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International Visitors Observe US Election System

Over the past week, 70 young leaders from 23 countries have been taking part in discussions and classes on how to cultivate a democratic political system. Sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), these young men and women have come to Washington D.C. from countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to take a first-hand look at the US electoral process. Charlene Sarmiento has more.

These young participants in the National Election Study Program are some of the best and brightest in their home countries and come from a variety of professions.

Since arriving last week, they've taken part in classes, lectures and workshops on democracy building, studying issues such as grassroots organizing, fundraising and media strategy.

Hamida Hassan, a journalist from Afghanistan, sees it as an extraordinary opportunity to observe the US electoral process. "Normally in Afghanistan, most parties do not have much experience in politics," she said. "It was so exciting when I found out that I was going to be nominated to go to this trip."

Ulviyya Hasanzade is a presidential advisor from Azerbaijan. She says that it is important to understand the American political process and take the lessons she learned back home. "This program of USAID, is a very good opportunity for all young politicians all over the world to come and to learn the experience of America," she said, "and I think its pretty important for everyone to know how democracy in America is going on.

The program administrators hope that these young people will go back to their home countries with a deeper understanding of how democracy really works. Kenneth Lanza is the director of the Bureau of Europe and Eurasia for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

"Democracy is a critical part of a maturing, developing country," said Mr. Lanza. "That ultimately it is in the best interest in the country's citizens to increase their standard of living. I hope those are the lessons that they bring back. But I also hope they bring back, an understanding that democracy is not a clean, simple easy process, its messy, its difficult, but nonetheless, it fundamental to increasing the wealth of societies."

The young leaders are winding up their stay in the United States, observing the presidential elections and visiting with local political candidates in the states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.