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Int’l Observers: Polls Well-Run, Marred by Polarization, Negative Rhetoric

Elections observers of the OSCE/ODIHR and European Parliament said today the second round of local elections “was generally well administered but continued polarization coupled with escalation of negative rhetoric adversely affected the process.”

The joint observation mission found that the Election Day, October 30, was generally calm, but “with a few instances of confrontation between party supporters outside polling stations.”

Observers said the voting and counting were overall assessed positively despite some procedural issues, particularly during the counting.

The joint statement voiced concern over “persistent practice of representatives of observer organizations acting as party supporters, at times interfering with the process, and groups of individuals potentially influencing voters outside some polling stations.”

As for the run-up to the second rounds, international observers noted that candidates were generally able campaign freely, but allegations of intimidation and pressure on voters persisted.

According to preliminary conclusions, the campaign was competitive but had a “prominent national focus,” overshadowing local issues.

“Sharp imbalances in resources, and an undue advantage of incumbency further benefited the ruling party and tilted the playing field,” ODIHR and European Parliament observers stressed, adding that “the transparency and accountability of campaign finance were reduced by insufficient oversight.”

Continuing on media environment, the observation missions highlighted that private televisions demonstrated “a high level of polarization and clear bias, limiting the voters’ ability to make an informed choice.”

Remarks by mission heads

Head of ODIHR election observation mission, Albert Jónsson, stressed that “while these elections were well organized and transparent, there were a number of shortcomings that became evident in the run-up to the second round as the tone of the political debate became increasingly confrontational and claims of pressure and intimidation continued.”

He said the purpose of ODIHR observation is to contribute to the democratic processes, but it is “then for the authorities to act upon our recommendations.”

Inese Vaidere (EPP, Latvia), Head of the European Parliament delegation said “we witnessed once again that national politics and the aggression it took precedence over local issues, which made it more difficult for voters to form a genuine understanding of the policies represented by the candidates.”

She noted that very few candidates in the runoffs were women, something she expects to “change in the time to come.”

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