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African Electoral Commissioners Comment After Observing 2008 U.S. Presidential Election


Numerous international observers monitored Wednesday's U.S. presidential and congressional elections. Among the international observers were James Fromayan, chairman of Liberia's Elections Commission, Ethiopia's National Electoral Board Chair Professor Merga Bekana, Alhagi Mustapha Carayol, Gambia's Independent Electoral Commission chairman and Oke Francis Gabriel in charge of good governance and elections at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Fromayan described the U.S. electoral process as an example of democracy at its highest level. He said he has observed striking differences from the way elections are conducted in Africa.

"The campaigning period, which in my country ends 24 hours before polling day, but here we see that people are campaigning even up to the

very day of the election. And the differences in the conduct of the election according states, the entire federal election commission does handle the electoral process as it is done in our own setting," Fromayan said.

Ethiopia's National Electoral Board Chair Professor Merga Bekana said he was impressed with the decentralization of the U.S. electoral process.

"My observation is that it is decentralized and each state has its own way of regulating, and the most striking point I observed is long lines but going very fast because I think electoral officials are very efficient. On top that, I'm so impressed to observe lawyers standing the officers and promoting their activity," Bekana said.

Alhagi Mustapha Carayol who chairs the Independent Electoral Commission of the Gambia said electoral commissions in Africa must be truly independent.

"In the Gambia we are independent. There is no organization that directs us. We work entirely by ourselves. We follow the rules, the electoral status quo. We are not answerable to anybody besides parliament. All electoral commissions in Africa should totally independent. If they are totally independent, they will be able to conduct a free and fair election," Carayol said.

Oke Francis Gabriel who is in charge of good governance and elections at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) he wants to take back to Africa the key role the media played during the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

"In Africa we have to learn from the role of these media, which was very equitable between all the candidates. The second element we have to bring from American system is the way they managed the diversity of the states because each state has its own electoral laws, but the laws did not affect the results at the federal level," Gabriel said.

Gambia's Independent Electoral Commission Chair Carayol said he would also take back to Africa the idea of an independent media during elections and a good voter education process.

"I think the American people know that today is Election Day and everyone is out to cast their vote. In Africa when you call election at lease voters will not come out to vote. And the way registration is done here too, I think is exemplary. Even you can call an election on Sunday," Carayol said.

All four officials agreed candidates in African elections must respect election rules, including being willing to accept defeat.

"What I want to add is that we have to learn from this American system the respect of our law, the respect of our electoral commissions, the respect of all our legal systems that we adopt in our countries because I noticed in America, even if you are Democratic or Republican, the law is the law. When you lose, you respect the result of the election. But in Africa if you lose it is because the law has problem. So we have to forget that and trust our law," said Gabriel who is in charge of good governance and elections at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


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