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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 3, 2011
CONTACT: In Atlanta, Deborah Hakes +1 404 420 5124; In Tunis, Sabina Vigani + 216 23 63 49 79

 

The Carter Center Calls on Tunisian Election Authorities to Finalize Critical Procedures and Intensify Voter Outreach

 

With the launch of the electoral campaign period on Oct. 1, Tunisia has entered the final leg of the National Constituent Assembly elections, scheduled for Oct. 23, 2011. While electoral preparations are progressing, key issues such as the allocation of voters to polling stations and the system for the tabulation of results require final decisions and publication by election authorities. The Carter Center calls on the High Independent Authority for the Elections (ISIE) to promptly finalize and disseminate procedures for voting, counting, and results tabulation to all electoral stakeholders. Intensified public outreach efforts by the ISIE will be critical to ensure that voters understand key areas including identifying the location of their polling stations, which documents are required to cast a ballot, and how to mark the ballot paper. Election authorities should also consider extending the deadline to apply for observer accreditation, as many domestic observer groups are still undergoing training to meet the accreditation requirements set by the ISIE.

A significant number of candidate lists, 1,428 in total, will be contesting in the coming weeks. The ISIE has registered 787 lists of political parties, 587 independent lists, and 54 coalitions. While the gender parity required by the electoral law is respected, only approximately 5 percent of the lists are led by female candidates. Independent lists represent a notable proportion of the lists, reportedly 41 percent of the total number, with less than 10 parties present in all electoral districts.

The Carter Center welcomes the ISIE's introduction of a code of conduct governing the electoral process. The Center calls on political parties and independent candidates to maintain an environment conducive for peaceful elections throughout the campaign period by abiding to campaign rules and procedures, and encourages these stakeholders to sign and commit to upholding the code of conduct and to raise awareness about its obligations with all their representatives at all levels.

As adopted on Sept. 3, ISIE decisions regulating the electoral campaign and media environment during the campaign period provide an ambitious framework, particularly in light of the high number of lists. This overall framework reflects efforts to ensure that all candidates are provided with equal opportunities to compete.[1]

While the commission's decision to ban all forms of commercial political advertising from Sept. 12 to the start of the campaign period was intended as a means of establishing an equal playing field for political parties and independent candidates, the regulation was released at a relatively late stage in the process and has been enforced unevenly. Its enforcement was complicated by the lack of provisions clearly outlining penalties for those in violation of the decision. This regulation was issued late in the process, at a time when several political parties such as Parti Démocratique Progressiste (PDP) and Union Patriotique Libre (UPL) had already invested financially in political publicity through billboards across the country and various media outlets. Hence it created great controversy, with PDP and UPL in particular contesting the legality of the ban and refusing to abide by it.[2] While The Carter Center acknowledges the determination by the election authorities to promote a fair competition, the principle of legal certainty, which aims at protecting citizens against frequent changes of the law and best election practices, require refraining from substantial change to the legal framework shortly before the elections.

The Center's long-term observers deployed throughout the governorates of Tunisia and the Tunis-based core team have been closely monitoring electoral preparations over the past 10 weeks. As highlighted by The Carter Center in its statement issued on Sept. 1, the allocation of voters to polling stations remains a substantial operational challenge facing the ISIE. Indeed, at the close of the registration process, approximately 45 percent of the voting population did not participate in the exercise and had not updated their data or selected a polling station. To address this issue, the ISIE allowed an additional opportunity for eligible voters to select a polling station within the governorate from Sept. 4-20. Despite visible outreach efforts by the ISIE, long-term observers' findings indicate that the percentage of eligible voters participating in this initiative was low. Therefore, the ISIE decided to extend this initiative until Sept. 30, and then to Oct. 10.

Based on discussions with election authorities, the Center understands that the ISIE is considering setting up special polling centers at the municipal level to accommodate voters who, by Oct.10, would not have chosen a polling station. These voters would be assigned according to their current information in the national identity cards database. The Carter Center recognizes that this option is driven by operational constraints stemming from potential inaccuracies on the voter list. In order to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised on polling day, The Carter Center urges the ISIE to carefully consider the appropriate number and location of such specialized polling centers, particularly in light of registration statistics and population centers. Polling stations should be distributed so as to guarantee equal access within each constituency, in line with Tunisia's obligations to provide equality of suffrage for all voters.[3]

The Carter Center urges the ISIE to finalize and disseminate procedures regarding polling, counting, and the tabulation of results to all stakeholders.[4] The prompt finalization of these procedures is of the utmost importance to allow for adequate training of election administration officials and staff at all levels. The Center recommends that training sessions for election officials include practical simulations to ensure a better understanding and consistent practice by all personnel involved.

In the context of the candidate nomination process, the Regional Independent Authority for the Elections (IRIEs) interpreted the rules and procedures in different ways, resulting in inconsistencies in the way in which cases were handled, even those that were similar in nature. Inconsistencies were observed in cases related to people ineligible to stand for candidacy due to their links to the former regime. As the confidential database sent by the ISIE to the IRIEs did not include the national identity card number of barred persons, when doubts occurred as to the identity of a person, some IRIEs considered that the burden of proof was incumbent upon the candidate whereas others attempted to verify whether the identity of the individual was the same. The processing of two lists submitted in the name of Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes (MDS) in almost all constituencies following an internal split in the party also showed important discrepancies between IRIEs.

Pending final internal approvals, the ISIE intends to launch voter information and education campaigns. Given the late stage in the process and short timeline remaining in the lead-up to polling day, intensified public outreach efforts will be critical to ensure that voters understand key areas including identifying the location of their polling stations, which documents are required to cast a ballot, and how to mark the ballot paper.[5] The Carter Center encourages the ISIE to reach out to all interested stakeholders, particularly political parties and independent candidates at national and regional levels, to ensure that the electoral system and seat allocation formula and process are broadly understood.

The Center notes a positive increase in the number of domestic observer groups throughout the country preparing to monitor the elections. The Carter Center welcomes the strong interest by Tunisian civil society organizations to participate in public affairs and supports their right to do so.[6] The presence of observers can increase transparency of the electoral process.[7]  However, the number of domestic observers that have received accreditation by the ISIE remains relatively low to date, as many observer groups are still undergoing training on observation methodologies to fulfil the requirement put in place by the ISIE to qualify for accreditation. As such, many domestic observers groups are withholding their applications pending the completion of observer trainings. Comprehensive training, in turn, should include the anticipated procedures for polling, counting and results tabulation. In this context, The Carter Center is concerned about the revised deadline for the submission of accreditation requests, which ISIE moved from Oct. 19 to Oct. 8. The Center calls on the ISIE to consider extending the deadline for domestic observers and dedicating additional staff to accommodate the anticipated volume of observer applications.

The Carter Center will remain in Tunisia to observe the campaign period, polling day, counting and tabulation processes, and resolution of electoral complaints for the National Constituent Assembly elections. The Center's long-term observers will be joined by some 40 short-term observers from various nationalities in the lead-up to election day. The objectives of the Center's observation mission in Tunisia are to provide an impartial assessment of the overall quality of the electoral process, promote an inclusive process for all Tunisians, and demonstrate international support for this ambitious democratic transition. The elections will be assessed against the Tunisian legal framework, as well as Tunisia's international obligations for genuine democratic elections.

The Center's observation mission is conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct that was adopted at the United Nations in 2005 and has been endorsed by 37 election observation groups. The Center will release periodic public statements available on its website: www.cartercenter.org/.

 

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"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy and human rights; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide
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[1] U.N. Human Rights Committee, General Comment 25 on "The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights and the Right to Equal Access to Public Service", para. 19: ""Reasonable limitations on campaign expenditure may be justified where this is necessary to ensure that the free choice of voters is not undermined or the democratic process distorted by the disproportionate expenditure on behalf of any candidate or party." U.N., Human Rights and Elections: A Handbook on the Legal, Technical, and Human Rights Aspects of Elections, para. 120: "Media regulations should provide for safeguards against political censorship, unfair government advantage and unequal access during the campaign period."

[2] UPL later removed their billboards on Sept. 20 in respect of the regulation.

[3] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 25 (b): "Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (b)" To vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the voter." U.N., Human Rights and Elections: A Handbook on the Legal, Technical, and Human Rights Aspects of Elections, para. 104: "polling stations should be distributed so as to guarantee equal access within each constituency."

[4] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 19 (b): "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice". International IDEA, International IDEA Code of Conduct: Ethical and Professional Administration of Elections, p. 12-13: "Election administration should (..) v) Establish a system that allows interested parties to access, in a timely manner, all critical information, documents, and databases used in an election process".

[5] United Nations, U.N. Human Rights Committee, General Comment 25 on "The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights and the Right to Equal Access to Public Service", para. 11: "States must take effective measures to ensure that all persons entitles to vote are able to exercise that right. (..)Voter education (..) campaigns are necessary to ensure the effective exercise of article 25 rights by an informed community."

[6] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25 (a): "Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives". UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment no. 25 on "The Right to Participate in Public Affairs, Voting Rights and the Right to Equal Access to Public Service" paragraph 8: "Citizens also take part in the conduct of public affairs by exerting influence through public debate and dialogue with their representatives or through their capacity to organize themselves. This participation is supported by ensuring freedom of expression, assembly and association."

[7] Inter-Parliamentary Union Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections, art. 7: "States should take all necessary and appropriate measures to ensure the transparency of the entire electoral process including, for example, through the presence of party agents and duly accredited observers".