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Center Monitors Fall Elections in Three Countries

  • In advance of the 2019 municipal election in Yangon, Myanmar, a woman distributes voting information to a passenger on a commuter train. The Carter Center was set to observe the country’s national election in early November of this year.

The United States was not the only country in the midst of election season this fall; many countries around the world held or will soon hold elections, and The Carter Center worked on three of them.

COVID-19 means these missions will not look like any the Center has done before.

“In some places, we’ve seen delays and election dates change. In others, we’ve seen borders close or airlines cease operations,” said David Carroll, director of the Center’s Democracy Program. “We’ve had to be more flexible — and creative — than ever before. But given the serious threats that face elec-tions and democracy around the world, we feel it’s more important than ever before to do what we can to help ensure credible elections.”

Plans may change between now and the various election days, but here’s what was in the works as of press time:

Bolivia

Bolivia held an election a year ago, in October 2019, but there were questions about the validity of the results, and protesters took to the streets. A month later, the declared winner, Evo Morales — who’d held power for nearly 14 years — and several high-ranking officials resigned. Morales went into exile, and a new election was scheduled for May 2020.

The Carter Center had planned a full-scale mission to observe the May election, but the pandemic caused officials to postpone the vote to Oct. 18. Travel restrictions and high case numbers inside Bolivia made a large observation mission impossible, but the Center conducted a small, mostly remote expert mission, meeting virtually with candidates, political parties, election commissioners, and other stakeholders.

The team focused on the legal electoral framework, electoral preparations, the campaign environment, and respect for participatory rights. It also worked with a local partner to analyze social media political advertising compliance with existing Bolivian regulations and monitor election-related disinformation with help from the Center’s Digital Threats to Democracy Initiative.

Two experts were able to travel to La Paz in early October to be there during the election, which Morales’ chosen successor won handily.

Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire’s Oct. 31 election was steeped in controversy. Incumbent President Alassane Ouattara announced in August that he would seek a third term, arguing that a constitutional referendum held while he was in office reset his eligibility. Demonstrations ensued, and several people were killed, prompting the government to prohibit public gatherings for a time. The country’s top court upheld the president’s candidacy and ruled that only four of 44 would-be candidates fulfilled the filing requirements, excluding several prominent candidates.

The Carter Center teamed with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa for a joint observation mission in Côte d’Ivoire, with the Center deploying several experts to join EISA’s core team and observers.

Myanmar

The Carter Center observed Myanmar’s 2015 election — the first with genuine political competition since before a 1962 military coup — and observed the election there on Nov. 8.

The coronavirus and related travel restrictions changed the shape of this mission as well. For the first time, the Center used Myanmar citizens as long-term observers rather than foreign nationals. The Center briefed 24 long-term observers on its methodology for independent, neutral observation and sent them around the country once travel was allowed. A core team of experts and short-term observers joined them for election day.

This mission, too, included analysis of social media misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech — which is increasingly important because COVID-19 forced many parties and candidates to campaign virtually.

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