International observers in place

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Election observers from a dozen countries were in Norway on Monday to monitor the country’s parliamentary election. Some observers from former Soviet republics were also in place to learn about a democratic election process.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg jumped the gun a bit by casting his ballot in early voting that began Sunday afternoon. A record 622,000 Norwegians had voted absentee or in advance by Friday.

The majority, however, were heading into voting booths around the country after polls opened at 9am. More than 140 persons from six international organizations have been accredited to officially observe the process and come with recommendations for improvement, reports newspaper Dagsavisen .

It’s the second time foreign observers have been invited to Norway for a national election. The government invited the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has sent nine observers from European countries, Canada and the US.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee invited observers from 12 countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Other organizations with election observers in Norway include World Peace Volunteers and the African Parliament SC.

“It’s important to show how Norwegian elections are assessed on the basis of international standards,” says Bjørn Engesland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Also Norway needs a critical examination from time to time.”

Engesland noted that observers’ comments from the election in 2005 led to a new rule that voters must present official identification when they show up at the polling place, not just the election card sent to them in the mail. The observers’ right to observe is also now included in Norwegian election legislation.

The observers from the former Soviet republics “are democratic champions in their own countries,” Berit Lindeman of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee told Dagsavisen . “It’s good for Norway to see its own democracy and election system from the outside. For the observers, it’s helpful to see how the Norwegian democracy functions.”

Norway’s political parties were hoping for a large voter turnout, not least because they hope to capture the votes of those who have remained undecided until the last minute. The election race has been unusually tight, with a host of government alternatives possible after the votes are counted.