SA limits diplomatic observers during elections

2014-05-05 21:03

Foreign missions will for the first time be limited to sending only their ambassadors or high commissioners in the country to observe Wednesday’s elections.

If the head cannot make it, no substitute would be allowed.

The department of international relations (Dirco), which is apparently for the first time dealing with the accreditation of these observers instead of the Independent Electoral Commission, said in a press release this afternoon that South Africa would allow observers “even for countries that don’t extend the same courtesy to us during their own elections”.

It didn’t say which countries those were, but said South Africa often sent observer missions to other parts of the world – mostly Africa.

Department spokesperson Clayson Monyela confirmed in the statement that South Africa had previously extended the invitation beyond the heads of mission, but said this year the invite was only sent to heads of mission and was not transferable.

“The practice of foreign countries and international organisations monitoring elections is accepted as one of the ways in which the international community can monitor and promote compliance with democratic values, principles and practices,” he said in the statement.

A Western diplomat said it was unclear why diplomatic observers had been limited and why Dirco, and not the IEC, was suddenly dealing with accreditation.

“Missions had already been in touch with the IEC for months to receive their observer badges and were surprised by this last-minute change by Dirco. We don’t understand what precipitated these changes.

“SA was always the most open and transparent and the IEC precipitated in spreading this function [of allowing diplomatic observers] through the continent. If SA is going to follow other countries’ lead in closing down access, this bodes badly for democracy,” the diplomat said.

Some Western embassies had in the past dispatched a few dozen of its diplomats to observe the elections.

Monyela did not respond to a query this afternoon and IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela didn’t answer her phone or respond to an SMS.

The Star today quoted a source who had been to a meeting called by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane where she invoked the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic relations between countries, to justify her decision.

The Star also reported that the decision to invite only the heads of state of South Africa’s closest allies, like Brazil, Russia, India and China, as well as from other African countries to attend the presidential inauguration at the end of the month, had raised eyebrows among some of those who didn’t make the list.

Other countries like Zimbabwe had in recent elections limited access for Western observers, accusing them of interference.

Monyela said in the statement that the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the Commonwealth had already dispatched their missions.

The United Nations was also invited to send a mission.

The European Union also received an invitation, but reportedly said it would not send an official one because it had full trust in South Africa’s democratic process.

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