The term “election observation” refers to the practice in which independent persons or organizations watch over an electoral process to ensure that it complies with the national legislation and international standards for elections. Election observers scrutinize not only the casting and counting of ballots on Election Day but also the period ahead of the polls, including the registration of candidates, electoral campaign and preparations for the vote, and relevant post-election mechanisms such as electoral dispute resolution and the reporting of campaign expenses.
The conduct of election observation is an expression of the people’s right to participate in public affairs, enshrined in Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the fundamental freedoms of association and expression. In 1996, the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee declared that “there should be independent scrutiny of the voting and counting process and access to judicial review or other equivalent process so that electors have confidence in the security of the ballot and the counting of the votes” (General Comment No. 25).
Election observation became widespread in the 1990s, with many organizations following in the footsteps of the Philippines’ NAMFREL, a grassroots movement that was instrumental in exposing election fraud and eventually toppling the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. Today, most countries in Asia are home to civil society organizations involved in domestic election observation. As a result, the transparency and understanding of electoral processes have been greatly enhanced.
While all of our member organizations routinely monitor electoral processes in their home countries, as a network, ANFREL engages only in international election observation, meaning that observers selected for a mission cannot be citizens of the host country. This serves two purposes: first, it safeguards the neutrality of our findings, and secondly, it maintains the unique perspective of international observers, which is complementary to that of domestic observers as it relies upon the promotion of international standards and best practices.
In all of its election observation missions, ANFREL aims:
1) to support the enhancement of the integrity of electoral processes and minimize election irregularities and election-related human rights violations;
2) to provide accurate, impartial information and analysis on issues related to elections in particular and prospects for democratic development in general;
3) to sustain and enhance the capacity of civil society organizations to promote an environment conducive to the conduct of free elections and the realization of peoples’ democratic aspirations;
4) to strengthen civil society in participating nations through the promotion of democratic values by observers in their home countries;
5) to support and strengthen local networks of election observation bodies in gathering, organizing, and analyzing information during missions; and
6) to make public its observations and findings, together with recommendations for improving the electoral process.
ANFREL is a signatory to the United Nations-endorsed 2005 Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the accompanying Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, which provide a framework for comprehensive, meticulous, and constructive contributions from international observers worldwide. We hold our observers and staff to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity and strive to offer reliable and independent assessments, based on universally accepted human rights norms, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as regional instruments such as the 2012 Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections.
ANFREL deployed its first international election observation mission to Cambodia’s 1998 general election. Since then, more than 65 similar missions have been conducted across Asia, mobilizing over 1,500 observers in the process. This long-established methodology and experience set us apart from biased or “fake” election observers, who have been multiplying in recent years. Our findings and mission reports are accessible through the link below.