Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes his visiting South African counterpart Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, right, in Moscow on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Johannesburg - International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has irked some foreign embassies by instructing them to send only their ambassadors to observe Wednesday’s elections.

And the government has raised eyebrows by inviting only the heads of state of its closest allies – such as African and Brics nations – to the inauguration of the new president after the elections. The Brics bloc of emerging nations comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa

Nkoana-Mashabane’s order dismayed some embassies which had planned to send several diplomats to polling stations around the country, as they have in the past. According to one ambassador, about 400 diplomats had got Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) accreditation to observe the elections.

The US Embassy, for example, had planned to deploy a few dozen diplomats, according to sources in other embassies who attended a meeting with Nkoana-Mashabane in Pretoria two weeks ago.

She told them that she would only allow the ambassador from each embassy to attend the elections and invoked the Vienna Convention which governs diplomatic relations among countries to justify her decision.

“We used to be able to send several diplomats to watch past elections. We don’t understand why this has changed,” said one diplomat who wished to remain anonymous.

According to diplomats who attended the meeting with the minister, she drew a distinction between formal election observers and diplomats stationed in South Africa who wished to observe the election on the day.

For instance, the European Union (EU) was invited to send an official observer mission as it does to many elections around the world. “However from an EU perspective, we have full trust in South Africa’s democratic process and will not be sending an official election observer mission,” said EU Embassy spokesman Frank Oberholzer.

“The IEC has invited diplomatic missions in a so-called ‘diplomatic watch’ action. This involves locally based foreign diplomats informally visiting one or more voting stations of their choosing… The EU delegation has taken up the IEC’s invitation to participate.”

Clayson Monyela, spokes-man for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, said today the IEC simply couldn’t accommodate 70 or 80 observers from every embassy.

The Star