India's poll panel has sent observers to 10 countries

New Delhi, July 7 (IANS) Riding on its 60 years of experience in managing the largest and the most complex electoral exercise in the world with efficiency and credibility, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has also been deploying observers in as many as 10 countries including Egypt, Venezuela, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and now Cambodia.

"We have developed some good practices related to poll management, voter education and participation and monitoring poll expenditure, which are globally recognised," ECI director general Akshay Rout, in charge of international cooperation, told IANS in an interview.

According to Rout, poll observers in the past have been sent to countries like Egypt, Jordan, Equador, South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Bhutan, besides conducting electoral consultancy programmes with around 18 countries.

Tripura's Chief Electoral Officer Ashutosh Jindal will oversee the July 28 national assembly polls in Cambodia as an international observer.

The EC chooses its hosts carefully.

"We have been getting invitations from many countries in the past. But we send observers to countries only after looking at their bonafides and their ability to conduct credible polls," former chief election commissioner (CEC) S.Y. Quraishi, who has served as a poll observer in South Africa and Kenya, told IANS.

Such deployments are mutually beneficial, he said.

"While the host nation benefits from the credibility of having an Indian poll observer, the visit broadens the Election Commission's experience and further adds to its credibility," said Quraishi, who visited South Africa in 2011 as an observer while being CEC and later Kenya earlier this year as a member of a Commonwealth delegation.

Building upon its credibility, the ECI has also signed cooperation pacts with 18 countries to train their poll officials.

These are Russia, Chile, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Kenya, South Afirca, Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, besides the UNDP and US-based NGO IFES.

"Several countries look up to share our expertise and skills in these critical areas that safeguard democracy," said an ECI official.

The ECI will shortly train officials from Namibia in the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs), which the African nation has imported in large numbers from India.

A delegation from the Maldives would arrive in Delhi next week to undergo training in use of information technology-based applications in poll management.

Presidential polls are to be held in the Maldives in September.

Training courses have been held for Kenya, Nigeria, the Maldives, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bhutan by the EC's India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management (IIIDEM), officials said.

The ECI also provides an opportunity to foreign officials to observe Indian democracy at work.

"Delegates from Namibia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives visited Karnataka during the recent assembly polls," Rout said.

The ECI is also a member of many international bodies including the steering committee of the Commonwealth Electoral Network (CEN) and is the current chair of the Forum of Election Management Bodies of South Asia (FEMBSA) and the vice chair of the Association of Asian Election Authorities (AAEA).

It is one of the eight working group members for the proposed Association of World Electoral Bodies (A-WEB), initiated by AAEA.

The ECI is a special invitee to the highly-integrated ASEAN Forum of Election Management Bodies and is now a regular invitee to all UN electoral support meets and UN organised consultations.

India's chief election commissioner is a member of the advisory group to the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at amit.a@ians.in)

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