International poll observers ‘bias’, decries Tanzania president

President Jakaya Kikwete says the behaviour of foreign election observers help fuel election violence in Africa.

President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania yesterday said international election observers taking sides in the course of executing their duties in African countries only help to fuel violence and hamper growth of genuine democracy. 

President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete delivers keynote address during a High Level Panel on "The energy Evolution: mobilising energy for Sustainable Development," held during the European Development Days meeting, in Brussels Belgium (Photo by Freddy Maro)

“Some foreign observers are not impartial, and this creates a lot of problems in our countries, especially during elections,” said the president as he officially opened an international Conference on Managing Elections in Africa.

Organised by the Institute of African Leadership for Sustainable Development, commonly known as Uongozi Institute, in collaboration with the Electoral Commission Forum of SADC countries, the conference drew participants from 13 African countries — representatives of election management bodies from several African nations, regional bodies, senior government officials, political and opinion leaders from Tanzania.

Kikwete said managing elections was a big challenge in many African countries, explaining that this is contributed by numerous forces – including behaviour of some key players in the electoral process.

The president said some foreign observers were to blame for political and election intolerance in some African countries, because of being one-sided.

“Their (foreign observers) independence is a very crucial component for fair and free elections in Tanzania and other African nations…but you may find that some of them are taking sides in the local political competition, thus instigating chaos and conflicts in the election process,” said Kikwete.

He stressed that foreign and international election observers should not be partisan, but remain impartial, citing an example of one African country where a foreign election observers had close links with one of the contesting political party — to the extent of becoming furious when that party lost the election.

“It was a true case, but I cannot mention the country…this foreign observer was quoted as saying ‘Oh! Oh!…we have lost….implying that he was part and parcel of that political party and completely forgetting his/her role as an observer,” said Kikwete.

Giving another example, he said, at one time (during a Tanzanian election), a foreign observer went to see him and asked awkward questions which showed that the observer had his own preference and pre-conceived perceptions before coming to Tanzania to observe the election process.

“He told me that the Tanzanian election period is too long. He also asked me why we (Tanzania) refuse to have independent candidates in elections. [In response] I asked him straight-forward: “Who are you to ask me such a question” I also asked him: “Is it part of your election observation,” elaborated the President.

He said foreign/international election observers must respect laid down rules and regulations, observe elections, as prescribed in their job-descriptions and should not teach respective nations how to manage the election process.

“By penetrating their preferences and interests, foreign/international election observers automatically become a problem in the entire election process…I once again stress that for Africa countries to realise fair and free elections and minimise election-related complaints, proper modalities for operations of foreign observers must be put in place,” he noted.

He emphasised the importance of other key players in the election process — political parties, civil societies, the media fraternity, communities of people with disabilities, other social groups and other key players to respect election laws and regulations in order create conducive environment for free and fair elections.

Election bodies, he added, must also be resourced properly (technically, materially, financially, human resources wise), short of which they would not be able to manage elections.

Contributing, CUF National Chairman, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba blamed the lack of credible and independent election bodies as main force behind political intolerance in many African countries.

“Absence of credible and independent election bodies are seeds for political squabbles and endless conflicts in Africa,” said Lipumba.

For his part, Chairman of the National Electoral Commission, retired Judge, Damian Lubuva, admitted that lack of independent bodies could be one of the factors behind election-problems in Africa, but noted there were many other contributing factors.

“And that’s why we are meeting here…as election experts and other stakeholders, to identify forces hindering fair and free elections and recommend practical solutions to address these problems,” said Lubuva.

In his introductory remarks, Uongozi Institute Chief Executive Officer, Prof Joseph Semboja, said: “With more African nations embracing multi-party systems, there is a need to increase stakeholder confidence by ensuring that elections are well managed and are a pathway to sustainable democracy.”

“That’s why Uongozi Institute has organised this conference to enable participants to discuss and share experience on the challenges of managing the election process in Africa,” he emphasised.

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Source: The Guardian, Tanzania

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