Observation findings by the Joint International Observer Group in Yemen (JIOGY)
(Representatives from: Denmark, European Commission, European Parliament, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Palestine, Poland, Russia, United Kingdom.)
Statement by JIOGY spokesperson: Ms. Fre Le Poole, Senator (Netherlands), 30 April 1997
On 27 April 1997, the Republic of Yemen held its second multi-party parliamentary elections. Yemen has recently undergone a radical transformation of its political structures which has been a challenging process and the country is looking to improve its current difficult economic situation. Against this background, these elections are welcomed as an important step towards the further development of democracy and democratic institutions in Yemen.
At the invitation of the Supreme Elections Committee and the Yemeni Government, a number of countries, groups of countries and organisations decided to send observers to follow the electoral process. They also decided that, in order to conduct as comprehensive and meaningful an observation as possible and to maximise the use of resources, such observers should operate as an integrated international network known as the Joint International Observer Group in Yemen (JIOGY).
Four long term observers (6 to 29 April) observing the pre-election phase as well as some eighty short term observers (20 to 29 April) observing the voting and counting process were deployed by JIOGY throughout the country. Their findings will be contained in a detailed report which will be issued in the next few days. The present statement is to be considered a first general assessment by the JIOGY observers. Both the detailed report and the present statement have been prepared by the JIOGY Drafting Committee, consisting of Ms. Emanuela del Re from Italy. and Mr. Maurits Wijffels and myself, of the Netherlands.
OBJECTIVES OF THE JIOGY MISSION
The main objectives of the JIOGY observation mission were:
to visit polling stations;
to collect information;
to observe and evaluate the voting and counting process and notably to observe whether this process was administered in compliance with the provisions of the 1996 General Elections Law and the Poll Workers Manual.
The entire spectrum of political parties has raised to the long term observers concerns about the impartiality and legitimacy of the SEC as stipulated by the General Elections Law. The JIOGY mission notes that the matter remains unsolved to-date.
Although the JIOGY mission has not been in a position to extensively survey the pre-election environment, it received numerous reports regarding serious difficulties in relation to the voter registration process. some cases of which were actually submitted to the competent Yemeni courts of law. It was found by the long term observers and confirmed by the electoral authorities that the registration figures available were inaccurate and outdated. It would seem, however, that on polling day itself only few problems were noted with regard to registration.
Election boycotts, withdrawals and co-ordination agreements
The 1997 parliamentary elections in Yemen were boycotted by a number of registered parties including the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP). the country's largest opposition party. The General People's Congress (GPC) and Islah as well as some of the opposition parties have entered into so-called co-ordination agreements avoiding the nomination of a candidate in a certain constituency in favour of the other party's candidate. The JIOGY mission notes that the boycott by a number of political parties, the withdrawal of a significant number of candidates and specifically female candidates, as well as the co-ordination agreements have reduced the range of choice of the Yemeni electorate.
Number of constituencies and stations visited
The JIOGY observers have covered 101 constituencies and 717 polling stations on polling day.
Although the overall security situation appears to have been well maintained, some observers queried the necessity of a rather heavy security presence at certain centres. The mission has received reports on the occurrence of violence in certain constituencies: such violence has not, however, been observed by any of the JIOGY observers. Moreover, the mission has no reason to assume that the said violence was related to the elections.
The observers were impressed with the work of the Election Commissions at all levels and with the commitment and efforts of the poll workers who were often dealing with difficult conditions. The lay out of polling stations was generally good although certain centres were only accessible with great difficulty. The election materials appear to have arrived in time. The mission was also impressed by the substantial efforts to train poll workers: it was noted that voter education was undertaken by various organisations. Furthermore the observers express their appreciation for the work undertaken by local observation and monitoring organisations.
The JIOGY mission was particularly impressed with the commitment of the voters who turned out as very many of them were required to wait long hours before being able to cast their ballot. The observers noted that many voters experienced difficulties in exercising their right to vote which seemed to be mostly due to illiteracy. This phenomenon appears to be particularly prevalent amongst women and in the rural areas. Whilst the majority of the polling station committees appeared to manage the voting process efficiently, fairly and in accordance with the provisions of the 1996 General Elections Law and the Poll Workers Manual, a number of irregularities were either observed by or reported to the mission. These irregularities include:
Secrecy of the vote
Although in the majority of the centres the secrecy of the vote was well respected. some observers noted that in a number of polling stations the secrecy of the vote was not protected due, for example, to the presence of security personnel in the voting booth, the absence of (adequate) screens around the voting booth or the showing of completed ballot papers by the polling station committee to all present. Here again, illiteracy played a major role.
In some constituencies, the ballot papers were double-sided which in certain cases was observed to confuse the voters and affect the secrecy of the vote. The legal provisions allow for the late withdrawal of candidates; in a number of cases ballot papers were not updated accordingly or contained mistakes.
Military and security officers
Whereas observers expected to see security personnel outside the polling stations checking voters for weapons and maintaining order, they were surprised to see that in many centres security personnel entered polling stations at will and remained there. The security personnel were often armed. In many of these cases, the mission has not been able to establish that the presence of security personnel was requested by the chairperson of the relevant committee in accordance with the Law. It was also observed that security personnel sometimes exceeded their legitimate functions, for example by checking voter cards. However this involvement often appeared to result from good intentions. JIOGY observers noted many circumstances in which security personnel displayed great helpfulness.
The long term observers observed that, in at least one constituency, a significant number of soldiers was imported and registered in order to and thus swing the results in favour of the interest of one candidate.
Irregular political activities in polling centres
It was observed that many candidates' posters were prominently displayed inside polling centres and even inside polling stations. Some observers saw candidates' election materials being handed to voters in queues outside the polling stations. In certain instances it was observed that candidates attempted to influence the vote. Reports were made to observers of vote-buying, attempts at persuasion, and intimidation of voters, although such irregularities were not observed by members of the mission.
The counting procedure, requiring for example unanimous agreement on validity of ballots, may have been time-consuming but was undoubtedly highly transparent, as all candidates' representatives were allowed to express their views regarding each ballot paper.
The members of the JIOGY mission feel honoured to have had the opportunity to observe the 1997 multiparty parliamentary elections in Yemen. The members of the JIOGY mission would like to congratulate all those who have worked hard to make these elections possible. The JIOGY mission notes that the 1997 parliamentary elections in Yemen have taken place at an early stage of the country's democratic development and in complex circumstances. Taking into account those circumstances and despite the aforementioned irregularities, the JIOGY mission is of the opinion that the 1997 parliamentary elections in Yemen can be judged, at this date and time, on balance as reasonably free and fair.