U.N. not an official election observer

The United Nations will not be acting as an official election observer on Friday but the Resident Coordinator will be keeping a keen eye out for potential issues outside polling booths.

Dr. Simona Marinescu, who runs the U.N. offices for Samoa, The Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, said she will be visiting polling booths and spending the afternoon at the Tuanaimato election headquarters.

She said the international organisation does not have a mandate from Samoa, the U.N. General Assembly or Security Council to be an official election observer in the way it operates in "broken countries" and conflict zones, and that she expects polling day to be a peaceful, successful event. It is very rare for the General Assembly or Security council to issue a mandate for the U.N. to observe an election. 

"However while we do not have a mandate to do observations in the full meaning of the term we do usual monitoring on human rights grounds to see whether the elections respect human rights and freedoms of all individuals so there are no violations of human rights. This is not observation in the full term."

Dr. Marinescu said she has spoken with the Government and with Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio about how the U.N. will be operating on Friday, and has mapped out a day for herself visiting polling booths, but not going inside them.

She is also responsible for reporting on the election to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres in order for him to make his official statement congratulating the winners.

"But I’ll be everywhere," she said, laughing. "We monitor the process, we look into human rights aspects, so there will be a lot of reporting.

"I don’t want to create any confusion, the U.N. cannot be inside the polling booth, we do not have such a mandate. We want to see that people have access, there are no events at the polling stations, that people do not complain.

"I can’t be inside but if I am outside and people complain and say things were not happening the right way we will be able to hear that."

Dr. Marinescu said that even if the Government had requested for observers, they would have had to be engaged locally from non-partisan entities or expatriates because of the flight restrictions barring the normal parties from coming in.

In 2016 the election was officially observed by a team from the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat.

But Ms. Marinescu says the U.N. is not concerned that anything untoward will occur to damage the integrity of Friday's voting.

"We do not have concerns, honestly, that anything wrong is going to happen and we will be present around and if anybody wants to talk to me I have a phone number, they can call me. 

"In this context in which nobody can come in for the elections, we are in country and we will monitor but we cannot do observations the way the U.N. does in other parts of the world.

"We do not expect this process to be eventful like other countries. We expect to have clarity tomorrow afternoon or evening and we will move forward with the new leadership of this country, whether with the same people or new ones."

The U.N. office in Samoa has spent the last several years working with women to prepare them for candidacy in the elections, both before the 2016 elections and this year. Dr. Marinescu said given the efforts of the U.N. and the women participating in their programmes, she hopes to see more than 10 per cent of seats filled by women in the next Legislative Assembly.

Samoa has a provision to ensure 10 per cent of Parliament seats are held by women, and in the event that fewer women are elected, a provision exists to bring in a woman who came close.

But Dr. Marinescu hopes that provision won't be necessary this weekend. 

"We very much hope to have women above the quota, we very much hope that we will not need the temporary special measure to reach the ten per cent women in Parliament this time around. So we hope that naturally through the process we will have more than five women in the next Parliament.

"Having worked for women in leadership, having been involved in training the candidates we very much hope we will have more than just the quota."

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