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Swiss elections under OSCE scrutiny

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Experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have arrived in Switzerland ahead of Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The ten observers, who work for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, were invited by the Swiss authorities.

The purpose of the OSCE's first mission to Switzerland is to analyse the workings of the electoral system. The experts will assess and report on the overall framework for the conduct of elections in Switzerland.

In a newspaper interview, the head of the team, Paul DeGregorio, said that his team wanted to learn from Switzerland. "At the same time we have to be honest with Switzerland and also point out the areas which are not running optimally," he said.

The team has a packed schedule of meetings with representatives of the authorities, the parties, civil society and the media.

OSCE spokeswoman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, told swissinfo that postal voting would be one area of particular interest.

Eighty per cent of Swiss citizens vote by post and in some cantons and urban areas this can even go above 90 per cent.

Although OSCE observers originally concentrated more on the emerging democracies of eastern Europe, Gunnarsdottir said that it was also worthwhile to focus on the established democracies of the continent.

Gunnarsdottir said that work was progressing well so far. "The team has hit the ground running and they have a lot to achieve in a short time," she added.

A month or two after the mission, the observers will publish their report on the Swiss elections with recommendations on how the system can be improved. "We are fully objective and will tell it as we see it," she said.

Political funding

Despite no political funding expert taking part in this observer mission, the question of funding for political parties and election campaigns will also be looked at.

The OSCE's election watchdog has already published a needs assessment report on the mission to Switzerland, based on a visit to the country in June.

It mentioned that political parties did not receive funding from the State for their activities or campaign expenses, but some cantons provided reimbursement of campaign expenses.

"There are neither regulations for party campaign finances, nor financial disclosure requirements," the report stated.

Last month the House of Representatives rejected a proposal for more transparency on the financing of election campaigns.

Political parties are currently spending record amounts on the campaigns in the run up to Sunday's vote - at least SFr50 million ($42.2 million), say experts.

Gunnarsdottir said the trend towards lesser voter participation in elections was a cause for concern and something that was common to many established democracies.

Voter turnout in the last parliamentary elections in 2003 was around 45 per cent. The election observers will also be examining this phenomenon.

DeGregorio said that low voter participation begged the question whether voters were demotivated because all the big parties were already represented in government.

"A country with participation below 50 per cent should be worried," he said.

swissinfo

In brief

The ten election observers include lawyers, political scientists, election and media specialists.

The team is led by Paul DeGregorio of the United States. The other experts come from Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Ukraine and Britain.

They have from October 15-24 to carry out their mission.

In a statement, the OSCE said it did not intend to carry out a systematic or comprehensive observation of the voting, counting and tabulation on election day.

But the team does plan to visit several polling stations across the country to follow procedures on Sunday.

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