Arab Spring activists observing Poland's election

AP News
Posted: Oct 07, 2011 11:13 AM
Arab Spring activists observing Poland's election

A group of Arab Spring activists observing Polish parliamentary elections are championing the spirit of civil society, and say such ballots back home will be milestones in turning hard-won freedoms into lasting democracy.

Fifteen activists and election officials _ five each from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya _ met Friday with deputy foreign ministers Krzysztof Stanowski and Jerzy Pomianowski. They also held a meeting with the members and judges of the State Electoral Commission.

Poland is to hold parliamentary elections on Sunday, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform party presently leading in opinion polls.

Following this year's wave of Arab Spring revolutions, the first free elections in decades are to be held in Tunisia on Oct. 23 and in Egypt at the end of November. No elections are yet scheduled for Libya, where dictator Moammar Gadhafi remains in hiding.

Heads of the Egyptian and Tunisian delegations told reporters they will make every effort to ensure that the historic elections are held according to the best standards of democracy.

"We will take every effort to make sure that one of the key slogans of the revolution, free elections, is achieved," said Abdel Moez, head of Egypt's Electoral Commission.

"We are now at a key moment in history, a transition from a dictatorship," he said.

A leader of the Libyan delegation, former political prisoner Muhammad Abunnaja, said Libya will "certainly not go back to a dictatorship or tyranny" and when time comes for free elections, a "democratic formula will be found to make sure that all social groups are represented."

"We want to learn good solutions that can be used in our country," he said. "We want to learn how to introduce and improve the mechanisms of a democratic society."

"We are in the process of making our dreams come true," Abunnaja said.

But all agreed that the greatest challenge would be to persuade the people to take part in the vote, after decades of rigged elections under dictatorships.

In Tunisia, a nation of some 10 million people, some 4 million have registered for the vote, said Larbi Chouikha, an election official in the country.

"We would consider it a great success if that 40 percent took part in the elections," Chouikha said.

On Sunday, the Tunisian group will visit polling stations in Warsaw. The Libyans will travel to Radom south of the capital, while the Egyptians journey to Plock, in central Poland, to observe voting and the counting of ballots.

Poland's Foreign Ministry said the country wants to share its experience in holding transparent and democratic election.

Former President Lech Walesa _ the legendary leader of Poland's Solidarity freedom movement who was instrumental in overthrowing Poland's own authoritarian system 22 years ago _ visited Tunisia earlier this year to advise on steps to be taken to ensure that all social groups find representation in the democratic processes.