Foreign observers in South African elections : an assessment of their contributions

Hofmeyr, Jan Hendrik (2000-03)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2000.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Over the past three decades the practice of international election observation has shifted its focus from elections taking place within a decolonialisation context, to those in independent, but formerly undemocratic, states. The latter accepted the presence of international observers with some reservation, citing the contention that observation amounted to an infringement on national sovereignty. The demise of the former East Block, however, established the primacy of the liberal democratic ideology in world politics, leaving these states with a limited choice between democratisation and isolation. Pro-democracy supporters in former authoritarian countries embraced the change in ideological climate. Realising the lack of capacity and trust to run elections by themselves, they generally supported the presence of international observers in elections of states emerging from prolonged periods of authoritarianism. Over the past decade this affinity with international missions has been transformed into skepticism. Three primary reasons for this disenchantment have been the apparent lack of electoral standards, uncoordinated observer missions and failure to convince voters of their impartiality. This assignment represents a scholarly attempt to evaluate the contributions of international election observers to South African elections. On a theoretical level it addresses the three criticisms against foreign observation. Drawing on the vast body of international literature, the author suggests three countermeasures. These suggestions, aimed at enhancing the contributions of international observer consist of: 1) a greater consideration for the political context within which an election takes place; 2) the pooling of international observer capacity and 3) more scope to, and cooperation with, local observer groups. Each of these measures is transferred to the South African electoral reality to establish the extent of their application in this practical context. With regard to the first proposal the author finds that clear consideration has been given to contextual factors in both elections. An assessment of the quality of coordination of international observer groups also indicates that the practice of pooling resources have been employed with success by a number of missions. In this field the U.N. played a leading role. Cooperation between international observers and their local counterparts is however an aspect that has been lagging behind. The opportunity for capacity building, a significant benefit of such cooperation, has therefore to a large extent been lost. In the light of this, and the uncertainty of future international involvement, the author asserts that in future South Africans will increasingly be dependent on the cultivation of homegrown capacity. He therefore believes that initiatives such as the creation of the SADC Electoral Forum in 1998 are commendable and should be encouraged.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die fokus van internasionale verkiesingwaarneming het in die loop van die laaste drie dekades wesenlik verskuif van die tradisionele dekolonisasie verkiesingskonteks, na waarneming binne onafhanklike state waar die omskakeling van outoritêre na demokratiese regeringsvorms redelik onlangs plaasgevind het. Laasgenoemde state moes waarnemers, en die verkiesings wat waargeneem is, met voorbehoud aanvaar. Die alternatiewe was egter beperk. Die val van die voormalige Oosblok en die gevolglike triomf van die liberale demokrasie, het ondemokratiese state met 'n eenvoudige keuse gelaat: hervorm of staar isolasie in die gesig. Pro-demokratiese groepe in voormalige outoritêre state het die nuwe klimaat van politieke vryheid verwelkom. In die besef dat nuwe demokrasieë waarskynlik nie oor die nodige ervaring en wedersydse vertroue binne die bevolking beskik om verkiesings volkome te laat vlot nie, is buitelandse bystand - met inbegrip van internasionale waarneming - deur dié groepe verwelkom. In die afgelope dekade het die positiewe konnotasie aan internasionale verkiesingswaarneming egter in gedrang gekom. Drie kernredes hiervoor was die skynbare gebrek aan universele verkiesingstandaarde, swak georganiseerde waarnemer afvaardigings en 'n algemene gebrek om hul motiewe bo verdenking te plaas. Die sentrale oogmerk van hierdie werkstuk is die evaluasie van die bydraes gemaak deur internasionale verkiesingswaarnemers in die twee Suid-Afrikaanse verkiesings van 1994 en 1999. Op 'n teoretiese vlak is die drie bogenoemde gebreke aangespreek, en na raadpleging van internasionale literatuur oor die onderwerp is drie teenmaatreëls geidentifiseer. Hierdie aktiwiteite, gemik op meer effektiewe internasionale betrokkenheid bestaan uit: 1) groter aandag wat geskenk moet word aan politeke konteks; 2) die kombinering van internasionale waarnemer vaardighede vir beter resultate, en 3) groter klem wat gelê moet word op samewerking tussen nasionale en internasionale waarnemers. Elkeen van hierdie vereistes is oorgedra na die Suid-Afrikaanse verkiesingskonteks om vas te stel tot watter mate dié gebruike in Suid-Afrika wortel geskied het. Wat betref die eerste voorstel met betrekking tot konteksgebonde evaluasie, is daar vasgestel dat dit wel deel was van internasionale waarnemer praktyk in beide verkiesings. 'n Waardeskatting van die koordinasie van internasionale waarnemingsgroepe dui verder daarop dat samewerking tussen waarnemergroepe oor die algemeen bygedra het tot 'n versterking van inisiatiewe deur internasionale waarnemers. Op hierdie gebied het die Verenigde Nasies veral 'n sleutelrol gespeel. 'n Aspek wat egter agterweë gebly het, is die vlak van samewerking tussen internasionale waarnemers en hul Suid- Afrikaanse eweknieë. Hier is 'n waardevolle geleentheid verspeel om die kapasiteit van plaaslike verkiesingswaarnemers te versterk. Dit, en die feit dat toekomstige internasionale teenwoordigheid in die toekoms nie 'n sekerheid is nie, sal volgens die skrywer, beteken dat Suid-Afrikaners in die toekoms toenemend aangewese sal wees op die ontwikkeling van eie kapasiteit. In die lig hiervan moet inisiatiewe soos SAOG se nuutgestigte Verkiesingsforum verwelkom en aangemoedig word.

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