Early 1990s euphoria
Ten years ago, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe established the Office for Free Elections (OFE), the predecessor of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), to 'foster the implementation' of the Copenhagen Document's election-related commitments. 2 The office opened for business in May 1991 with a staff of only two. Within a year, its responsibilities had been expanded beyond elections and the office became the ODIHR.
In those euphoric early 1990s, the New Europe foresaw a fresh era of 'democracy, peace and unity', 3 where 'the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic and genuine elections, is the basis of the authority and legitimacy of all government.' 4 While the Charter of Paris foresaw these changes for the entire Euro-Atlantic space, the focus was obviously on the States still timidly starting their transition away from one-party rule or experimenting with 'perestroika' and 'glasnost'. These transitions were accelerated and the Charter of Paris commitments were upheld early on in most Central European States, the Baltics, and in Slovenia, and were good indicators for the deeper changes at hand in the broader contexts of human rights, democratic institutions and good governance. Economic progress, though relative in most cases, was not late to follow these changes.
However, the Charter of Paris euphoria was short-lived as 'peace and unity' could not be maintained across the OSCE region and some rulers chose to ignore the will of the people they had so solemnly committed to uphold. Thus, one of the principal tenets of the Charter of Paris was flouted - the integral link between, on the one hand, intra-State peace and unity, or peace and stability and, on the other, democratic development. Not surprisingly, those who chose to ignore the will of the people in general were often the ones to also undermine, inter alia, the rights of minorities, and to pilfer economic opportunities.
This article briefly traces in the next section - 'Observing the Electoral Process' - ODIHR's growth through its activities in the electoral field and its observation methodology. The experience of the OSCE field missions administering elections in the context of peace agreements in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo is not covered in this article. 5 In the section 'Value Added?', the article looks at the objectives pursued with election observation missions, and follows in 'The Road Travelled in the Past 10 Years' with an analysis of regional trends observed during election observations in the transitional democracies. The 'Lessons Leaned' section looks into the deteriorating environment for democratic elections in some regions and countries, in particular for civil society organisations, and concludes in the following section - 'Pledge to Follow Up' - that, without more serious and effective political follow up to election observation missions, the environment is not likely to improve in the foreseeable future. The article then focuses on 'What Next for ODIHR', detailing the institution's plans for the years ahead. The article concludes in the final section that the institution 'Needs to Redouble and Refocus Efforts'.
Observing the election process
In the early years, ODIHR could only deploy modest missions of one or two experts for a few days, documenting as best as possible both the progress and disappointments of developments, albeit in the limited field of elections. Gradually, the resources available to ODIHR grew to accommodate the added responsibilities. From only two missions during the first year, observing only the election day, ODIHR could increase its short missions to as many as 10 by 1994, the year its mandate was expanded to include observations before, during and after the day of the election. 6
Over time, ODIHR's responsibilities were also expanded from election observation to include a broad range of human rights, monitoring developments in the field and promoting democracy through targeted and high-impact projects. While these broader ODIHR mandate and activities ultimately inform and influence its electoral activities and vice versa, this article is limited to the institution's electoral mandate. With the expanded mandate of the institution, the staff grew from half a dozen in the early 1990s to over 80 today, including eight experts dedicated to election work. The methodology for election observation was lacking in those days and the output was not consistent. But, with the added responsibilities, the need for a consistent approach became more and more obvious. ODIHR developed this methodology by 1997, summarised in its Election Observation Handbook, or the 'bluebook'. 7
Thus, in advance of an election observation mission, ODIHR prepares an analysis of the legislative framework for elections and the broader human rights and political context. Once an election observation mission is established 5-6 weeks before election day, a team of experts deployed in the capital and in important regions monitor the registration of voters and candidates, the election campaign, the conduct of the media, and the election disputes resolution through the administrative and judiciary processes. Around election day itself, a larger number of short-term observers seconded by participating States monitor the polling and vote count. At the conclusion of an observation mission, a statement of preliminary findings is issued and a comprehensive report with recommendations is prepared shortly thereafter. These recommendations serve as the basis for later technical assistance programmes.
In cases of most parliamentary and some presidential elections, the parliamentary assemblies of the OSCE, Council of Europe and the European Parliament join the ODIHR election observation missions in the field for monitoring the last stage of the electoral process, the election day proceedings. In earlier years, competition for visibility between these organisations prompted each to issue, at separate press conferences, their separate documents detailing findings and conclusions which frequently diverged, at times significantly. Understandably, the divergent views expressed encouraged the States under observation to play one international organisation against the other and to forum shop. As a result, the effectiveness of the international community to encourage change through election observation and follow-up work was seriously compromised. During the past few years, however, all relevant election observation exercises have been conducted jointly by the ODIHR and the parliamentary assemblies, issuing joint statements of findings and conclusions at joint press conferences. In the recent rare cases where the United Nations has been involved in electoral observations in the OSCE region (i.e., Tajikistan), these too have been joint efforts with the ODIHR. An exception has been the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Parliamentary Assembly which deploys separate observation missions. Thus speaking with one voice, the international community has been much more effective with the political and technical assistance follow up to these observation missions. Notable examples include Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and to a more limited extent Kazakhstan.
The methodology has served ODIHR well. A little over 50% of the 102 elections ODIHR has observed in the past 10 years were conducted since 1997. 8 Beyond mere numbers, this represents the greater substance of ODIHR's effort and experience in the field. The bluebook methodology has permitted ODIHR to be more consistent and thorough in its analysis, making its reporting less susceptible to political pressure or double standards, and therefore more credible. The bluebook has also served to inform election observers beyond the OSCE region.
Some statistics concerning the elections observed during the past 10 years could be instructive. 9 The bulk of ODIHR observations have focused on parliamentary elections (64), followed by presidentials (21), municipal or other local elections (11), and referenda (6). In terms of regions, Central and Eastern Europe leads with 45 observations, South-East Europe follows with 34, the Caucasus with 13, and Central Asia with 12. In the process, thousands of observers and experts were deployed across the OSCE region, probing every aspect of an electoral process. During 2000 alone, ODIHR deployed more than 3,000 observers and experts to monitor 15 elections in 12 OSCE-participating States.
What value have these observation missions added, and what end have they served beyond the obvious documentation function? In the first place, these missions have served ODIHR and others in order to develop a more informed strategy for assistance projects in the field of building democratic institutions and promoting democratic elections. These projects have primarily targeted the election legislation, election administration, civic education, and the training of domestic observers. In some cases, these missions have helped mitigate crises and conflict, and to raise early warnings in others. Often, these early warnings point to underlying problems far beyond the elections. At times, opposition candidates would not have taken part in an election without the minimum margin of safety provided by the presence of international observers. Likewise, domestic observers would not have been able to function as effectively or at all without the presence of international observers. At least occasionally, international observer missions have deterred the most blatant cases of fraud. And most important, international election observation missions have been an important element for stability in some sensitive and highly contested elections.
ODIHR is often asked, at times accused, why it limits observations to the developing democracies only? Why does it not observe elections in the developed democracies as well? Surely, there are problematic elections in the US, Italy, France, and others. The response is simple: can ODIHR add value in those States? Can ODIHR add anything in terms of building confidence, deterring violations, raising early warning, mitigating conflict, and providing assistance? The answer is no. Others, including developed organisations among civil society in those countries are better placed to address the manifest problems. In addition, the judiciary and administrative processes in some countries are better equipped to address the problems than foreign observers. Thus, ODIHR chooses to employ its limited resources only where it can add value.
The resources available to the ODIHR election mandate are indeed modest - eight election experts and a direct budget of around three million Euro - for headquarter staff and overhead, more than a dozen observation missions and an equal number of technical assistance projects. To there resources must be added the cost of observers seconded by participating States.
However, even these modest resources would be wasted if election observation and assistance missions will not in the end serve to improve the electoral process and contribute to the development of democratic institutions. Indeed, the ODIHR election observations and assistance, together with others, have improved the administrative and legislative framework for elections throughout the region. The assistance projects have often been implemented in collaboration with specialised NGOs, notably the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and the UK-based Electoral Reform International Services (IRES). This work has prepared the ground has a foundation for democratic elections. However, these improvements or foundation alone are not sufficient to produce democratic elections. What is most lacking in many countries is the political will to hold genuine, democratic elections. Where this will is present, even an otherwise defective framework can produce the desired outcome. Serbia's December 2000 parliamentary election is an example.
The damage at times caused by the deployment of an international election observation mission must also be considered. Sometimes, an electoral process is so tainted from the outset that international observers only add certain unintended legitimacy to the process and not much more. This could be the case when an incumbent President is the only viable candidate because all other credible candidates have been prevented from registering or campaigning effectively (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), or when alternative candidates to those advanced by the governing authorities of a State (Turkmenistan) are simply not allowed in a parliamentary election.
In such cases where the election is only a facade, ODIHR declines to deploy an observation mission of any level even if invited, thus avoiding giving any level of legitimacy to the event. In other cases where there are severe legislative, administrative, and political restrictions placed on an election, but some level of competition is possible or candidates have some opportunity to appeal to the electorate, the ODIHR may deploy a limited or technical assessment mission, often foregoing election day observation because the outcome has already been decided by then. At times, the possibility of limited missions has prompted Governments to improve the legislative and administrative framework of elections in order to 'deserve' a full observation mission. Though admittedly not a precise instrument, this flexibility to limit the scope of an election mission or not to deploy one at all has served ODIHR well since it was introduced in early 1999.
The authorities of the participating States do not always respond positively to critical ODIHR election observation conclusions and recommendations. At times, they refuse any dialogue, adamantly arguing that the conclusions are biased and that the specific circumstances of the country are not adequately considered. Others agree with the conclusions and pledge full co-operation with ODIHR in order to improve the shortcomings noted in the report, but in the end they ignore the recommendations.
However, positive responses can also be noted. In the Balkans, Albania's electoral framework was improved during the local government elections in 2000 and the parliamentary elections in 2001 after a considerable and joint assistance effort from the international community. In the Caucasus as well the legislative framework in Armenia and Azerbaijan benefited from assistance projects conducted by ODIHR. In the case of the latter, for the first time the opposition could take part in the administration of elections at the highest level during the 2000 parliamentary elections, albeit the effort was not so successful in the end. In Kazakhstan, after the seriously flawed 1999 parliamentary elections, the ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE field office in Almaty jointly organised a series of round-table discussions on how to improve the legislative framework of future elections. An important feature of these round tables was the participation of opposition political forces for the first time.
To be certain, these projects could not remedy all the shortcomings noted in previous elections and could not possibly transform overnight future elections into events that satisfied OSCE commitments for democratic elections. Indeed, the assistance projects could only produce modest results and incremental improvements. Also, in some cases these projects failed altogether as a result of less than adequate co-operation from the authorities, or as a result of poor implementation on the part of ODIHR. Nonetheless, in most cases, value was indeed added.
The road travelled in the past 10 years
The next obvious question is then the following: what trends has ODIHR observed during its missions in terms of democratic development? First, regional trends.
With the exception of Belarus and the Ukraine, elections in Central and Eastern Europe present a much improved picture in terms of legislative, administrative, and political processes. In some countries, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Romania, elections are largely in accordance with the standards set by the Copenhagen document - they are mostly free, fair, equal, universal, accountable, transparent and universal. The main shortcomings which remain are the fairness of the media and campaign financing, weaknesses which are shared with the developed democracies. In the Russian Federation, though the administration of elections at the federal level has improved considerably during the last years, at the lower federal subjects level, the electoral processes are still marred with serious violations. In addition, the remaining Soviet-era institutional traditions, less than a professional media, and weak political parties also hinder elections in the Russian Federation from meeting fully democratic standards. Nonetheless, the number of countries where election observations and assistance are necessary in this sub-region is shrinking rapidly.
In South-East Europe or the Balkans, the picture is more mixed, but steadily improving. During the past 15 months alone, ODIHR has observed nine elections in the region. Although observation will be needed in a number of States there, this number is shrinking as well, and the severity of the violations, problems, and shortcomings observed are diminishing as noted during recent observations in Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The picture in this sub-region is brighter, especially when one considers that only recently a number of States, including Serbia, were able to step back from the brink of disaster. Elections played an important part in these transitions. However, concerns about minority and displaced persons' participation in elections, especially in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will keep the region high on the agenda of ODIHR observation priorities. In this sub-region, the OSCE has acquired considerable experience in administering elections within the context of peace agreements in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. That is the subject of another paper and the present article cannot reflect on this record.
The Caucasus represents a more complex picture, however. Limited progress has been noted in all three States - Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, but much more remains to be done to meet the standards for democratic elections. In all three cases, progress is needed in the legislative field and the administration of elections. But, above all, the varying degrees of illegal interference on the part of executive authorities in electoral activities must be stopped before any further progress can be obtained. The risks of nationality conflicts and collapsing State structures cannot be ignored in this sub-region.
Finally, Central Asia presents the most challenging picture in terms of elections and the observance of human rights in general. It is worth reminding that the OSCE has never observed elections in Turkmenistan. In this respect, Turkmenistan remains the worst offender of OSCE commitments for democratic elections. In the other four countries in the region - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, progress is needed in all fields. The legislative and administrative framework, illegal interference by executive authorities in elections, severe restrictions on the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and insufficient civic education are endemic problems. Most importantly, the region in general is far from respecting the will of the voters, and results have often had nothing to do with that will. Here too, the risk of nationality or ethnic and religious conflicts is present.
In terms of substantive trends, while progress is evident in many participating States, the fundamental challenges which ODIHR encounters in a number of countries include: (1) a general erosion of human rights, the underpinning for any election; (2) national, regional and local executive authorities illegally interfering in the electoral process to the benefit of those in power; (3) competition in elections reduced through artificial obstacles; and (4) transparency severely restricted, making an audit of the vote count and tabulation of results impossible. Regrettably, in too many elections, Stalin's admonition continues in force - it matters not who votes, but who counts the votes!!
An important challenge which has been observed is a trend in a number of participating States indicating an increasing level of intolerance for and a deterioration of fundamental freedoms, in particular during the immediate period before, during, and after elections. Too often, the freedoms of speech, association and assembly are being curtailed, making any level of genuine election campaigning impossible, and robbing voters of their choice in an election. Too often, credible opposition candidates are eliminated from the competition based on bogus charges.
More significantly, non-partisan domestic election observation organisations and their activists are persecuted, harassed, or intimidated, in an attempt to silence their independent voice. These non-partisan local observers have no other interest but to ensure that the outcome of the poll reflects the will of the voters. They work with minimum resources and often under dangerous conditions, without the protection of foreign passports, risking their livelihood, freedom, and at times more. Sometimes they can only deploy a few hundred hardened monitors, on other occasions they deploy thousands.
In some cases, these local or domestic non-partisan observers play a critical role in detecting or deterring fraud on election day, or in organizing civic education campaigns during the period leading up to an election. They are most effective when they can be present in an overwhelming majority of polling stations, monitoring on a full-time basis the voting process during the poll and producing a parallel vote count at the end of the day to verify the official results. The role that domestic observers assumed during the September 2000 federal elections in Yugoslavia is a case in point. Thousands of observers documented the fraud committed in the election, and produced a parallel vote count that discredited the initial results announced by the Milosevic regime. In the end, the voters prevailed. Such observers had an equally positive role in the transition elections of Croatia, Slovakia, and Armenia, to name but a few.
However, too often and in an increasing number of countries, non-partisan domestic election observers cannot function - either they are outright banned from observing, they are not allowed to receive outside help without which they cannot work, or they are otherwise harassed, intimidated, and persecuted by the authorities. This repression against local election observers usually follows a critical assessment issued by their organisation, and is a part of, or an important indicator for the general deterioration of human rights in those countries.
The most recent such example is Belarus where a presidential election will be held on 9 September. During last year's parliamentary elections in Belarus, a group of domestic organisations, with assistance from the OSCE office in Minsk, was able to deploy some 4,000 local observers throughout the country. Despite difficult conditions, they gathered sufficient information to conclude that the elections did not reflect the will of the voters. This year, they planned to deploy thousands more to monitor the presidential election, again with assistance from the international community. The government reacted harshly, issuing a decree severely restricting foreign assistance to these organizations, and characterizing the observers as spies. Regardless, they continue their courageous effort.
In Kyrgyzstan, some 170 non-governmental organisations banded together in a coalition 'For Democracy and Civil Society' to monitor the country's elections. Following their critical report after the parliamentary election in February 2000, the coalition came under a concerted attack from the Ministry of Justice, prosecutors, the election administration and the government-oriented media during the period leading up to the October 2000 presidential election. Nonetheless, they deployed close to 2,000 observers, some of whom were refused access to polling stations. Shortly after the election, the executive director of the coalition suffered a serious physical assault.
Elsewhere, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine has come under increasing pressure since they issued a critical report on last year's constitutional referendum. They have experienced difficulties with the tax police, some members have been detained, and others have lost their employment. In Azerbaijan, many domestic observer groups, including the largest, 'For the Sake of Civil Society', were prevented from monitoring last year's parliamentary elections after the government banned foreign assistance to such groups. This pattern of obstruction, harassment, and intimidation is also evident elsewhere, including in Kazakhstan and Georgia.
If the international community some day expects to put an end to international election observer missions and technical assistance, domestic observation efforts must be provided with more effective political support and resources. More significantly, if civil society is to develop at all in developing democracies, domestic observers who must be viewed as human rights defenders must be given far more political support. Incidentally, some developed democracies in the West, including the United Kingdom and Italy, do not allow non-partisan domestic observation in their elections. It is high time that they too change their practice and provide for this commitment enshrined in the Copenhagen document. 10
The result of these failures in a number of States is an increasingly frustrated and polarised society that cannot be conducive to stability and economic development. On the positive side, it appears that the frustration of people denied the right to choose has limits, and elections can play an important role in changing the status quo. At the same time, however, elections are not a panacea to remedy all the ills of a society.
Pledge to follow up
What can be learned from these observations and trends? First and foremost, without the political will for genuine elections, even the most technically prefect electoral framework, if such a framework exists at all, could not possibly produce democratic elections. As such, and in the first place therefore, significant political follow up is essential to observation missions and recommendations. However, change will not be forthcoming without the collective persuasive powers of the OSCE as a whole and other inter-governmental organisations, including international financial institutions, as well as individual States in their bilateral relations.
At the 1999 OSCE Heads of States Summit in Istanbul, participants solemnly pledged 'to follow up promptly ODIHR's election assessments and recommendations'. 11 Almost two years on, however, this pledge has remained problematic in a number of participating States. How can this be turned into deeds and not remain merely a well-intentioned declaration? Could the political leadership (Permanent Council) of the OSCE review every few months the implementation of recommendations made by ODIHR observation missions and perhaps require that the subject participating State submit a formal report detailing the measures which had been undertaken? Could the Permanent Council submit reports to the Ministerial meetings or Summits for follow up if a participating State fails to respect its commitments to follow up election recommendations? In their bilateral relations, could participating States take into account more consistently another State's failure to comply with its commitments?
Other international organisations, in particular financial institutions, can assume a significant role in the promotion of democratic elections and institutions. The activities of international financial institutions will not depend solely on the degree of democracy in a given State. Indeed, many other factors are at play in particular stability. Nonetheless, without democratic elections and institutions, good governance will remain a distant dream; and without good governance, stability and economic development are unlikely. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Commission, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) already take these factors into account when considering development assistance. ODIHR documents, including election observation reports, are an element which they take into account.
Mindful that economic development is not only predicated on democratic elections and good governance, and that challenges to good governance are not limited to developing democracies, the correlation between democratic elections, rule of law and good governance, on the one hand, and economic development, on the other cannot be ignored. Good governance and democratic elections increase transparency and accountability, both of which underpin the rule of law and economic development. In the long term, these activities lower political risk and create an environment conducive to a wide variety of development activities.
Equally valid is the observation that, if conducted in accordance with democratic standards and in a timely fashion, electoral events can foster stability by promoting the greater participation of the political, ethnic, linguistic and religious spectrum in a country. However, in order to benefit from this potential, early warnings of challenges developing under the surface which are often detailed in election observation and other monitoring reports must be taken more seriously and heeded with imaginative remedies. The flip side, of course, must also be considered - that is, if elections are not conducted in accordance with international standards and if they are not timely, stability can indeed be endangered.
What next for ODIHR?
How can ODIHR build on its 10-year record and are any adjustments required to render its work more effective? In May this year, an OSCE meeting convened in Warsaw bringing together diplomats, election practitioners, and non-governmental organisation representatives from East and West. They discussed this and other related questions concerning the electoral work of ODIHR. The meeting, OSCE's annual Human Dimension Seminar, explored the possibility, indeed the necessity, of more effective political follow up, within and outside the OSCE, to ODIHR's election assessments and recommendations. 12
ODIHR was urged to continue its efforts to improve the legislative framework for elections, focusing in particular on enhancing the transparency and accountability of the electoral process. ODIHR was urged to continue working on the legislative framework through round-table processes or workshops, where possible with the participation of the authorities and civil society, and by attempting to build consensus around key elements of the framework. This approach was tried during the past year with varying success in Serbia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. Beyond the concrete task of developing a new legislative framework, round tables have also, and perhaps more importantly, provided a forum for the opposition and governing parties to debate publicly concrete measures aimed at remedying fundamental problems plaguing their society, rather than engaging in a perpetual cycle of mutual recrimination.
ODIHR's broader normative efforts were also strongly endorsed at the meeting. In the past year, ODIHR has published three guidelines to make its advisory work more consistent and more effective. The first guideline addresses the general difficulties associated with the judiciary and the administrative processes of participating States dealing with electoral disputes and violations. 13 Without effective checks and balances associated with the rule of law, and without the timely resolution of disputes in accordance with the due process of law, electoral processes cannot possibly lead to a fair outcome. The guidelines are an offshoot of a project started in Ukraine after the 1998 parliamentary elections where some elected opposition Members of Parliament were prevented from taking office nine months after the election because of an interminable cycle of politically motivated complaints and appeals.
Two additional guidelines were launched at the Human Dimension Seminar this year. One addresses key elements of election legislation, including the formation and operation of election administration bodies, the transparency of the electoral process, the treatment and conduct of political parties, the equal treatment of and access to the media, and campaign finance and expenditures. 14 The guideline is intended in the first place to assist national parliaments when drafting or amending their election legislation, and secondly to provide ODIHR experts with a uniform and consistent approach when reviewing election legislation.
The third guideline explores the more effective participation of national minorities in public life through the electoral process. 15 The guideline also informs all those concerned about the options available to States through constitutional, legislative and institutional means, and the advantages of various options. The guideline is based on the 1999 Lund Recommendations of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. In accordance with this guideline, ODIHR has expanded its monitoring scope to scrutinising the participation of national minorities in the electoral process.
ODIHR's expanded election monitoring scope also includes gender balance in the electoral process. In the OSCE region as a whole, women have a disproportionately low representation in the national parliaments - excluding the Nordic States, the average stands at 14%. Yet, participating States have committed themselves to 'encourage and promote equal opportunity for full participation of women in all aspects of politics and public life'. 16 During the November 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections in Romania, ODIHR launched a pilot project to monitor more methodically and to explore ways to promote the participation of women in elections. Since then, the project has been repeated in other elections with a view to developing guidelines in this area.
Another guideline being developed relates to domestic non-partisan election observers. In May, ODIHR invited representatives from 23 such NGOs from across the developing democracies in the OSCE region to a first of its kind meeting in Warsaw. The NGO representatives met to work on the guidelines and to develop a network a more effective response to the increasing pressure they are experiencing in some countries. This guideline will be published around the end of this year, and is intended to assist domestic observers in their efforts, providing a framework for a more consistent methodology.
During its field work, ODIHR has often found members of election administration bodies deadlocked in disputes over every aspect of their work, even when performing the most routine tasks. Often, these disputes paralyse their work, causing the commissions to miss critical deadlines during the administrative preparation of elections, compromising the integrity of the electoral process. ODIHR is developing a programme aimed at mitigating some of these disputes through building the conflict management skills of election administrators.
These and additional normative programs will form the backbone of ODIHR's election assistance and observation effort for the period ahead. In addition, ODIHR intends to continue to provide the technical assistance programs already developed and underway. New areas of activities, such as assistance with voter registers, media regulations during elections, and more are under consideration.
Need to redouble and refocus efforts
ODIHR has come a long way in the past ten years. The institution has developed into the leading agency in Europe and Central Asia in the field of elections and an important player in building democratic institutions and promoting human rights. The ODIHR election reports, recommendations, and assistance projects are accepted as credible and effective tools. The challenge for the period ahead is to ensure that ODIHR can maintain these high standards and respond effectively to the emerging needs.
To accomplish this, not only must the international involvement continue and a greater creative effort with more resources must be devoted to South-East Europe and the participating States bordering the next wave of European Union candidates, but more urgently to the Caucasus and Central Asia. Only then can the New Europe of 'democracy, peace and unity' promised in Paris ten years ago have a chance for the whole OSCE region. Democratic development in the Caucasus remains embryonic at best and is even less developed in Central Asia. The threat of collapsing State institutions cannot be ignored in both regions and the risks of internal conflicts are present.
To be sure, elections are not a panacea to solve all these problems, but can be an important tool among others for fostering the stable environment in which the modest accomplishments of the past ten years can be nurtured and new ground broken. To make this potential a reality, the efforts of the past ten years must be redoubled in terms of political follow up and commitments and they must be refocused towards the regions at risk.