Kurdistan on the Right Path Towards Referendum: COD

Diyar Aziz  – BasNews – 01/08/2017 – 16:20  – ERBIL — As the Kurdistan Region is preparing for an independence referendum scheduled on 25th September this year, an international organization specialized in election observation and monitoring, is planning to observe the process.

During an exclusive interview with BasNews, Brian Mefford, Executive Director of the Committee for Open Democracy, explained the negotiations between the COD and the Kurdistan Independence High Elections Commission (KIHEC).

BasNews: Can you briefly explain about your organisation’s experience in monitoring elections across the globe?

Mefford: COD has observed more than 20 international elections in eight countries. The countries include Ukraine, Moldova, Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Lithuania, Georgia, also the Scottish referendum.

BasNews: Since you have already observed independence referendums in other countries, whose situation is in some ways similar to the Kurdistan Region, how do you evaluate the preparations for the referendum in Kurdistan?

Mefford: Well, we still study the situation on the ground, and we still have meetings that we need to do to get a complete picture. However, based on the meeting with the [Kurdistan] Independent High Elections Commission it looks like cooperations are proceeding at a normal pace.

BasNews: You had talks with the Kurdistan Independent High Electoral Commission. Did you reach an agreement or are you still assessing the situation?

Mefford: We have been cooperating with the Kurdistan Independent High Elections Commission for two years now. So we’ve been communicating with them for a long time not just on this visit. And again, we have other meetings we need to do to get a full picture; but the initial meetings we had so far have been positive, and I think that Kurdistan is on the path towards conducting the referendum.

BasNews: If you reach an agreement to observe Kurdistan’s independence referendum, when exactly you will start the practical works in the region?

Mefford: There will be two parts… As soon as we make a decision, we have to station a based team here in the Kurdistan. They will have to assess the political situation and monitor the progressions and then there are logistical works to prepare for observers who will come for the week of the referendum.

So we will have parallel process with the voters lists and all the others that will be happening. But at the same time we will have to monitor all the process that will be taking place: administration, campaigning, registration and everything.

BasNews: According to the KIHEC, there will be 12,000 polling stations. How many international observers the COD is planning to invite?

Mefford: Everything depends on time and resources; security is also a factor. We are considering approximately 100, but we may make that more or less considering how we assess the situation.

BasNews: Have you reached an agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government on the financial resources of the COD’s monitoring process?

Mefford: Typically we raise our own money… Also, we use volunteer observers which helps the keep the costs of this mission lower. We will also talk with Western donors.

BasNews: What will be within your focus during the process of observing the independence referendum in the Kurdistan Region?

Mefford: We will look at the whole process. So we will look at the pre-election environment, we will look at the election day, and then we will also look at the counting process.

So agitation, for example the free election period. We will look at things like the both side have the opportunity to share their messages with the voters. We will look at the preparations by the election commission. We will look at the voting on the election day, watch for any violations or problems that might take place. And then, of course, the counting process to make sure the process is done in an open and transparent way.

BasNews: Will you release a final report on the whole process for the public, or will you share the report with specific institutions as well?

Mefford: We will make report about our findings, and that report will include recommendations based on international best practices, so in other areas they may improve other elections. This report will be published on our website and it will be open for everybody to reach. We’ll also share this report with the KIHEC, and the members of the government who are also interested in the process.

BasNews: The UN and EU are expected to send their observers separately. In this case, the number of international observers will significantly increase. What do you think is the importance of the international monitoring by different organisations and institutions?

Mefford: We always believe that the more observers the better. It doesn’t matter the international observers or local observers… it only builds confidence that the public can trust the process has been administered fairly.

BasNews: We have lees than 60 days until the referendum day. Do you think the preparations could be concluded within the remaining time?

Mefford: We are observers and we observe the process. But certainly we hope that the process will be administered, and everything will come together at the right time. The fact that there is just one question on the ballot makes it a little bit easier to administer, and of course there is political tension [which] is normal in any referendum… I think that Kurdistan will be able t o successfully administer the referendum, but obviously we will be watching.