Taking concrete measures towards organising electoral rules in accordance with standards for fair and free elections

The quality of elections is assessed by taking into consideration the entire electoral process and not just by observing the Election Day. The electoral campaign was not carried out in accordance with standards for free and fair elections, whereas the election day (April 2nd) and the post-electoral process went on mostly in accordance with the legal procedures, the CRTA observation mission “Citizens on Watch” announced when presenting their final report after having observed the presidential election in 2017. The intensity of visible irregularities in the media, hidden but also open support of public officials of one candidate, the campaign for the president of the state carried out from the position of a prime minister, as well as numerous rumours of “buying” votes and putting pressure on voters point to the fact that pre-election period cannot be assessed as fair, free and in accordance with international democratic elections.

“Electoral campaign was characterised by media inequality and public officials’ campaigning and therefore it is important to take concrete measures in the following period for the improvement of electoral procedures and rules in accordance with international standards for fair and free elections. Initially, it is important that institutions responsible for the implementation of elections do their work and that the law is respected,” said Rasa Nedeljkov, the head of the CRTA observation mission “Citizens on Watch”.

In order to enhance the oversight efficiency of pre-election campaign, it is necessary to stipulate short deadlines for the Anti-Corruption Agency and the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM) to act on complaints during the campaign.

In order to stop the abuse of public resources for the needs of a political campaign, it is necessary to define more clearly anti-corruption regulations. It is necessary to prescribe relevant regulations which would explicitly forbid public officials to initiate projects financed from the budget resources during the pre-election campaign, as well as to participate in public meetings organised by state institutions, including charity activities financed from the budget. In case this legal norm is violated, it is necessary to predict appropriate punitive measures for public officials and employees.
In order to avoid media discrimination, it is necessary to introduce the obligation that the REM should inform the public about the work of broadcasters during and after the pre-election campaign, to define more clearly legal tasks and liabilities of the REM, as well as the procedure of determining liabilities for the members of the REM Council in case it deviates from its competences. This would reinforce the REM to protect the public interest in the work of electronic media and it would not allow the practice from the 2017 electoral campaign, when the REM limited its liabilities on its own initiative, to happen again.

Although the Republic Electoral Commission has acted mostly in accordance with authorisations, reforming the REC should be considered so that it would be professionalised and more independent. A serious obstacle in the quality implementation of electoral process are non-qualified members of electoral committees. Since the current training method of the members of electoral committees does not give expected results in practice, apart from improving the quality of education, it is necessary to introduce mandatory testing of members of electoral committees.
Short deadlines for filing complaints, as one of the major reasons why voters refrain from the protection of their electoral right, must be extended. Besides, the possibility of submitting complaints electronically should be introduced, which has not been the case so far within the process of the protection of the electoral right. Among other things, the CRTA observation mission “Citizens on Watch” suggests that the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament and the Law on Local Elections should be supplemented so that obligatory repetition of elections on the polling station is introduced in cases where the REC or the Constitutional Court determine that the results from the Minutes on the Work of Electoral Committee do not match the actual state of electoral material.

“The thing that casts a shadow on the 2017 electoral process is the chairman of the electoral committee correcting or initialling the Minutes on the Work after the Minutes have been publicly displayed on the polling station. It is necessary to abolish this kind of practice because of a potential inability to determine preliminary, and subsequently even final election results,” said Pavle Dimitrijevic, the head of the legal team of the CRTA observation mission “Citizens on Watch”.

Apart from updating the voters register the CRTA observation mission “Citizens on Watch” also suggests that the electoral legislation should be arranged by a unique electoral law.

Due to rumours of potential electoral theft on the Election Day, the CRTA observation mission “Citizens on Watch” filed a request to the REC on April 10th to gain access to registers from 450 polling stations which were sampled by the observation mission, in order to compare them to photographs of Minutes made by the observers. The REC has not responded to the aforementioned request and it still has not allowed access to the Minutes on the work of electoral committees.

The report summary is on the following link.