The Electoral Observation and Accompaniment Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS/EOM) in Paraguay, headed by the former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez, notes the massive participation of Paraguayan citizens in yesterday’s elections. In exemplary fashion, voters went to the polls in an orderly manner and peacefully exercised their right to vote.
The Mission would like to underscore the professionalism with which the Superior Court of Electoral Justice carried out its work and appreciates all of its cooperation, particularly in the timely, full delivery of the information needed for the Mission’s work. The Mission would also like to thank the Government of the Republic of Paraguay for its support and openness so that we could do our work without restrictions of any kind.
The Mission, which was comprised of 68 international observers from 21 member and observer countries of the OAS, was present in the country’s 17 departments, plus the city of Asunción. In addition, 11 observers witnessed the voting in the province of Buenos Aires (La Plata and San Justo), as well as in Washington, D.C., New York, and New Jersey in the United States, bringing the total number of observers to 79.
The Secretary General of the OAS, Mr. José Miguel Insulza, congratulated President Elect Horacio Cartes, and indicated that the OAS General Secretariat was willing to work with Paraguay in all areas promoting democracy-building in the country. Accepting an invitation from the President Elect, Secretary General Insulza will visit Paraguay in the coming weeks, to that end.
Organization of the Elections and Information Technology
The OAS/EOM would like to highlight the work done by the Superior Court of Electoral Justice to fully comply with the electoral calendar. The Mission underscores, once again, the Court’s openness so OAS/EOM observers and political parties could verify the different stages of organizing the elections and, on the whole, overcome the concerns of all the actors in the contest.
The introduction of the Preliminary Electoral Results Transmission system offered a qualitative improvement in terms of transparency and speed in delivering results. The Mission would like to highlight its successful implementation and commends this important progress for the country’s electoral system.
To comply with the will of the people, expressed in the October 2011 referendum, during this electoral process Paraguayans were able to exercise their right to vote abroad for the first time in history—a significant step forward in terms of inclusion. Nevertheless, in recent months, the Mission received complaints from several parties on the procedure for registering Paraguayans abroad, which allegedly limited the number of voters. The Mission also values the significant gain in the inclusion of new voters on the rolls made through automatic registration of citizens who turned 18 in the past year.
The Mission takes note of the party make-up of the electoral body, as set forth in the current regulatory framework. Nonetheless, it considers unacceptable the statements made by some members of the Superior Court of Electoral Justice on the electoral process and its outcomes during the pre-electoral stage and on election day. Such conduct is inconsistent with the impartiality that institution must maintain.
Regarding organization of the electoral process, the Mission is concerned about the composition of the panels of polling officers that, pursuant to the law, is concentrated in the three parties with the highest parliamentary representation. This excludes the other political parties from the administration of the voting process. What’s more, if there are alliances between two of those parties, the control exercised by the minority party is weakened. In both cases there are unequal possibilities for oversight, and lack of confidence in the process among the parties at a disadvantage is created.
The OAS wishes to underscore the exemplary civic attitude of Paraguayan citizens who from an early hour formed the panels of polling officers and turned out in great numbers in the different electoral precincts. During the day, voting centers with long lines were observed. In keeping with Paraguayans’ civic spirit, they waited peacefully for their turn, in some cases for hours, and no incidents were observed that impacted the electoral process.
The high presence of women on the panels of polling officers, serving a panel chairs and members, was a noteworthy aspect of the electoral process and demonstrates the commitment of Paraguayan women to the political parties and democratic processes.
The Mission calls attention to the practice directly observed in some areas of the Paraguayan Chaco known as “encerrona” or “corralón,” through which members of indigenous communities are transported to the polls on election day after being held for a day or two in the area. The practice, though not widespread, is a serious violation of the human rights of the populations in question and must be investigated, sanctioned, and prevented in future electoral processes. Likewise, the Mission witnessed ID buying by a Senator in the Paraguayan Congress to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote. It also found vote buying in some voting centers by different political parties. Such practices constitute serious electoral offenses.
Regarding media coverage of the electoral process in recent months, the Mission reiterates the importance for the right to vote of guaranteeing spheres for citizens to hear all the options in the contest.
Likewise, the Mission calls attention to the indiscriminate use of weakly regulated surveys in the different media. It observed with particular concern the practice of disseminating the results of exit polls the day of the election, covering up the names of the candidates. This practice is a flagrant violation of electoral rules and could become a tool for distorting the people’s will.
The OAS/EOM considers the passage of Law 4.743 of 2012, regulating the financing of political parties, to be a significant step forward and, had it been applied, would have strengthened equity and transparency in the electoral process.
In the absence of its implementation, the Mission found that there were weak government oversight mechanisms for supervising private political/electoral financing and a lack of limits on campaign spending. Those weaknesses and gaps severely compromise the equity and transparency of the electoral contest.
Regarding the transparency of political financing, it should be recalled that Article 28 of the Constitution recognizes that public sources of information are free to all and that the Law is to regulate the corresponding modalities, time frames, and sanctions, to effectively exercise that right. However, the OAS/EOM observed that as of today there is no specific law on the matter, nor are there practices that promote access to information on the political/electoral financing system.
Historically, the political representation of women in popularly elected positions in Paraguay has been very low. At present, for example, women make up only 14% of the Congress. For this election, the OAS/EOM underscores the historic level of participation by women, who accounted for 38% of all candidates. Nonetheless, design problems related to the statutory minimum of 20% participation by women–a ratio of one woman for every five candidates–have not helped to overcome the obstacles to women’s participation on equal footing.
The low participation by women in public decision-making positions is also reflected in the make-up of the Superior Court of Electoral Justice. In its entire history, no woman has held the position of principal member of that institution.
With a view to collaborating on strengthening electoral processes in Paraguay, the OAS/EOM would like to propose the following recommendations:
• Promote, through legal reforms, spheres that guarantee the equitable dissemination of the different political options through the media in the months leading up to the electoral contest.
• Reform the party make-up of the electoral body at all levels, i.e. its magistrates, staff, and polling officers. The Mission suggests transitioning to a professional civil service in the institution and having the panels of polling officers be comprised of randomly selected citizens.
• Strengthen institutional mechanisms for appropriately investigating, judging, and punishing electoral offenses, including the dissemination of election propaganda outside of the permitted time frames; dissemination of surveys at the wrong time; statements that are flagrantly partial by electoral justice officials; ID and vote buying; and any actions contravening current laws. Reducing impunity is essential to building the credibility of electoral laws and the democratic process in Paraguay.
• Regarding the unacceptable rights violation that is the practice known as “encerrona” or “corralón,” the Mission recommends investigating and using the fullest extent of the law to prevent that practice from being repeated in the future.
• Consider adopting regulations to guarantee greater technical and methodological rigor in electoral surveys.
• Taking into account the concern voiced by some parties regarding implementation of voting abroad, the Mission recommends strengthening the registration process so that the largest number possible of citizens can be added to the rolls of Paraguayans abroad.
• In terms of gender, the OAS/EOM recommends considering the reform of Article 32 of the Electoral Code, to create an appropriate mechanisms for “real, effective equality” as provided for in Article 48 of the Constitution. To this end, it recommends making the percentage of minimum participation tend towards parity (50%), alternating on the lists of candidates presented to the Superior Court of Electoral Justice.
To guarantee the effectiveness of this reform, there need to be sanctions, such as refusal to register the list of political parties and organizations that violate the measures mentioned above.
• Regarding political financing, the Mission urges the necessary steps to be taken so the new law passed in 2012 takes effect and is implemented as soon as possible. In addition, it recommends strengthening the specialized unit thereon within the Electoral Justice organ, giving it the human, technical, and financial resources to effectively oversee private financing.
The Electoral Observation Mission will present to the Permanent Council of the OAS a detailed report on the results of the Mission, from its installation in the country through to the completion of its work. We reiterate our commitment to returning in the coming months to share with country authorities the Mission’s final report and offer the OAS’ cooperation to support the ongoing strengthening of the electoral cycle.
The Mission would like to extend special thanks to the Governments of Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Israel, Italy, Korea, Peru, Spain, Switzerland, Suriname, and the United States, whose generous contributions made our work in Paraguay possible.
With this electoral process now complete, the OAS/EOM trusts that a new phase in Paraguayan politics is commencing. Accordingly, it would like to offer its good offices to continue to work closely with all actors in society in pursuit of a great national compact that will enable Paraguay to make a qualitative leap in its democratic development.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.