On July 6, 2010 in Oslo, Spencer Oliver was re-elected as Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly (PA) with more than 95 percent of the votes. The OSCE was developed as a strictly non-career organization in which elected members may not exceed 10 years work in one position. Oliver, a U.S. representative, has been Secretary General since 1992, leaving many questioning his continued re-appointment.
The OSCE, whose work focuses on strengthening democracy, election monitoring, resolving conflict and encouraging transparency has 56 member countries with very diverse political systems, amongst them Latvia, the U.S. and Belarus. The Assembly exists primarily to encourage and facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue.
Recently Artis Pabriks, ex-foreign minister of Latvia and one of the founding members of the Sabiedriba Citai Politikai (Society for Different Politics) political party currently running for Latvian parliament as part of the Vienotiba (Unity) coalition put himself forward as candidate for Secretary General of the OSCE PA.
With backing from the Latvian government, Lithuania and Estonia, Pabriks was set to revolutionize the election process. Currently voting is done by the Standing Committee, or the 56 heads of delegations. In order to reappoint the Secretary General a simple majority is needed, whereas for a new candidate to be accepted he or she must receive consensus-minus-one or, in this case, 55 votes, seen by many, Pabriks included, as unfair. Pabriks proposed the rules be changed but was informed that in order to achieve a rules change you must get consensus-minus-one votes. “This puts me or any other candidate in a very disadvantaged position,” he comments, questioning why an institution meant to monitor elections and speak about transparency and democracy would impose such rules.
Pabriks was shocked to see that the agendas sent to each head of delegation prior to the Oslo meeting mentioned the “renewal” of the Secretary General rather than an election illustrating, in his opinion, that he was never even considered an official candidate. Marija Golubeva, senior researcher at Providus Center for Public Policy, explains “Any slightly controversial candidate to a high-level political post is unlikely to gain support through the consensus-minus-one procedure,” particularly within the OSCE which operates in a very diplomatic and cautious way. She believes Pabriks’ candidacy may be percieved controversial as he represents a country actively opposing Russian foreign policy and Russia’s attempts at regaining power in the region. “Proposing an MP from one of the countries most vocal about their opposition to Russia as a candidate for Secretary General is a statement in itself,” Golubeva adds.
Pabriks himself said officially, if elected, he had hoped to focus on improving democratization, particularly in ex-Soviet bloc countries as well as cooperation with the European Parliament and other regional organizations.
Klas Bergman, Director of Communications of the OSCE PA, defends the current voting procedure by stating “these rules serve to preserve a professional non-political staff in their international secretariats and to encourage continuity within the organization.” According to him other assemblies worldwide use a similar set up and have long serving professional staffs.
Pabriks’ candidacy came as a surprise to the Secretariat as he is not well known by current leaders of the Assembly and has been active in other branches of the OSCE. The office has received numerous letters of support for Oliver from various delegations such as the U.S. and from a group of previous OSCE PA presidents. Current head of the U.S. delegation, Benjamin Cardin, expressed written thanks to Janis Eglitis, head of the Latvian delegation, for showing such commitment to the success of the Assembly and its work, however, criticizing the choice of timing to propose a rules change, leaving only a few weeks prior to the election. He would be voting against the proposal and suggested it be discussed at a later time.
A few years ago, Oliver and the International Secretariat themselves proposed a rules change so that a new Secretary General, after being nominated by at least two-thirds of the members of the Bureau of the Assembly, could then be confirmed by the Standing Committee, also by at least a two-thirds majority, considerably lowering the number of votes needed for a new successor. It was the Standing Committee that voted against this new system.
An OSCE official based in Vienna is full of criticism towards the election process, calling it inadequate and disregardful of basic democratic principles. He sees the continued reappointment of Oliver as a serious breach of rules, as no one else within the organization has been allowed to exceed the 10 year limit. He considered Pabriks’ candidacy a positive surprise, commending his academic and political achievements in his role as Latvian foreign minister and during the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights missions to Montenegro and Tajikistan as Head of Election Observation. His compliments for Pabriks are echoed by Nils Muiznieks, Director of the Advanced Social and Political Research Institute at the University of Latvia who calls the ex-foreign minister one of Latvia’s best foreign policy experts with strong experience in politics, the NGO world and academics.
The Vienna diplomat believes it is unfortunate Pabriks never got given serious consideration and blames it partly on him being an outsider and not a part of the club. Commenting on why Oliver has stayed in his position for so long, the official states that the longer you have worked with a certain group of employers and the more favors you have done for them in your time, the stronger your position becomes. Muiznieks thinks similarly, saying “any representative from a small state who dares to compete with an American colleague for a post is bound to elicit surprise and discomfort from politicians in the U.S. There must be a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ of some sort at work there guaranteeing U.S. representation, and Pabriks dared to challenge that. Good for him!”
Although the outcome of the election was unfavorable to Pabriks, he clearly has well-wishers in the international community. It seems if he had chosen an earlier time to question and adapt the current rules there may have been more potential for success as he is not alone in believing a change is necessary in the leadership of the organization.
If successful in the future, Pabriks may hold one of the highest positions ever held by a Latvian in an international organization.