OSCE election monitor team focuses on Romani participation in Czech vote
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are following the historically first direct election of the president in the Czech Republic. Deputy Head of Mission Goran Petrov of Macedonia told the Czech Press Agency that the direct presidential election is interesting to the observers, who were invited by the Czech authorities.
Monitors don't want to comment on the course of the elections for the time being. One of three teams will be monitoring in the area of Ústí nad Labem, where they will be focusing in part on Romani minority turnout. At their first stop in Trmice, the observers did not meet any Romani people at the polling place.
The six-member team of observers has been in the Czech Republic since the start of the year and will remain there until 18 January. Teams comprised of two foreign observers and a Czech guide should perform spot checks around Prague and in various regions. "We are doing our best to speak with all participants in the electoral process, i.e., with the authorities, with commissions, with candidates and with voters," Petrov said.
Part of the mission monitored the course of elections in Prague today. OSCE Head of Mission Tana de Zulueta told the Czech Press Agency that the whole mission was staying in the country because it was the first-ever direct election of a president there. "We are very interested in the legislative framework of the elections as well. There have been many complaints about it," she said, adding that she believed the staff levels of the mission were too low.
A smaller mission visited the Czech Republic in 2009 on the occasion of the vote to the European Parliament. The OSCE also sent large observer missions to monitor the polls in 1998 and 2002.
The OSCE will evaluate the ongoing elections over the course of roughly two months. Observers are interested in everything about the polling places, from the size of the districts and their participation rates to how extra ballots are handled and security issues. However, they are also interested in matters not directly related to the course of voting, such as the campaigns and the budgets candidates had for them.
The observers do not want to comment on anything yet. "We cannot express an opinion about the course of the election until the entire procedure is done. We usually publish our report six to eight weeks after the voting is over," said Petrov.
One of the first stops the monitors made was to two inconspicuous polling places in Trmice, population 3 000, which is a suburb of Ústí nad Labem. "Our interest was in visiting one or two polling places where a larger proportion of the Romani minority lives," Petrov explained.
While dozens of voters deposited their ballots during the 40 minutes Petrov was there, he did not see any Romani voters. "We aren't disappointed, we're just following the process. Tomorrow we will observe the voting in Prague and then the ballot counting," he said.
Members of the Trmice electoral commission confirmed that few Romani people turned out today. "However, that could have been expected, they usually don't come to vote until Saturday afternoon," one poll worker told the Czech Press Agency.
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