EOM Estonia preview

Teaming up with the Polish Forum of Young Diplomats and welcoming two new faces to the team

The Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the Estonian parliamentary elections on 1 March will be more professional than ever.  A promising cooperation with the Polish Forum of Young Diplomats (FMD) has been set up and after an Open Call two experienced Mission Coordinators are welcomed to the team. Read here a preview by Viktor Bezhenar and Lucrezia Aresi who will coordinate the EOM, and Sławomir Szyszka, head of the Election Observation Mission of FMD.

The Polish Forum of Young Diplomats (Forum Młodych Dyplomatów; FMD) is a nation-wide Youth NGO, bringing together students and recent graduates in the field of International Relations. The Forum was established in 2002 and nowadays consists of 125 members and several branches in major Polish towns. In 2011, the FMD started the “Young Election Observers Program” on the initiative of Sławomir Szyszka. The program focuses mostly on networking: organizing conferences on election observation, advocating for the rights of civil society observers and participating just like AEGEE in OSCE/ODIHR Human Dimension Implementation meetings.

The cooperation between FMD and AEGEE dates back to 2012, when the two organisations jointly applied for a grant to deploy EOMs to Georgia and Armenia. When the initiative to organize an EOM to the Estonian parliamentary elections came up, Sławomir immediately approached AEGEE. “I follow the AEGEE Election Observation Project with a great interest. I admire it because it is an example of a well-conceived, organised and sustainable project that achieved quite a lot in a short period of time. We contacted AEGEE because we believed that mutual cooperation would allow us to learn from each other and improve our missions.”

The approach to election observation is very similar for both organisations. Just like AEGEE, FMD considers EOMs as a chance for young people to gain direct experience in election observation activities and both rely on OSCE/ODIHR resources to prepare participants and share results. But there are also differences: FMD missions last two weeks and focus on specific aspects of the elections and pre-election period. Sławomir: “I will arrive in Estonia two weeks in advance. I will observe the decisive part of the election campaign in the Ida-Viru county (the most north-eastern county of Estonia bordering Russia, ed.). I am particularly interested in the regulations and practices in the area of electoral finance”.

Missions by AEGEE’s Election Observation Project on the contrary typically last five days, are much more numerous and have a focus on the social, cultural and political background of the country as a whole. The cooperation between AEGEE and FMD will consist of benefiting from each other’s local partners, organizing part of the programme together an exchanging best practices on election observing and coordinating missions.  Thanks both these similarities and differences, it will definitely be a mutual learning experience.

The prospect of a learning experience was certainly the motivation for Viktor Bezhenar and Lucrezia Aresi to apply as Mission Coordinators. Viktor, a 23-year-old software development manager from Kyiv, has a clear purpose: “Due to the recent events in our country, many Ukrainians feel the need to monitor and understand political processes.  As I work in software industry, I am incredibly interested in the process of e-voting (which is very advanced in Estonia, ed.) We need to establish this in Ukraine too, so I hope to learn from the Estonians and share my knowledge and ideas in my home country.”

Lucrezia (27, Milan) holds an advanced diploma in Effective Electoral Assistance, and brings this experience in her approach to the mission. “I consider the elections as a process, rather than a mere event. For this reason I recognize the vital importance of the Electoral Cycle Approach, the project management and international team work, in order to contribute to the transparency of the procedures. I examined in depth the political situation and the electoral system of Estonia. The country is being approached by European partners with increasing interest, and the resignation of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and the arrive of the new Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas have opened new scenarios.” Viktor adds that “It will sure be interesting to see how the Russian-speaking Estonian society will act under the pressure of EU-Russian relations”.

Whatever will happen around 1 March in Estonia, it will be a great experience for everyone. With 31 observers selected and a busy program, some great results are expected. Lucrezia sees the people as the biggest highlight: “There will be many observers in the field and we, as coordinators, have to arrange every aspect of the mission. But we are assisted step by step by the amazing AEGEE Election Observation Project members, who are a constant source of inspiration. Moreover we selected brilliant, passionate and motivated youths. We can’t wait to meet each other and to work hard on the mission!”

Written by Marije Arentze (AEGEE-Leiden), Publications Manager of the Election Observation Project