“Challenged the rule of law”, “undermined separation of the state and party”, “unreasonable grounds of rejection”, “disenfranchising voters”… these are some of the formulations in the remarks of OSCE/ODIHR in their Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions issued after the second round of the local elections in Macedonia, which have been disregarded by the SEC, although most of them have been addressed to this institution in particular
Author: Teofil Blazhevski
Although OSCE/ODIHR, the most influential local elections observer in Macedonia, has assessed these elections as generally positive, their Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions contains multiple remarks on State Election Commission’s (SEC) work, which so far hasn’t reacted and hasn’t responded to journalistic questions regarding the matter.
On the other hand, the Government has been transparent and has readily stressed that it is interested mainly in the general assessment, and also that the process has been conducted within the legislative framework. But an expert in this area says that the remarks are rather serious, that they have been reiterated profusely since 2011, the aren’t good for Macedonia and measures for eliminating such anomalies have to be undertaken.
OSCE/ODIHR: “THE RULE OF LAW HAS BEEN CHALLENGED IN SOME CASES”
The OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission, which has arrived at the beginning of September, issued two Statements of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions the day after the first and the second round were held. Both Statements contain strong remarks, mostly on the work of the State Election Commission. The first one from 16 October 2017, is largely focused on the transparency of the process of handling the complaints (sessions behind closed doors), and the second one from 30 October 2017 on the manner how the complaints were handled:
The SEC rejected all complaints, with members deciding along political lines, in contravention of a requirement of impartiality. While many cases were substantively examined, thoroughness varied. In some cases, the grounds of rejection were unreasonable, and some lacked a clear and sound legal basis. Several cases were denied consideration on technical grounds, contrary to international good practice.
The manner in which many complaints were handled challenged the rule of law and due process, contrary to OSCE commitments.
OSCE/ODIHR have remarks on the updating of the electoral roll and the exercise of the suffrage right of every citizen of age:
Updating voter lists between rounds is not provided for in the law, effectively disenfranchising voters who turned 18 years old in this period. More than 900 voters in penal institutions were unable to exercise their suffrage rights in both rounds, as they lacked valid identification documents. The SEC adopted a decision, by which voters who were on voter lists, but whose identification documents expired, were not allowed to vote.
According to OSCE/ODIHR, the Electoral Code is partly at fault because: “the EC does not clearly regulate certain aspects, reducing coherence of the electoral legal framework.”
The election observation mission notes that the parties participating in the electoral process have lodged complaints for state meddling in party matters, mainly referring to Prime Minister and SDSM’s leader Zoran Zaev’s attendance at rallies prior the runoff organized in communities where candidates from Albanians political parties were running for office:
The Prime Minister, at times in his official capacity, addressed the electorate at SDSM rallies, and used Twitter to send campaign messages. He promoted inclusivity, local development and European Union and NATO integration. Some parties expressed concerns on the Prime Minister pledging Government support for municipalities with an SDSM or DUI mayor. These actions undermined the separation of the state and party, contrary to OSCE commitments.
As evident in the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, OSCE/ODIHR have assessed that the parties that have complained about this infringement of the electoral process are right, by saying that these actions have undermined the separation of the state and the party.
NOVAKOVSKI: THE ASSESSMENTS ARE THE SAME – BUT, FOR ZAEV, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE
Aleksandar Novakovski, an attorney and ex-chairman of the State Election Commission, for “Truthmeter” commented the OSCE’s/ODIHR’S findings and vocabulary, which were mainly focused on SEC’s work, and says that repetition of these findings is not a good thing. Novakovski makes a distinction between the vocabulary used by the politicians and the vocabulary used by OSCE/ODIHR, and draws a conclusion that the fundamental human freedoms and rights regarding the elections were respected:
All political parties that win the elections use the phrase: free, fair and democratic. In all previous cases, the winning parties used this formulation. No winning politician in history has used other formulation. However, the fact is that the electoral process was primarily assessed as COMPETITIVE, and that THE RESPECT OF FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS contributed towards the conduct of democratic elections. This formulation has been carefully selected because of the ongoing process, SEC and the courts should handle all the complaints. But, the fact is that the state has done enough for the respect of fundamental freedoms and the ambient was democratic.
Novakovski is concerned because the remarks were additionally emphasized after the second round, and some of them have been repeated continuously since 2011:
This was second electoral process in a row, and previously from 2011 onward, after which the election administration, particularly the SEC, was given serious remarks. In the primary assessment, the most serious formulation has been made regarding the jeopardy of the rule of law on the part of SEC, which actually violates the Copenhagen criteria, and if it is going to be repeated after the runoff complaints are handled, then the assessment in the final Statement will be unfavorable for SEC. Additionally, there is another serious remark saying that the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters (Venice Commission) has been violated as well i.e. the suffrage right has been violated technically. The education and the 10 municipal election commissions left without resources were subject of remarks too.
OSCE/ODIHR lack arguments in the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions concerning the meddling of the state i.e. the Prime Minister in party matters, according to Novakovski:
I think that only one statement made by the Premier was sufficient for OSCE to conclude that these actions undermine the separation of the state and the parties, but fact is that there are no other remarks regarding this issue and these have been made well-intentionally, and Shtip’s mayor from VMRO-DPMNE has been mentioned as well. This means that every elected and appointed official in office who participates in a campaign must pay attention to his actions. This has been insignificantly surmounted in these elections, but the remarks made for a lot more serious things and the severe formulations regarding SEC’s work are concerning, which are substantial for guaranteeing the rule of law and the exercise of fundamental rights.
Novakovski is assured that measures ought to be taken, from amendments to the legislative regulations to providing everyone with equal suffrage right, including the right to vote via e-mail:
The provisions of the Electoral Code governing the exercise of the suffrage right of absentees, the so called early voting or voting via e-mail, ought to be amended. Plenty of persons are disenfranchised because the early and the e-mail voting haven’t been introduced yet. These are my suggestions, so we can gradually move toward electronic voting. The voter list, the legislation governing the day of closing the voter list and the inability of persons who have turned 18 in the meantime should be revised. Also, the strict regulation and authorities’ interpretation on which personal IDs are considered valid or invalid, ought to be revised as well – Novakovski says
GOVERNMENT: THE ELECTIONS WERE DEMOCRATIC, ZAEV ATTENDED RALLIES AFTER HIS WORKING HOURS
Unlike the SEC, which decided not to respond to journalistic questions, the Government delivered the requested comment on the OSCE/ODIHR Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions promptly, and included the assessment on the Prime Minister. Obviously, the Government finds the general assessment, confirmed by the election observation mission, most important:
The Government of the Republic of Macedonia believes that the elections were conducted in fair and democratic atmosphere, and the citizens of this country demonstrated their free will.
International community’s primary assessments confirm these conclusions, and according to the OSCE/ODIHR Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, the elections were competitive and the respect for fundamental freedoms contributed towards the conduct of democratic elections.
The Prime Minister Zaev didn’t infringe the elections and didn’t mix the state administration’s resources in party’s aims, according to the Government:
Pre-election activities were attended by the President of the Government Zoran Zaev solely after his working hours and Government’s resources were never used.
Every political subject has the right to choose the manner of cooperation and the political subjects to cooperate with. The citizens of the Republic of Macedonia assessed the political subjects’ offerings and gave their votes on that basis.
The Government of the Republic of Macedonia shall cooperate with all mayors of all municipalities in the Republic of Macedonia
The Government’s point lies in the last sentence, and it’s actually a response to the criticism contained in OSCE/ODIHR Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions referring to the speeches with which Zaev has favored certain candidates as opposed to others. Or, as the head of the election observation mission Audrey Glover said in a press conference, the coalitions and speeches are not disputable, but if you promise money from the executive to the municipal power only if the candidate of a certain party wins, that’s disputable.