This statement is offered by an international pre-election delegation to Peru, organized jointly by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and The Carter Center. The delegation visited Peru from March 17 through March 24, 2000. This is the third in a series of NDI/Carter Center delegations that have observed the pre-election period. In addition, The Carter Center and NDI have established a continuous presence in Peru from January until after the elections. Another NDI/Carter Center delegation is likely to visit the country in the period immediately following the April 9 elections, in order to more fully assess the entire electoral process.
SUMMARY OF OBSERVATIONS
The electoral environment in Peru is characterized by polarization, anxiety and uncertainties. The conditions for a fair election campaign have not been established. Irreparable damage to the integrity of the election process has already been done, but improvements still can and should be made because candidates and parties are competing, citizens are participating in the process, and the electoral outcomes are not assured.
International experience has demonstrated that where confidence in the electoral process has been shaken, extraordinary steps by the government and electoral authorities are often needed to restore or establish that confidence. Such extraordinary steps must go beyond minimum requirements for democratic elections. This lesson is clearly applicable in Peru, where public opinion surveys have consistently shown that a substantial portion of the population has doubts about the fairness and integrity of the upcoming elections.
In early December and then in February, the NDI/Carter Center delegations concluded that flaws in Peru's pre-election environment and the lack of public confidence in the election process and its surrounding institutional framework were so serious that extraordinary, immediate and comprehensive measures were necessary if the April 9 elections were to meet international standards.
This delegation recognizes that a number of steps have been taken by the government to address electoral problems. However, neither the timeliness nor scope of those efforts has been sufficient to overcome the serious flaws that were noted by the earlier delegations. In addition, new issues emerged that further eroded the possibilities for an open and competitive process leading up to the April 9 elections.
Despite serious obstacles, opposition candidates and political parties are nonetheless campaigning actively. Domestic nonpartisan election monitoring organizations, the Ombudsman's Office and others are working to improve the democratic character of the elections. In addition, the outcomes of the elections -- at both the presidential and congressional levels -- are not foregone conclusions. Therefore, this delegation is not making a final assessment of the elections.
The remaining days of the campaign, election day and the immediate post-election period all require extensive observation by the Peruvian people and the international community. The delegation hopes that the government and electoral authorities will exert maximum efforts to produce the best possible circumstances for the elections. With this in mind, the delegation offers recommendations at the conclusion of this statement.
THE DELEGATION AND ITS WORK
The March 2000 pre-election delegation included: Kenneth Wollack, President of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI); Charles Costello, Director of the Democracy Program at The Carter Center; Guillermo Marquez, former President of the Elections Tribunal in Panama; Gerardo Le Chevallier, NDI Director for Latin America and the Caribbean; Shelley McConnell, Carter Center Associate Director for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Patrick Merloe, NDI Senior Associate and Director of Programs on Election and Political Processes. The delegation was joined by Luis Nunes, Project Director, and Barry Levitt, Senior Political Analyst, NDI/Carter Center Joint Election Observation Mission in Peru.
The delegation was invited by the government of Peru and Peruvian civic and political leaders. The delegation's observations are based upon an extensive series of meetings with: candidates and political party leaders; representatives of the government, including the President, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense; electoral authorities, including the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE) and the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE); the Defensoria del Pueblo (Ombudsman's Office); nongovernmental organizations, including Transparencia; the news media; the Catholic Church; and local experts in public opinion research and political analysis.
The delegation was also informed by the research of the NDI/Carter Center field representatives, the work of the two earlier delegations and the work of the Organization of American States (OAS) and other international organizations that are concerned with the election process. The delegation would like to express its gratitude to everyone with whom it has met for sharing their time and views.
NDI and The Carter Center are independent, nongovernmental organizations that have conducted more than 100 impartial pre-election, election-day and post-election observation delegations in the Americas and around the globe. The purposes of this delegation were to express the support of the international community for a democratic election process in Peru and to assess the evolving political environment surrounding the upcoming elections, as well as the state of electoral preparations.
The delegation conducted its activities according to international standards for nonpartisan international election observation and Peruvian law. NDI and The Carter Center do not seek to interfere in the election process nor, at this juncture, to make a final assessment about the overall process. Both institutions recognize that, ultimately, it will be the people of Peru who will determine the legitimacy of the elections and of the resulting government.
An accurate and complete assessment of any election must take into account all aspects of the electoral process. These include:
- conditions set up by the legal framework for the elections;
- the pre-election period before and during the campaign;
- the voting process;
- the counting process at the voting tables;
- the tabulation of results;
- the investigation and resolution of complaints; and
- the conditions surrounding the formation of a new government.
At the same time, no election can be viewed in isolation of the political context in which it takes place. The pre-election period, including electoral preparations and the political environment, must be given considerable weight when evaluating the democratic nature of elections, because this period is central to democratic electoral competition. This is the time when citizens become keenly aware of their power to select representatives to carry the electorate's mandate to govern.
Parties and candidates mobilize their supporters in a test of political pluralism, as they compete for votes. If candidates and parties do not have a fair opportunity to compete (the so-called "level playing field") or the electorate does not receive adequate information to make an informed choice among them and adequate information about when, where and how to vote, doubt can be cast over the nature of the entire election process.
The December NDI/Carter Center delegation found that the pre-election environment and institutional framework in Peru were marked by serious flaws that to overcome required "concerted and sustained efforts" if the electoral process was to meet international standards. Among other issues, that delegation pointed to the lack of media access for opposition candidates, biased news coverage, a distinct lack of coverage of issues that could affect voter choices, violation of press freedoms, problems with the legal framework and judicial remedies, lack of confidence in electoral institutions and use of state resources to gain electoral advantage.
The February delegation observed that the electoral process was still marred and in many respects conditions had worsened since early December. The delegation again highlighted continued problems with media access and bias, as well as inappropriate use of state resources in the campaign. In addition, the delegation pointed to harassment campaigns in the media against candidates, domestic election observers and the Ombudsman's Office, and noted what appeared to be an orchestration aimed to ensure a specific legal outcome on the issue of the President standing for re-election.
The February delegation noted that effective measures needed to be implemented "immediately and comprehensively" so that the credibility of the process might be established and international standards met.
The government sought to respond to recommendations offered by NDI/Carter Center delegations and others. Access to the state-owned media for candidates was expanded from 30 to 45 days, and the private broadcast media extended a limited amount of restricted air time free of charge to political parties, which has mainly benefited congressional candidates. A hotline for election complaints was established, and special prosecutors were named for the election districts. The Prime Minister issued a written instruction to public authorities to respect the law and not use state resources to support or oppose electoral candidates.
The remaining Emergency Zones were lifted prior to the elections. In addition, resources were allocated to the ONPE to conduct large-scale voter education. Many of these steps, however, came late and have not proven sufficient to overcome the media disadvantage for the opposition, to overcome the apparent lack of public awareness about voting procedures or to counteract perceptions of impunity for electoral abuse.
As the government was taking these steps, problems identified by the two previous NDI/Carter Center delegations persisted or worsened.
- A campaign intensified in important segments of the media that vilified domestic election monitors, the Ombudsman's Office and news media that were critical of the government or the electoral process. In addition, smear campaigns were waged in the tabloid press (prensa chicha) against leading opposition candidates. It appears that these campaigns were orchestrated, and there is a widespread belief that government officials are linked to the campaigns. Lack of forceful statements by government leaders denouncing such tactics reinforces this belief.
- Controversial legal proceedings led to the closure of a radio station that had begun to broadcast independent political news. The timing of this and other cases heightens concerns that the Peruvian judicial system can be used for political purposes.
- Reliable media monitoring reports have shown that news coverage continues in both private and state television to be grossly disproportionate in favor of the incumbent president.
- While two officials were fired for distributing campaign propaganda along with food aid, there were reliable reports that state resources and facilities, including food distribution programs, continued to be linked to the campaign of Peru 2000.
In addition to these problems, the case has emerged alleging falsification of signatures to qualify the Independent National Front Peru 2000 (Frente Nacional Independiente Peru 2000 or the "Peru 2000 Front"), one of the political groups that formed the Peru 2000 Alliance to promote President Fujimori's candidacy for re-election and to field a list of candidates for Congress. This case has not been handled in a manner that would help to remedy its negative impact on public confidence, which reinforces a sense that electoral manipulations take place with impunity.
The withdrawal of two candidates for Congress who may have been associated with the alleged falsifications, the withdrawal of the Peru 2000 Front from the Peru 2000 Alliance and the convenient summary decertification by the JNE of the Peru 2000 Front do not address the underlying allegations or the extent to which persons associated with the electoral authorities may have participated in the falsification.
The scandal has further shaken public confidence in the authorities responsible for organizing the elections. The possible involvement of ONPE officials in the alleged falsification scheme has damaged the credibility of the very organization whose mandate it is to guarantee the integrity of the election process. The lack of information concerning the special prosecutor's (fiscal especial) criminal investigation of the alleged fraud and the apparent inaction by the relevant electoral bodies, the JNE and ONPE, have called into question the credibility of the judicial process and the electoral authorities.
The conditions surrounding the falsification scandal as well as problems with media access and press freedoms obliged the OAS Electoral Observation Mission in its March 17 press release to express "deep concern over the worsening of the deficiencies exhibited by the electoral process and that were detailed in our Bulletin No. 1," on March 10. The OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression reported on March 8 that numerous limitations on freedom of expression in Peru represent "a serious obstacle for the normal development of the election process."
Public opinion research shows that large segments of the electorate are not sufficiently aware of voting procedures. Given the unusually high percentage of annulled ballots in the 1995 elections and the complexity of voting for congressional candidates, many of those with whom the delegation met expressed concern that voter education efforts by ONPE thus far have not been sufficient. Even though the time remaining before the elections is critically short, mounting massive voter education efforts is one of the most important actions that can still be done to improve the nature of the election process.
As the spotlight shifts to election day, attention is needed to ensure the integrity of the processes for casting and counting of ballots, and for tabulating and announcing results that accurately reflect the will of the electorate. In this respect, the efforts of party and candidate agents (personeros), nonpartisan Peruvian election observers, the Ombudsman's Office, the media and international election observers are crucial. The election authorities must guarantee access to all aspects of election-day processes and the tabulation of results, including ONPE's computer systems and its planned unofficial parallel tabulation of presidential and congressional results.
Even though it is critically late in the pre-election period and irreparable damage has been done to the integrity of the election process, improvements can and should still be made. With this in mind, and in the continued spirit of international cooperation, the delegation offers the following recommendations.
- While disruptions of campaign events have declined, some violence against candidates has continued. Concerted efforts by all those involved in the elections should be made during the critical two weeks remaining before April 9 to prevent violent incidents and violations of political rights.
- Campaigns of vilification (guerra sucia) against candidates, observers, the Ombudsman's Office and the media should stop. Government officials and election authorities should publicly condemn such tactics.
- The media, both state-owned and private, should present accurate, equitable and balanced coverage of the presidential candidates and political parties participating in the elections, and they should provide the public with information to promote an informed and free vote.
- While it is no longer likely that increased media access for candidates and political parties will have an appreciable effect on choices of the electorate, organizing and broadcasting on regular television a debate among all of the presidential candidates would generate attention and help increase awareness of candidates and their programs for the future of the country. In addition, broadcast media should, as their representatives assured the delegation, make time available at normal commercial rates for airing paid political advertising by all candidates.
- The authorities should return the transmission equipment of Radio 1160 and the administration of television Channels 13 and 2 to these stations' original owners and management.
- The Prime Minister should reiterate through forceful public statements that any government official who uses state resources, particularly food aid, or uses public office for electoral advantage will be subject to immediate and severe administrative sanctions and, if appropriate, criminal proceedings. Such statements should be followed by immediate and effective enforcement.
- The special prosecutor, ONPE, JNE or other appropriate governmental authority should consider publishing immediately, in local newspapers, the allegedly falsified signatures submitted for the certification of the Peru 2000 Front, so that citizens can confirm or deny the fraudulent use of their signatures and claim their right to inscribe in support of the party of their choice.
- The ONPE and JNE should pursue vigorously reviews of administrative procedures and investigate the responsibility of individuals that may have been involved in the signature falsification scandal. The public should be informed promptly of the status of such reviews and investigations by ONPE and the JNE and should be informed immediately by the special prosecutor (fiscal especial) about the status of the criminal investigation, within the limitations of due process rights of those who may be accused. Such immediate actions would be important for countering impunity for election abuses and would help build public confidence in the elections.
- Complete access for candidate and party agents, and domestic and international election observers, should be guaranteed to all phases of the voting, counting and tabulation processes and all other steps leading to the announcement of electoral results, including electoral complaint mechanisms. Such access should permit conducting independent and parallel vote tabulations and other activities that help ensure public confidence in the electoral results.
- Should ONPE conduct a parallel vote tabulation, whether on a comprehensive basis or a random statistical sample, candidate and party agents, domestic and international election observers and the Ombudsman's Office should have complete access to the process. Copies of the tally sheets (actas) for that unofficial tabulation should be provided to party agents, as is the case with actas for the official tabulation. It would also be beneficial if copies of all actas would be made available to a credible independent group, such as the Episcopal Conference of the Catholic Church, Transparencia or the Ombudsman's Office. Any partial unofficial results that are released by the election authorities should include the percentage of the precincts (mesas) reported and the location of those mesas, lest the partial results confuse the public.
- The ONPE and others should intensify greatly voter education campaigns, including in Quechua, Aymara and all languages used by significant portions of the population, to maximize voter participation and reduce the percentage of annulled ballots.
Over the past four months there have been lost opportunities to create a genuinely open and democratic pre-election environment. While fulfillment of the recommendations mentioned above cannot offset the serious flaws identified by NDI/Carter Center delegations and other observers, they can help reduce the risk that Peruvian citizens will ultimately view the overall process as illegitimate. NDI and The Carter Center will continue to monitor developments surrounding the elections and will issue additional statements as appropriate.