Walking down Oslo's main street, Karl Johans Gate, the last Saturday before the elections, Professor Alhaji Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) shakes his head in disbelief.
"You would never see this in Nigeria", he says, pointing to the booths that the political parties have put up side by side along the street.
"At home each party would have to have their own street, to prevent politicians and their supporters from fighting".
While we are talking, a group of youth march by, protesting the search for oil in Northern Norway, one of the hotly debated subjects of this year's election campaign.
Professor Yakubu and his colleagues stop to take pictures.
"I have observed elections in many countries, but I have never seen this level of trust and confidence between voters, politicians and the election administration before", he says.
Carlos Alberto Leyva Namen from the Colombian National Civil Registry immediately backs up his statement.
"Here, the current government is in charge of organizing the elections and the results are also announced by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation, not by an independent commission. That would never have been accepted by the opposition in Colombia."
He is puzzled that Norway does not have a permanent national electoral commission, and that people are hired to count votes.
"In Colombia you don't get paid to count votes. It is a civil duty that you have to contribute to. After they have done the initial counting, judges have to verify the result. It is very different from here. We admire the level of trust that you have. It is difficult to achieve and you have to take care to maintain it, because it can very easily fall apart", Namen says.
Understanding the Norwegian system
In addition to Nigeria and Colombia, the delegations include members of central election commissions from Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are in Oslo as a part of the NORDEM study programme to the Norwegian parliamentary elections. The programme is financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies around the world cooperate with NORCAP to select the delegates that receive an invitation. Most are members of the national election commissions of their home country.
“The aim of this programme is to give delegates an understanding of the Norwegian political system, election system and the international standards for democratic elections and election observation. We hope it can be a positive influence that the delegates can bring back to their home countries”, NORCAP Director Benedicte Giæver explains.
The election observers spend one week in Oslo, meeting with all relevant stakeholders involved in the Norwegian elections, such as representatives from political parties, members of parliament, the election management body, the media, the civil service and members of the public to get as wide an understanding as possible.
On Election Day they visited several different polling stations to witness the voting, advance vote verification and counting of votes.
“The Norwegian election is very calm, quiet and smooth. This is something I envy you. I do not think Election Day should be exciting. If they are, it means something is wrong”, says Mykhailo Okhendovskyi, Chairman of the Central Election Commission in Ukraine.
“However, I do hope the system will still be able to work well in the future. Europe is changing. Societies are becoming more polarized and more marginalized. I hope the Norwegian system will manage that challenge."
Recommendations to the ministry
After a week of studying and observing the actual Election Day proceedings, the delegates presented their findings and recommendations to the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation.
The delegates all have extensive experience and background in managing elections at national level in their home countries and we believe they have valuable insight and opinions that Norway can learn from, says NORDEM Adviser, Anne Sofie Molandsveen.
On behalf of the ministry, State Secretary Grete Ellingsen received advice and input on how to improve the elections. The input ranged from transparent ballot boxes and improved accessibility for voters with disabilities to more profound changes in the electoral framework, like establishing a separate body for handling election related complaints.
Many of the delegates commented on the efficiency and professionalism of the Norwegian elections.
“In Nigeria, elections are not simply a matter of routine, but a tool to avoid sliding into civil war. It is a very serious matter. All of us marvel at the way you conducted the elections, which is possible because of the confidence you have in the system”, said Professor Alhaji Mahmood Yakubu, speaking on behalf of the Nigerian delegation.
State Secretary Ellingsen stressed that Norway will work to safeguard the trust. She was also grateful for the feedback the observers provided.
“We enjoy a good relationship with NORCAP and NORDEM and we appreciate that you have studied and observed our elections. Your recommendations provide us with useful information that will be discussed in the new election law commission”, she said.