Strasbourg, 24 February 2004

CG/Bur (10) 88

Report on the Legislative Elections in the Republic of Serbia (Serbia and Montenegro) - 28 December 2003

Document adopted by the Bureau of the Congress
on 13 February 2004

1. Introduction

Following the invitation by Ms. Nataša Mićić, President of the Parliament of the Republic of Serbia, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe decided to send a delegation to observe the 28 December 2003 elections to the Parliament of the Republic of Serbia (Serbia and Montenegro).

The Congress observer group was headed by Mr. Günther Krug (Germany) – Head of the Congress Delegation. It also comprised Mr. Joseph Borg (Malta), Mr. Christopher Newbury (UK), Mr. Peter Torkler (Germany) and was accompanied by Mr. Dan Paul Medrea (expert) and Vyacheslav Tolkovanov from the Congress Secretariat.

The visit to Serbia was organized with the support of the Council of Europe office in Belgrade. Thanks are due to Mr. Jorgen GRUNET, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe for his assistance to this effect.

The observation mission has been carried out in close collaboration with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) in the framework of an ad-hoc International Election Observation Mission (IEOM).

The Congress Delegation remains especially grateful to Mr. Nikolai VULCHANOV, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission for the considerable cooperation of his team in terms of logistical support, briefings and consultations.

The OSCE/ODIHR established an Election Observation Mission (EOM) in Belgrade, preparing the observation exercise for election day, when more than 200 short-term observers were deployed throughout the Republic.

In the days preceding the 28 December elections the delegation met with representatives of the main political parties, the Republic Election Commission, the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) and the Strategic Marketing and Media Research Institute (see programme in appendix 1).

On election day the five Congress teams were deployed in the following areas of Serbia: Mr. Borg / Mr. Newbury – Nis, Mr. Krug / Mr. Torkler – Kragujevac, Mr. Medrea / Mr. Tolkovanov – Novi Sad / Belgrade / Vrsac. The three teams visited 36 polling stations altogether.

Following election day a joint press conference was held with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and a joint press release was issued (appendix 2).

2. Difficult political environment

The parliamentary elections held in Serbia on December 23, 2000 (also observed by the Congress) gave an overwhelming majority to the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), a broad coalition having guided the popular revolt that ousted President Slobodan Milosevic. The expectation was that all democratic forces would work together within a clear and strong European reform agenda for a fast integration of Serbia.

However, shortly after, disputes appeared between erstwhile partners in the DOS coalition, particularly between the Democratic Party (DS) of the late Prime Minister, Zoran Djinjic and the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. It has suffered many defections since and is mired in allegations of corruption and incompetence. This engendered a long-standing political impasse that negatively influenced political life in Serbia and eroded public confidence in the democratic process.

The post of president of Serbia has been vacant since January 2002. Three attempts to elect a new head of the republic have been made in 2002 and 2003, but all failed due to insufficient turnout. Calls for early parliamentary elections became increasingly stronger as some parties left the DOS coalition, thus reducing the government's majority in the National Assembly. During the campaign for the 16 November 2003 presidential elections, the National Assembly began debating votes of no-confidence in the Speaker of the Parliament and the government. The debate showed growing cracks in the government coalition, and before it had come to a vote, Ms. Nataša Mićić, Speaker of the Parliament decided to dissolve the National Assembly three days before the presidential elections and called early parliamentary elections for the 28 December 2003.

A number of international figures (including Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President Peter Schieder and European Union High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana) publicly objected to the fact that several Serbs charged in the Hague were candidates on 4 electoral lists.

In its report on the legislative elections in Serbia, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe regrets that “Mr. Slobodan Milosevic, Mr. Vojislav Seselj and Mr. Nebojasa Pavkovic stood for election while on trial for war crimes before the Hague Tribunal”.

“Although everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty, these people carry a moral and political responsibility for the terrible exactions committed during the war and their deeds have darkened the history of the Balkans. Their standing for election sends out a negative message to the international community and stirs up the ghosts of the past”, added Mr. Murat Mercan, Head of the delegation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and rapporteur of the ad hoc Committee.

Nevertheless, some observers in Belgrade saw this is as somewhat counterproductive, as the foreign statements were perceived by some voters as another example of international interference and unjustified pressure.

3. Legislative framework

The Constitution of Serbia, adopted in March 1990, establishes a unicameral National Assembly with 250 members, elected for a four-year term. In addition, a parliamentary election law named “The Law on the Election of Representatives” was adopted by the Serbian Parliament after the DOS victory in the Federal Election in October 2000. It foresees that the Parliament be elected in a single, countrywide constituency and envisages a 5% threshold for parties to take part in the allocation of seats, using a proportional system (D'Hondt formula).

At the same time, the parliamentary election law, unchanged since October 2000, contains significant shortcomings on which the Council of Europe's Congress and the OSCE/ODIHR have already commented in numerous reports and statements.

There is a provision within this law (and, unfortunately in the law on local elections) that allows parties and coalitions to decide on a premature termination of the elected representatives' mandate. Following a prolonged judicial controversy, the Constitutional Court of Serbia ruled this provision as in breach of the Republic's Constitution. Nevertheless, no amendments to the respective laws have been made as yet.

Moreover, the election law limits the transparency of the electoral process by enabling the political parties to arbitrarily and a posteriori choose which candidates from the electoral lists become members of the parliament. As a result, voters cannot know to which candidates they will eventually pass their mandate.

As a matter of particular concern, the Delegation noted that the election law only allows for voting in person at the polling stations in which that person is registered. This is an unnecessary and unfortunate restriction that de facto disenfranchises eligible voters who are hospitalized, homebound, imprisoned or temporarily living outside Serbia, which seems to be the case for a considerable number of persons. Establishing special voting procedures may be envisaged as a solution.

Allegations were made that the 1997 Law on Party Financing, and regulating the December 2003 election do not provide sufficiently high standards on this important issue. The adoption of a new law on the matter, coming into force in 2004, is therefore to be commended.

4. Election administration

In accordance with the Law on the Election of Representatives, the parliamentary elections were administered by a two-tier system: the Republic Election Commission (consisting of a chairperson and 16 "permanent" members, appointed by Parliament in June 2002) and Polling Boards.

Some shortages are addressed by numerous instructions and decisions issued by the Republic Election Commission that supplement the law. One of them introduced the ad-hoc Municipal Working Groups (MWGs) as an interim solution to fill the legal gap of an intermediate level of election administration. They have been assigned technical and logistical tasks. However, there was no legal basis to the decision and no clear definition of the composition of MWGs or their competencies.

Overall, the Republican Election Commission performed its duties in a constructive and efficient manner. Its permanent membership has been extended to include a member and a deputy member representing each of the registered candidate lists. Simultaneously, the OSCE/ODIHR noted that the extended representation was provided in most of the 8586 Polling Boards, but not in the Municipal Working Groups.

5. Voter registers

During its meeting with the representatives of the Republic Electoral Commission, the Delegation was advised that a total of 6,511,450 voters were registered for the parliamentary elections.

At the same time, political parties' representatives remained critical of the accuracy of the Unique Voters Register at republic level and identified a complicated process of cross-checking and aggregating data from registers at municipal levels.

The Delegation noted that the Ministry for Public Administration and Local Self-Government had made considerable efforts to improve voter registration data. It can only be hoped that this trend will continue with the adoption of appropriate legislative provisions to ensure an accurate central voter register.

6. Election campaign and the media

The Republic Electoral Commission registered more than 4,000 candidates from 19 parties and coalitions. Their names, and the names of the bearers of the lists figure below (from the preliminary conclusions made by ODIHR and handed over to the Congress delegation):

    1. G17 Plus – Miroljub Labus
    2. Serbian Radical Party – Vojislav Seselj
    3. Democratic Party of Serbia - Vojislav Kostunica
    4. Democratic Alternative – Nebojsa Covic
    5. Democratic Party – Boris Tadic
    6. Serbian Renewal Movement - New Serbia – Vuk Draskovic – Velimir Ilic
    7. Otpor
    8. For People's Unity – Borislav Pelevic – Marijan Risticevic
    9. Socialist Party of Serbia – Slobodan Milosevic
    10. Independent Serbia – Vladan Batic
    11. Defence and Justice – Vuk Obradovic – Borivoje Borovic
    12. Together for Tolerance – Canak, Kasza, Ljajic
    13. Liberals of Serbia – Dusan Mihajlovic
    14. Reformists – Social Democratic Parties of Vojvodina-Serbia – Miodrag-Mile Isakov
    15. Socialist People's Party – People's Bloc – General Nebojsa Pavkovic
    16. Citizens' Group “Economic Force of Serbia and Diaspora” – Branko Dragas
    17. Labour Party of Serbia – Dragan Milovanovic
    18. Union of Serbs of Vojvodina – Dusan Salatic
    19. Yugoslav Left – JUL

According to OSCE/ODHIR monitoring data, many parties and coalitions started their campaigns in late November or early December. The campaign rhetoric was generally moderate and no serious incidents damaged the campaign. Both state and private media broadcasted the contestants' platforms and campaign events throughout Serbia and many political parties also campaigned at grass-roots level.

7. Election day observations

The Delegation's teams were able to observe the polling and counting procedures in 36 out of 8,586 polling stations. Voting was carried out in a calm and orderly manner in the overwhelming majority of the polling stations visited. People seemed to be happy to vote for their preferred option, rather than for the party they disliked the least, as has often been the case in previous elections. Police conduct was appropriate and in accordance with the law.

In general, the observers got the impression that electoral process was fair and free. The Delegation would like to welcome the relatively high participation turnout (around 60%) and to commend the professional and conscientious work by the polling staff despite challenges caused by the lack of an intermediate level of election administration.

A number of procedural shortcomings have also been noted that seemed not significant enough to influence the outcome.

    · In many cases, the Delegation found that the access to the polling stations was difficult. This problem is even more serious when it concerns elderly or disabled people.
    · Sometimes, polling stations were too small for the number of voters in the area. This resulted in an undue congestion and chaotic scenes inside, or queuing in front of the polling station.
    · The cardboard screens provided by the election administration did not seem to be effective in ensuring the secrecy of voting in many cases. A polling station layout using booths would be more appropriate.
    · A non-smoker environment should be respected within polling stations, being harmless to the entire polling board.
    · Family voting has been noticed on a few occasions.

8. Election results and implications

6 out of 19 parties that contested the parliamentary elections will have representatives in the National Assembly of Serbia. This marks a considerable simplification as compared to the previous composition of the Serbian Parliament, in which representatives of 28 political organizations were sited.

The Serbian Radical Party led by Vojislav Seselj won the biggest number of the votes cast (27.7 percent and 81 seats in Parliament). This party supports expanding Serbia's borders at the expense of its neighbours and its leader is facing the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague. The Socialist Party of Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic got 7.6 percent and 22 seats.

The reform parties in the new composition of the assembly are the Democratic Party of Serbia of Mr. Vojislav Kostunica who took second place (18 percent and 53 seats), the Democratic Party led by Boris Tadic (12.6 percent and 37 seats), the G17 PLUS led by Miroljub Labus (11.7 percent and 34 seats) and the Serbian Renewal Movement/New Serbia led by Vuk Draskovic (8 percent and 23 seats).

All four reform parties have declined any cooperation with radicals and the SPS. Most observers saw no other possibility than some kind of cooperation between the three former DOS partners, in a sort of coalition with Mr. Draskovic's party.

As a result of the 28 December elections, no political party will represent national minorities' in the new Parliament (It should be remembered, however, that more than a dozen MPs from ethnic minorities were elected by other parties). Therefore specific measures should be considered in order to facilitate future participation of national minorities in the Assembly.

9. Concluding recommendations

Serbia's fragile democracy is considered crucial to stability in the Balkans. Therefore, the Congress' Delegation welcomes the relatively high participation of the Serbian people in the democratic process and commends the orderly conduct of the elections.

However, the political support for radical parties and individuals indicted for crimes against humanity, after years of wars that have devastated the Balkans, is seen as a sign of the re-emergence of extreme nationalism in Serbia, and by this, the country is sending out a negative message.

A comprehensive review of the election legislation is long overdue. The existing shortcomings, with regard to the electoral process, should be addressed by an unambiguous election law rather than by countless instructions and decisions of the electoral administration.

It is recommended that new electoral legislation be established as a matter of urgency for any future Serbian parliament, including repeal of provisions that allow parties and coalitions to strip elected representatives of their mandates and disenfranchise eligible electorate. The transparency of the electoral system should also be enhanced, ensuring that allocation of mandates is determined by the order on the list rather than by arbitrary decisions of political parties and coalitions.

The Congress wishes to express willingness to assist the new authorities and the civil society of Serbia in addressing the remaining challenges and to further the cause of integration in the wider European community. To this end, it is recalled that two Local Democracy Agencies are operating in Subotica (Voivodina) and Nis (Central and Southern Serbia) under the auspices of the Congress. They propose various activities with a view to strengthening democratic practices at local level, civil society and social cohesion through intercultural dialog and remain at the disposal of the Serbian authorities to contribute to the European integration of Serbia through partnerships with European cities, regions and non-governmental organisations.

Appendix 1

Draft Programme of the meetings of the
CLRAE Observation Mission and PA Observation Mission,
Belgrade, 26-29 December 2003

Friday 26 December

10.00 Briefing with Mr. Jorgen Grunnet, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to Serbia and Montenegro. The briefing is for Mr. Tolkovanov from the Secretariat of the CLRAE

    (Council of Europe Office in Belgrade)

16.00 Briefing of Mr. Jorgen Grunnet with other members of both delegation who are arriving in Belgrade

17.00 Meeting with Ambassadors

    (Room Mediteran, Hotel-Intercontinental)

Saturday 27 December

8.30 Working breakfast for the members of the delegation at Hotel Intercontinental

10.00 Briefing meeting with Mr Nikolai Vulchanov, Head of OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission

    (Room Egej, Hotel Intercontinental)

10.10 Briefing on the political landscape by Ambassador Maurizio Massari, Head of OSCE Mission

10.25 Briefing on candidates and Campaign with Mr Stefan Krause

10.40 Briefing on the situation of medias by Mrs Mirella Marchese

10.50 Briefing on legislative framework by Mr Hans Birchler

11.00 Information meeting on election day procedures and observation

11.30 Meeting with Mr Radoslav Bacovic and Ms Ljiljana Benac-Santic, Chairman and Secretary of the Republican Election Commission

12.15 Mr Aleksandar Popovic, Vice-President
Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)

13.00 Mr Milan Pajevic, Vice-President,
Ms Zorana Ivankovic
Mr Pavle Jankovic
G17 Plus

14.00 Mr Radoje Prica, Deputy of the Serbia and Montenegro Delegation to PACE

14.45 Lunch break

15.30 Mr Milan Bozic (SPO) and Ms Ljiljana Markovic (NS)
Coalition Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) – New Serbia (NS)

16.15 Mr Srdan Bogosavljevic
Director of the Strategic Marketing and Media Research Institute

17.45 Ms Jelena Markovic
Coalition Together for Tolerance –Canak, Kasa, Ljajic

18.30 Mr Zoran Lucic

      Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID)

19.30 Meeting with drivers and interpreters

      Deployment of the five CLRAE teams in the areas of responsibility:

      Belgrade / Novi Sad
      Kragujevac
      Niš

Sunday 28 December 2003

Observation of the election

Monday 29 December 2003

Return to Belgrade

11.00 Debriefing of the CLRAE delegation at the Hotel Intercontinental

13.30 Joint Press Conference with OSCE/ODIHR

PRESS RELEASE

SERBIAN ELECTIONS WELL ORGANIZED BUT CHANGES TO ELECTION LAW LONG OVERDUE

BELGRADE, 29 December 2003 – The parliamentary elections on 28 December in Serbia went smoothly and were generally conducted in line with international standards. However, the election law contains serious shortcomings including a key article contradicting OSCE Commitments and Council of Europe standards.

This was the conclusion of the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) in Belgrade, which published its preliminary findings today, based on the work of some 180 long- and short-term observers.

“These elections were another attempt to consolidate democracy in Serbia and contribute to its further integration into European structures," said Ihor Ostash, Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Special Co-ordinator, appointed by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office. “We welcome the relatively high participation and that voters had a genuine choice, as contesting parties and coalitions came from across the political spectrum. However, Parliament should reform the election law as a matter of urgency.”

Murat Mercan, Head of the delegation of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly said: “Three candidate lists are led by indicted war criminals. This sends out a negative message. While formally not in breach of the law, it shows a lack of political responsibility and is a reminder that a number of political parties in Serbia are still caught up in the denounced legacy of the past.”

“A comprehensive review of the election legislation is long overdue," added Nikolai Vulchanov, the Head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Elections and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Observation Mission. "Transparency needs to be enhanced to allow voters to know which candidates they are voting for, rather than enable parties to name MPs arbitrarily from the candidates' lists,” The Constitutional Court has ruled that stripping elected representatives of their mandates is in breach of the Constitution. It is a matter of urgency to bring the election law in line with the Constitution and OSCE commitments.”

“It is unfortunate that legal restrictions de facto disenfranchised eligible voters who were homebound, hospitalized, imprisoned or temporally living abroad,” said Guenther Krug, Vice-President of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) and Head of the Delegation.

The IEOM noted that many voters felt they were able to vote for their preferred option, rather than for the party they disliked the least, as has often been the case in previous elections. Campaign rhetoric was generally moderate and media coverage of the campaign largely unbiased. Overall, the election administration worked in an efficient and open manner despite challenges caused by lack of an intermediate level of election administration.

For further information, please contact: Urdur Gunnarsdottir, ODIHR Spokesperson, +48 603 683 122, urdur.gunnarsdottir@odihr.pl , Pentti Vaananen, OSCE PA, +45 33 37 80 40, pentti@oscepa.org, Agnes Nollinger, PA of the Council of Europe, + 33 618 041 236, agnes.nollinger@coe.int or Vyacheslav Tolkovanov, CLRAE of the Council of Europe, +33 390 214 747, vyacheslav.tolkovanov@coe.int

Appendix III

SERBIA: WELL CONDUCTED PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN A DIFFICULT ELECTORAL LEGISLATION

Strasbourg, 29.12.2003 - The delegations of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, observing the parliamentary elections in Serbia, can today confirm that the elections were carried out in a calm atmosphere and were in general conducted in line with Council of Europe standards.

During the Election Day the observers visited more than 50 polling stations in different parts of Serbia. According to their findings the voting was conducted in a professionally commendable and open manner.

However, a small number of shortcomings were reported, including insufficient arrangements for voting, i.e. privacy for voting and sometimes overcrowded polling stations.

Mr. Murat MERCAN, head of the PACE Delegation, noted a lack political responsibility on the fact that three candidate lists were led by indicted war criminals. “It is to be hoped that the denounced legacy of the past is abandoned to all intents and purposes” - he added.

The delegations remain very concerned with the fact that the electoral law falls short of international standards regulating the elections.

“These were free and fair elections. However, it is unfortunate that unnecessary legal restrictions disenfranchised eligible voters which were homebound, hospitalized, imprisoned or temporarily leaving abroad” Mr. Günther KRUG, Congress' Vice-president and head of the Delegation was quoted as saying.

The Council of Europe will follow the post-election developments and assist Serbia to integrate into the wider European community.

Further information, please contact:
Agnès Nollinger, principal administrator (PACE), tel. +33 6 18041236;
E-mail: agnes.nollinger@coe.int
Vyacheslav Tolkovanov, administrator, Congress Secretariat, tel. + 33 3 90214747;
E-mail: vyacheslav.tolkovanov@coe.int

Appendix IV

SPEECH
by Mr. Gunther KRUG,
Vice-president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and Head of the Delegation

The Congress of the Council of Europe also observed the electoral process in different parts of Serbia.

Our delegation estimates that in general the elections were conducted in a professional manner and we wish to welcome the polling staff engagement. I would like to stress from our point of view these elections were free and fair and we are in line with the statements of  the  other  observers.

Despite the general positive impression, our Delegation observed a number of shortcomings.
In particular, we remain concerned about accessibility to voting. At this point, it is to be underlined that there is an unnecessary provision within the electoral law that disenfranchises eligible voters. For instance there is no possibility for homebound, disabled or hospitalized persons to cast their vote. It is even more regrettable that this limitation also refers to a significant number of people temporarily leaving abroad.

Otherwise, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe looks forward to assisting the new Serbian authorities in their participation to a higher level of European cooperation. A detailed report will be adopted by the competent authority within the Congress and made public.

Let me thank this opportunity to thank the lots of people that helped us in carrying out observation duties and thank you for your attention.



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