Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Colombia: OAS highlights sound electoral process in Colombia

Source: Organization of American States

The Electoral Oversight Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS/MVE) in Colombia wishes to emphasize the civic spirit of the citizens who voted in the parliamentary elections held on Sunday, March 9, and of those who acted as poll workers and political parties’ representatives.

The mission, headed by former Chilean Minister José Antonio Viera-Gallo, was comprised of 27 technicians and international observers from 12 countries of the Americas and Europe. During the process prior to election day, the Mission met with electoral and government authorities, political leaders and civil society representatives in order to learn details related to the electoral organization and the progress in the campaign.

On election day, international observers visited 136 polling stations in five departments of the country. The polling stations observed met the required conditions to initiate voting and had the necessary material for the voters. However, the implementation of the biometric identification system presented some difficulties throughout the day, prompting delays in some polling stations.

The OAS/MVE highlights that important progress was made on safety issues. This is reflected in the data published by the Integrated Center for Information and the Electoral Intelligence (CI3E), which noted that on election day there was a 90% reduction in the activities of armed groups outside the law and an 83% decrease in violent incidents compared to 2010. In this election, 12 polling stations were moved; only one case was due to a problem related to public order.

The Mission found that the secrecy of the vote and the facilities for the proper counting of ballots can be improved. It is suggested to improve the design of the screens to enhance privacy when voters cast their vote and to secure spaces that allow poll workers to carry out vote counting more efficiently.

The OAS/MVE is also concerned about the level of abstention reflected in the preliminary results released by the National Civil Registry in legislative elections. This phenomenon adds to the high number of blank, unmarked and null votes. The preliminary data from the Registry shows that the number of invalid votes amounts to 10.38% in the case of the Senate, and to 12.23% in the House of Representatives. In accordance with the observation conducted by the OAS, the number of null ballots could be explained because of the complicated voting system that affects the design of the ballot and the levels of information and training of voters and polling workers, among other reasons. The MVE recommends reviewing these and other possible causes in order to progressively reduce the number of invalid votes in future elections.

The Mission notes that the electoral process was conducted within the framework of the 2011 political reform, which resulted in improvements to the system, among which the extension of the role of parties’ representatives, campaign finance reforms, and gender equality in electoral competition.

Regarding the extension of the role of parties’ representatives, the OAS/MVE noted that there were difficulties on the part of political parties and movements to cover all the polling stations. In this regard, it is recommended to further facilitate the accreditation process of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and assess the possibility that the scope of their work is not restricted to a single table.

In relation to political financing, the OAS/MVE noted that the parties and movements are required to open a bank account to manage the resources of the electoral campaign. They must also, together with the candidates, account for their expenses during and after the campaign through the application of “Cuentas Claras” (Clean Accounts). These measures constitute a step towards strengthening a more transparent funding.

However, the OAS/MVE noted that parties and movements face difficulties in opening bank accounts, in turn complicating accountability. It was found that only 58 % of the Senate candidates, 39% of the House, and 9% of the Andean Parliament presented a report through the application up to March 4, 2014.

The weaknesses identified may affect the accountability ability of the contenders in the electoral process, state control and transparency on campaign spending, and in turn create favorable conditions for malpractice. For instance, in meetings that the OAS/MVE held with political parties, a recurring concern was buying votes, and some complaints related to this practice were received, which will be forwarded to the authorities.

The OAS/MVE recommends ensuring the necessary conditions for parties and movements to open accounts in the banking system and to set strong incentives or penalties to encourage the effective use of accountability and transparency mechanisms.

Regarding gender equality in electoral competition, the OAS/MVE recognizes as a significant step the establishment and implementation, for the first time, of the 30% quota in legislative elections, which resulted in an increase of women elected to the Parliament. According to the preliminary results of this election, in the Senate the representation of women increased from 16.6% to 21.6 % and from 12.6% to 16.6 % in the House.

However, to continue advancing towards higher levels of gender equity, the OAS/MVE recommends considering the promotion of legal reforms aimed at parity, the establishment of accompanying measures such as alternating women throughout the candidate lists, the campaign financing for women and effective sanctions for non-compliance.

The OAS Electoral Oversight Mission in Colombia appreciates the confidence of the Colombian Government, which for the eleventh time has placed its trust in the work in electoral matters of the Organization. Finally, the Mission would like to thank the Governments of Spain and Switzerland for their financial contributions for the deployment of this Mission.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.