions,” he said.

Corrao further highlighted that the EU EOM becomes one of several activities meant to strengthen the existing relationship between Lesotho and the EU. According to him, the mission’s mandate is to evaluate the 2022 National Assembly elections in line with Lesotho’s legislation as well as with international and regional standards and commitments Lesotho has made regarding democratic elections.

As per its long-term methodology, the EU EOM will assess all stages of the electoral process, including the legal framework and its implementation, the performance of the election administration, the role of the Lesotho constitution, voter registration, campaign activities and campaign finance. Also to be appraised is the overall environment of the elections, including respect for fundamental freedoms, civil and political rights, the participation of women and vulnerable groups, the role of the media, including online information sources and social media.

The role of civil society, the voting, counting and tabulation processes, the complaints and appeal process and announcement of results will also be monitored. In the past 20 years, the EU has deployed over 200 EU EOMs in around 75 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, assisting countries to run free and fair elections is an important element of the EU’s external relations policy.

Since 2000 the EU has deployed over 60 missions involving the participation of over 4 000 experts and observers from EU member states. Election observation missions are organised by the European Commission and serve to assess electoral processes, enhance transparency and provide for greater overall confidence in electoral results. The EU’s observation of elections is based on the principles of independence, impartiality, transparency, long-term observation and professionalism.

The EU EOM is bound by a code of conduct, which requires, among others, strict neutrality and non-interference. It undertakes its work in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, endorsed under UN auspices in 2005. In line with the EU methodology on election observation, the mission will issue a preliminary statement and hold a press conference in Maseru after the election day. A final report, including recommendations for future electoral processes, will be presented after the finalisation of the entire electoral process. The EU EOM operates under a separate and distinct mandate from the EU Delegation in Lesotho, and it is independent in its findings from EU member states and all EU institutions.

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