African monitors keen to oversee EU election
The Pan-African Parliament is in talks with the EU on sending monitors to the European elections in June, in a project that could see Zimbabwean politicians oversee voting in the UK.
The South Africa-based institution, which is the parliamentary wing of the African Union, agreed details of a monitoring mission with European Parliament officials last week.
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Ten members of the African Parliament (MAPs) would first see how the UK conducts its election on 4 June. The delegation would then inspect the central vote-counting office in Wiesbaden, Germany. The MAPs would watch the final result with MEPs in Brussels on 7 June.
The main goal of the project is to learn lessons ahead of a potential pan-African election some time in the future. But the mission would also produce a final report on EU democratic standards.
The scheme could fall through if it clashes with the African parliament's plenary session. But if it goes ahead, it would represent a role reversal for the EU, which frequently organises election monitoring missions to African states.
The African parliament has suspended the activities of members that recently suffered coups d'etat, as in Mauritania, Guinea and Madagascar.
But there is a prospect that countries with a poor track record on democracy and human rights, such as Zimbabwe, could form part of the 10-man EU monitoring team.
If a Zimbabwean delegate is chosen, he or she might come from an opposition party instead of the camp of authoritarian President Robert Mugabe, African parliament spokesman Khalid Dahab told EUobserver.
"I was in both rounds of the Zimbabwe elections as a co-ordinator for our observation mission," he said. "The first round met the minimum standards of being free and fair. But we criticised the second round very strongly and said it does not represent the will of the people."
"I don't think the fact that Zimbabwe is a member of our organisation has a negative effect on our work," he added.
The African parliament is not the only body keen to keep an eye on the EU vote.
The broader African Union is itself in advanced talks with the European Commission about sending monitors. The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) club of countries has expressed an interest in coming over in June.
The Russian Duma has contacted the European Parliament about sending delegates. Ecuador in a recent letter inviting EU monitors to its vote on 26 April offered to send a reciprocal team for the EU poll.
The Russian card
Officials from the ODIHR, the election-monitoring branch of the Vienna-based pro-democracy club, the OSCE, are also in Brussels this week to evaluate if the body should send observers.
The ODIHR regularly monitors national elections in EU states, but on a much smaller scale than in "transitional" countries such as Belarus or Kazakhstan.
It did not send observers to the 2004 European Parliament election. But its 2004 evaluation report raised concerns about low turnout and the disenfranchisement of voters in Latvia, Estonia and Cyprus.
In Cyprus, the 80,000 or so Turkish Cypritos who live in the Turkish-controlled zone have to cross the green line to vote and can only choose from parties registered with central authorities in Nicosia. The 160,000 Turkish settlers who live in the north can not vote in the EU poll.
In Latvia and Estonia, about 16 percent and eight percent of the population, respectively, are former citizens of the now defunct Soviet Union who have not yet obtained a new nationality and cannot take part in the EU election. The situation is often mentioned in Russian criticism of EU respect for its own democratic values.
"Some of them don't want to learn the language or do the paperwork. For some, it's just an attitude," a Latvian diplomat said. "The Russians love to play this card."