The invited pen: The OAS electoral missions as seen by a Panamanian ambassador - Aristides Royo
Graduated from Instituto Nacional, 1953-1959, Licentiate Degree in Law, University of Salamanca, University of Bologna, Italy, Post grade in Comparative Law, 1964 -1965.
Secretary General of the Attorney General Office, Author of the Project of Criminal Code of 1970, Negotiator of the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1977, between Panama and the United States, Ministry of Education since 19 December 1973 until September of 1978, President of the Republic of Panama 11 October 1978 to 30 July 1982, Panamanian Ambassador to Spain, France, and Switzerland.
He is currently the Panamanian Permanent Representative Amba-ssador before the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. 2004 to date.
At the beginning of the Nineties, the political panorama of the Latin-American countries began to enjoy a positive transformation, consistent in the exhaustion of the dictatorial or autocratic governments and the rise of democratic states. For the consolidation of these processes, it was necessary that the elections, which in some nations had fallen in disuse, were carried out in an inclusive, clean, competitive way, and they were the suitable instrument for the access to the main public offices.
In accordance with such principles and in accordance with the aims and objectives that in this matter the OAS has drawn up, was created within what today is the Secretariat for Political Affairs of this multilateral organization, the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, commonly known as DECO.
Given that the States Members of the OAS exercise the democratic way of governing, there is a presumption that the electoral tournaments are developed in accordance with the expressed conditions of honesty and efficiency that the suffrage is universal and secret, and facilitates access of voters to the ballot boxes, guarantees the exact counting of votes without distinction of whom it might favor, and promotes citizens' right to run as candidates as long as they comply with the requirements provided for in the Constitution and the law.
The ideal would be that the Electoral Missions of the OAS, of the Carter Center, of the Political Parties of the Americas, and of other continents, would not be necessary or advisable. State Members such as Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Mexico do not invite Missions of Electoral Observation since they consider that their electoral systems enjoy the fundamental characteristics necessary to guarantee an adequate organization with undisputable results.
What are in consequence the reasons a good number of countries required the OAS to send Missions of Electoral Observation? First, these goodwill missions integrated by OAS officials, some personalities and representatives of various States, have as a fundamental purpose that of analyzing the national process of elections, and if anomalies or difficulties which if not surpassed would affect the good image and the credibility of the elections are found, to formulate publicly the comments, critics and suggestions they consider pertinent.
On the other hand, the Missions should be seen and considered by the governments, electoral authorities, political parties, and the citizens as favoring the purity of the suffrage, and therefore as supportive to the consolidation and strengthening of the democratic institutions and processes of the American hemisphere.
Do not think that the Missions of Electoral Observation are empiric. The OAS has managed an advanced technology for the development of the functions exercised by the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO). In this sense, a Manual has been developed including the criterion for the fulfillment of the observation goals, which includes a questionnaire, rules for the training of observers and the personnel at the Information Technology and Communication Centers, as well as a document of Indicators on the Electoral Process.
The Missions are not casuistic either, since although their activities are concentrated in the countries they visit, the observations are of general character, and are generally applicable to the rest of the States. In this way, the suggestions, critics, and conclusion enjoy a wide validity in their application. This does not mean that the particular characteristics of each nation, which is at liberty to choose the voting systems that it deems convenient and in accordance with the agreed regulations and procedures are not taken care of and studied. Nevertheless, we could affirm that every election event must observe the principles of inclusion, cleanness, competitiveness, and that the main political positions must be submitted to popular will.
The Missions of Electoral Observation are expensive, and the delegations are numerous since a lot of countries are involved, and even contribute funds for the performance of the Mission. Proof that the Missions of Electoral Observation of the OAS are required by different countries because they considered them convenient is that during 2007 the OAS sent missions to six of its State Members where over 650 observers and experts in electoral themes participated. Such countries were Ecuador, Jamaica, Guatemala twice, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Paraguay. During 2008, missions have been deployed to three countries, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Grenada.
Finally, we can assure that the success and respectability enjoyed by the electoral processes in the hemisphere is due to the rectitude of the governments and to the uprightness and efficiency of the electoral authorities, but also to the Missions of Electoral Observation of the OAS that support the democracies and especially one of its more connoted characteristics, which is the right that the people have to elect their government authorities as the only way to freely decide their destiny.