Despite the raging coronavirus pandemic in Kyrgyzstan and in the world, the upcoming parliamentary elections in October this year have been officially declared scheduled. Parties and individual candidates are already starting their activities and have prepared to roll out campaign posters.
Preparations and training are in full swing for those who will monitor the quality and transparency of elections - the independent observers of the "Independent Observation of Parliamentary Elections" project. This is being handled by a team of professionals from the Common Cause Public Foundation.
The current situation in the country and in the world could not but affect all processes in the project. We talked to the head of the Foundation, Aida Suyundueva, about this and whether it is appropriate and necessary to hold parliamentary elections during the pandemic and how the electoral system in Kyrgyzstan has changed in recent years.
- What is the uniqueness of the project and the Foundation's mission in the upcoming elections, what is the main goal?
- Common Cause is a new foundation, but the staff who created it have extensive experience in organizing independent observation and conducting research, campaigns on civic education since 2001.
The organization's mission is to create opportunities for citizens to fully participate in the decision-making process. This is what improves the very quality of decisions taken and influences the development of democratic institutions, the quality of services provided by state structures and, consequently, the quality of people's lives. We believe in the power of civic participation in the decision-making process.
The uniqueness of the project and, perhaps, the most important thing is that we have collected all the most advanced methods of independent observation and have come up with new solutions. After all, it is impossible to do the same thing in every country, because the context, legislative framework and practice are different everywhere. Also, political parties themselves are at a different level of development. Therefore, the challenges vary everywhere and it is necessary to purposefully select appropriate solutions for each country. If we speak about independent observation, the most important thing is that over the last 10 years, a great breakthrough has taken place precisely in methodology and independent approaches.
- You said the foundation is young. How long has the organization existed and what kind of employees do you have in your team?
- The Foundation was registered in March 2019 and re-registered in September of the same year. As an organization we are new, but the staff is nevertheless stellar. These are people who are not known to the general public, because they are not public persons, but they know how to conduct statistical observation, parallel counting of votes, phone polling. We have many such stars, including our lawyer.
There are several young promising employees who have good experience in organizing three election campaigns, which is quite difficult in terms of logistics and planning. On the CIS territory, several of these people are literally in a class by themselves. Only Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Russia have specialists of this level. That is, in those countries where independent observation is better developed.
We have to be more mobile, because no election campaign is similar to the previous one, it is unique. Nothing stands still and any organization that chooses the path of election monitoring should grow constantly, learn new things, sharpen its methodology, learn about novelties in the market and implement them.
I hope we can do it, as we have come up with a lot of ideas for the upcoming elections.
- In the current situation with the pandemic, there has been very heated discussion about whether elections can and should be held at all. What is the position of the Foundation in this matter?
- From a legal point of view, the fact that the elections were nevertheless announced on time and by the President himself - it is correct. Even if the head of state had not announced it personally, the elections would still have been considered announced. There were no legal grounds for not announcing them, as there are practically no situations where the elections can be cancelled. The only reservation in the legislation is the emergency rule, as we could eventually see with the local elections. But at the same time, there are no standards about the time frame for postponement of elections.
The flip side of this coin is moral and ethical. If the disease situation changes in the fall, as predicted, the issue will probably be reviewed. At present, there is no clear formula for ensuring the rights and safety of citizens during elections in the face of a pandemic.
However, if the elections are postponed, there will also be consequences and they too will have to be addressed. So this is a controversial issue.
- How the election system has improved in recent years. What part have independent observers played in this?
- To all the issues and comments raised by observers before and after the elections, the State finally responds. For example, the biometric system has removed most of the ballot rigging problem, while before that the observers had been talking about it for 20 years and raised this issue.
Another aspect is the problem of vote buying. This time, the legislation on vote buying is much tighter and we have to see how the new regulation will work. The use of administrative resources is another example of a problem that has been repeatedly raised by international independent observers. Non-governmental organizations have also repeatedly raised the issue of publishing transparent information about election funds on the CEC website.
- What is the scale of the project, apart from observers, what are the other "perks"?
- Obviously, the Foundation is aimed at long-term activities, and we will not limit ourselves solely to observing the parliamentary elections. Within the framework of both this project and when organizing project activities in the future, we intend to implement civic education projects, promote a more active participation of citizens in governance processes.
- Can you elaborate on the process of the work to be done? How does data collection work?
- Data collection is carried out in this way: a systematic form of collecting data is developed. All training of observers is adjusted to this form, and during the training there are tests, simulations and even rehearsals of the upcoming elections - everything that can prepare an observer to work effectively on the election day. If it is a long-term observer, he/she works in the period before the elections, on the election day and in the post-election period.
All received information is accumulated in a database - either in a very simple one as a Google Form, or a specialized one.
- What is the difference between a short-term and a long-term observer?
- As for long-term observation, we cover all the territorial electoral commissions. This is important, as we will get a picture from all TECs of all regions, which will yield the most complete data in the output.
If we talk about short-term observation, we will use a sample, as it will be representative and proportional. If all goes well, we will get a full array of data and be able to see a picture of how the voting was conducted throughout the country.
By the way, on election day we will be doing an online broadcast from our call-center so that everyone who tracks the data can receive it.
- What is the follow-up to the observation - reports, comments, suggestions? And what happens to these?
- Based on the results of the parliamentary elections observation, the Common Cause will prepare preliminary and final reports, which will reflect the results of our monitoring. Our goal is to make recommendations based on the obtained results.
At the moment it is difficult to say how the elections will go, but we hope that our observations will be important to all participants in the electoral process, to whom they will be sent.
- Why is observation important?
- The monitoring is conducted to implement Kyrgyzstan's OSCE commitments to hold fair and transparent elections. One of these commitments is to ensure conditions for independent observation of elections within the country. Elections are monitored in order to observe, analyze and make recommendations on the electoral process. This is important because it clearly shows how far the country has progressed in improving its electoral legislation.
- Which organization supports all this work?
- The project is funded by USAID, and the technical assistance on independent observation is provided by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which is a leader on these issues. In terms of methodology, planning, and quality data collection, we have the capacity to access the most advanced technologies and practices through the NDI.
Moreover, the project has many local partners - these are non-governmental organizations that we cooperate with on various issues and there are quite a few of them.