The campaign is marked by inequality, threats, and doubts
The initial phase of the pre-election campaign has been characterized by the inequalities of participants in the race, particularly in terms of the significant advantages the ruling parties gain by abusing institutions, further continuing to blur the line between themselves and the state. There are also doubts among the public about the integrity of the electoral process, according to CRTA’s First Interim Report of Long Term Election Observation, presented on November 23 at the Media Center in Belgrade.
“Inflammatory rhetoric comes from both the ruling and opposition camps, but it is especially concerning that high-ranking state officials participate in intimidation of citizens with hints of violence and with the absence of reactions and actions from independent oversight bodies,” said the Head of the CRTA Election Observation Mission, Raša Nedeljkov.
It has been shown that the principle of impunity, established during previous elections, leads to even greater law violations and a greater relaxation of control mechanisms. Reports of falsifying signatures supporting candidate lists, which are, among other things, a consequence of a flawed solution that allows municipal administrations, in addition to notaries, to certify signatures, suggest the possibility that some lists could reach the ballot illegally once again.
Similarly, the effect of suspicions of manipulation of the voter register and alleged organized voter migrations is intensified by the fact that the relevant state institutions do not provide clear and complete information on these contentious issues.
The work of the election administration is in accordance with the law, and there are no formal restrictions on participation in elections or in their observation. Despite increased transparency and proactivity of the Republic Electoral Commission, the capacities and authority of the election administration are once again proving insufficient to protect the integrity of the electoral process.
In the first 20 days of the campaign, the CRTA Election Observation Mission recorded about 50 events with elements of abuse of public resources. Through conversations with citizens, CRTA observers recorded claims of electoral clientelism and political pressure in 12 cities, primarily directed at public sector employees.
In the past month, CRTA observers recorded almost 450 visits by high-ranking state officials to local communities, mostly those where extraordinary local elections will be held, and they are mainly presented in a public function, i.e., representing the state of Serbia.
The appearances of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, dominate the public sphere, creating the impression that presidential, rather than parliamentary, provincial, and local elections are taking place. As the SNS campaign’s main face and theme, President Vučić occupies almost half of the time and space in the informative-political content of the most influential media.
Coverage by national televisions is marked by bias in favor of the ruling parties, partialness, and manipulation of information. The program division into regular informative content, dominated by government representatives, and separate election blocks, where other election participants are represented, creates the illusion of pluralism in the media.
There have been several cases of violence against political activists and citizens, in the form of verbal and physical attacks and property threats. The impression is that the violent atmosphere intensifies as the campaign progresses, as five incidents were noted in just three days, from November 20 to 22.
“We call on the highest state officials, as well as all election participants, to stop encouraging an atmosphere of fear in the election campaign in order to calm tensions. We also appeal to state institutions to provide the public with timely and complete facts and information to contribute to the protection of electoral integrity,” said the Deputy Head of the CRTA Election Observation Mission, Tamara Branković.
The CRTA Election Observation Mission has so far submitted 21 reports to relevant control institutions – the Anti-Corruption Agency (15), the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (5), and the Supervisory Board of the National Assembly (1).
You can find the full report here.