The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll papa to keep an eye on big dad of democracy

Washington, Oct. 3: Three Indians are among the first team of international observers ever to monitor an American presidential election, due to take place in less than a month.

If all goes well, M.S. Gill, the former chief election commissioner, will be one of them.

The other two observers from India are K.J. Rao, presently elections and training Advisor to the Election Commission and Neerja Chowdhury, journalist and political commentator.

The team has several big names which bring credibility to its mission: Brigalia Bam, chairperson of South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission; and Pansy Tlakula, its chief electoral officer; David MacDonald, former communications minister of Canada; and Oscar Gonzalez, president of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights until 2002 and a recipient of the Unesco Award on Human Rights.

Another Indian, albeit not an Indian citizen, is Shanta Martin, an international legal advisor now with the Commission for the Verification of Codes of Conduct (COVERCO) in Guatemala's elections.

She is an Australian who has done extensive work on labour laws in her country and on the effects of corporate activity on human rights.

The team, which has been put together by Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organisation, is one of two groups of international observers monitoring the November 2 election.

A second group from the 55-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been invited by the state department after a dozen Democratic Congressmen wrote to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan this summer that he should send observers for the presidential poll.

An advance team from the Vienna-based OSCE predicted problems during polling in their report last week, prepared after touring the US and said election results could be delayed again by disputes as in 2000.

'The nationwide replacement of voting equipment, inspired by the disputes witnessed during the 2000 elections, primarily in Florida, may potentially become a source of even greater controversy during the forthcoming elections,' the report warned. The OSCE will have about 100 observers in the US on polling day.

A batch of observers from the group that includes Indians has already toured Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Missouri, and Georgia.

Among these five states, Missouri was picked for international observation because Republicans allegedly suppressed the black vote there in 2000.

Arizona is seen as an electoral model since campaigns there are publicly financed while Ohio will be the most hotly contested state on November 2.

Florida's case is well known: allegations of rigging in the state delayed the outcome of the 2000 presidential poll by a month.

Chowdhury, who was in the group that toured Florida a few days ago, told The Telegraph that she was 'surprised by the breakdown of trust' between electors and the elected in the state.

The Indian, who is now drafting an observers' report on the visit, said she would not be returning to Florida on November 2, but said Gill was scheduled to observe the electoral action on polling day.

Rao, who is now on deputation to Afghanistan for the presidential elections there, is expected to finish that job and then travel to the US.

The invitation to international election observers has infuriated Republicans, one of whom, Congressman Stephen Buyer, moved a legislation on Capitol Hill to prohibit the use of public money for any poll scrutiny.

'For over 200 years, this nation has conducted elections fairly and impartially, ensuring that each person's vote will count,' Buyer said in the House of Representatives.

'Imagine going to your polling place on the morning of November 2 and seeing blue-helmeted foreigners inside your local library, school or fire station.'

Last week, former President Jimmy Carter, who has observed polls throughout the world, added fuel to the fire by insisting that 'some basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida'.

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