New transparency group to monitor Tunisian elections
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 03/08/09
A new institution will observe Tunisia's upcoming legislative and presidential elections to ensure the transparency and fairness of the process. Announced on July 27th, the National Observatory for Elections will operate under the guidance of Tunisian Arbitration Centre Chairman Abdelwaheb El Behi.
El Behi revealed the full composition of the 27-member observatory on Thursday (July 30th). Membership includes 20 men and seven women from a variety of disciplines, including journalists, legal experts, doctors and university professors.
"Our mission is to attend to the good conduct of the next elections," he said at a press conference on July 27th. "We hereby undertake to do our duty according to the law and our consciences."
The observatory director stated that his appointment by Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who is up for re-election, would not affect his neutrality. "Ben Ali has called for the formation of a national observatory for elections not as a candidate, but as the head of state," he said.
Not everyone is convinced on this point. In a statement to Magharebia, elections monitoring expert Sami Naser expressed doubts over the neutrality of the observatory, noting that "they are of the same colour: the members belong to the ruling party or are close to it".
Naser, who has participated in monitoring efforts in elections in Morocco, Yemen and Bahrain, said: "If you give the monitoring task to the ruling party or people close to it, their role will be to recommend the election results. Meanwhile, if you give it to the opposition... they will cast doubts over their integrity. Therefore, what we need is an observatory neutral from all parties in accordance with internationally-recognised standards."
Sofiene Chourabi, a journalist with the opposition weekly Attariq Aljadid, called for drawing the observatory’s membership from within non-governmental organisations and associations. "I think that the creation of the National Observatory for Elections could play a major role in monitoring the violations and breaches taking place during the election period, provided it consists of representatives of independent associations".
Chourabi said that El Behi "won't represent a significant addition unless he tries to ensure absolute neutrality towards all political parties that take part in elections, and dares, without fear or reservations, to reveal the breaches that may take place during the next elections".
El Behi stressed the neutrality of the new organisation, saying it was not a "part of the electoral scene".
"It is only an element to activate guarantees for the electoral law and constitution," he continued. "The Tunisian judiciary alone can determine the validity of procedures and resolve disputes that may arise after the announcement of the results."
The National Observatory for Elections has several tasks already on its agenda, most important of which are monitoring the formation of electoral lists and the distribution of election cards to eligible voters, as well as ensuring that the campaign is conducted in compliance with electoral law.
Speaking to Magharebia about the funding and mandate of the observatory, El Behi said the government would bear the transportation and accommodation expenses of members, and that the national body seeks to train monitoring specialists. "However, this hasn't happened yet, so we depend on the experience of members and their knowledge of the law," he concluded.
The campaigns for the presidential and legislative elections will run from October 11th-23rd, leading up to a vote on October 25th. The full results are expected to be announced the following day.
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.