Strasbourg, 23 September 2002

CG/Bur (9) 40

Report on the local elections in Southern Serbia (28 July 2002)

Rapporteur: Mr. Owen MASTERS (United Kingdom)

Document adopted by the CLRAE Bureau on 19 September 2002

---------------------------

Introduction

The General Consul of Yugoslavia in Strasbourg, Mr Trojan Stankovic, invited the Congress, in a letter dated 17 July 2002, to observe the local elections held in the three municipalities of Bujanovac, Medveja and Presevo on 28 July 2002. The official reason for the delay in this invitation was the late call for these elections.

At its meeting of 5 July 2002, the Bureau of the Congress decided to send an observer delegation comprising Mr Tomas Jirsa (Czech Republic, L, Head of the delegation), Mr Owen Masters (United Kingdom, R) accompanied by Mr Giampaolo Cordiale and Mr Olivier Terrien from the Congress’ Secretariat. The Congress wishes to express its thanks to MM Vlado Ristovski and Gjorgji Jovanovski from the Council of Europe’s Information Office in Skopje and to Mrs Nadia Cuk from the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade for their help in preparing this mission, though they did not take part in the elections’ observation itself. As indicated later in the report, it is to be highlighted that the Congress’ Delegation only took part in the observation of the first of the three run of elections (28 July, 11 August and 25 August).

The Congress worked in close co-operation with the Election Observation Mission appointed by the OSCE/ODIHR. The Congress wishes also to express its thanks to the ODHIR/EOM (Election Observation Mission), in particular to Mr Nikolai L. Vulchanov, Head of the EOM, Mr Hrair Balian, Head of OSCE/ODHIR Elections section, Mr Ricardo Chelleri, Logistics and Security Officer and all the ODIHR staff for their very competent and useful support.

The Council of Europe’s delegation took part in the preparatory meetings organised by the ODIHR in the towns of Bujanovac and Vranje where a preliminary overview of the political situation of the country and of the electoral procedures was provided by Mr Steve Glorioso, Political Analyst.

OSCE/ODIHR had also gathered more than a hundred short-term observers not representing any elected body, as well as other observers from NATO, the European Parliament and different NGOS. In this case the integration between the Congress delegation with the OSCE/ODIHR delegation was a success.

General overview of the situation in Bujanovac, Medvedja and Presevo prior to the elections

On 28 July 2002, the three Southern Serbia municipalities of Bujanovac, Presevo, and Medvedja held elections to select new mayors and councillors for the three municipal assemblies. The last municipal elections took place on 24 September 2000, the same day as elections for the Federal President and Parliament. In Bujanovac and Medvedja, the elections produced results that gave an absolute majority of assembly seats to the SPS/JUL coalition. The electoral system was based on multiple single-member units elected on a majoritarian, ‘first-past-the-post’ basis. These units were often widely disproportionate in size. For instance, one councillor representing 2264 voters, another representing 121. The imbalance mainly favoured SPS/JUL councillors.

Violent incidents escalated in the region in January 2000, leading to the emergence of the group ‘The Liberation Army for Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac’ (known as UCPMB). Following the democratic transition in FRY 2000, the Serbian and Federal governments appointed the Coordinating Body for Bujanovac, Medvedja and Presevo, which assumed many of the daily responsibilities of local government. In February 2002, prior to the adoption of the new Law on Local Self-Government, a government decree suspended the authority of the municipal assemblies and transferred all powers to Interim Municipal Councils (IMCs). The IMCs came into effect on 25 April 2002. They are multi-party and multi-ethnic.

Due mostly to the previous exclusion of the Albanian community from administrative structures, the elections represented a further step towards the peaceful resolution of tensions in the region. Furthermore, the introduction of a single constituency, proportional representation system allowing all three communities, Serbian, Albanian and Roma, to compete on a level playing field seek adequate representation in local governmental structures.

Political Background

The three municipalities are situated in Southern Serbia on the border with Kosovo. They cover an area of approximately 1,249 square kilometres and are given considerable strategic significance due to their geographical location.

In May 2001, the Presevo Valley was returned to Serb governmental control after a 17-month insurgency by the Albanians in the region. Politically the Albanians had already boycotted the December 2000 parliamentary elections thereby for the first time ensuring that not a single Albanian was seated in the Serbian Parliament. In the three municipalities the boycott resulted in Serbian victories for the Presidency of the municipal assemblies in Bujanovac and Medvedja plus a hugely disproportionate number of Serbian assembly members due also to gerrymandered election districts.

As part of the “Covic Plan” (named after Serb Deputy Prime Minister Dr Nebojsa Covic who heads the Coordinating Body) to produce a political solution to integrate the Serbian, Albanian and Roma communities in Southern Serbia major changes were instituted to reorganise the governmental structure and the method by which municipal representatives were elected. Elections were called for 28 July to select mayors and councillors for the new municipal assemblies.

Political developments prior to the elections

The Southern Serbia municipal elections in Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja were conducted in a complex environment. The multi-layered rivalries run across ethnic, party and administrative boundaries.

Having said that it was expected that the ethnic groups in all three municipalities will cast votes almost exclusively for their own candidates. Within the municipalities there were multiple ethnic parties competing for votes. For example, Presevo had three Albanians running for mayor with the support of two separate coalitions.

Each of the three municipalities has a distinctly different ethnic mix. While Presevo is heavily populated by Albanians and Serbs prevail in Medvedja, many people believe that in Bujanovac there is a majority of Albanians. The EOM did officially receive the preliminary results of the April 2002 Census which indicate the number of citizens in each municipality, but these figures were not sub-divided into declared nationality (nor age, sex or religion). Roma populations are small in all 3 municipalities.

With the previous municipal assemblies replaced in April 2002 by interim councils, the current political atmosphere was very competitive. All parties gave support to the new governmental structure that was the basis for this election.

The electoral process

The political parties

On Election Day, 492 candidates contested 114 municipal assembly seats in the three municipalities and 8 candidates were standing for the position of the 3 mayors. Here is an assessment of the different parties and coalitions first by national identity and then by municipality.

(a) Serbian

The situation in Southern Serbia does not reflect the wider political scene in Serbia. In Bujanovac and Presevo, Serbian political parties are essentially joining together in coalitions regardless of their relations at a national level.

The coalition for Bujanovac generally resembled the DOS Coalition of December 2000, consisting of the Democratic Party (DS), the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Democratic Alternative (DA), the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia (DHSS), New Democracy (ND) and New Serbia (NS). However, these parties were joined by the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). There was one Serbian candidate for Mayor of Bujanovac, Novica Manojlovic of DS (the current President of the Interim Council).

These arrangements indicate that the perceived primary issue at stake for the Serbian community is not ideological difference but national self-identity in areas where there is no certain Serbian majority. This is perhaps reflected by the name of another Bujanovac coalition, Survival, which comprised of SPO and the Serb Radical Party (SRS).

The coalition for Presevo consisted of 4 DOS member parties: DS, DSS, DA and NS. They were joined in coalition by SPS and the Serb Renewal Movement (SPO). There were no Serb candidate for Mayor of Presevo.

In Medvedja, where there is a recognised Serbian majority, the political atmosphere resembles more the standard political scene. The Medvedja coalition consisted of just 2 DOS Parties, DS and DA. In this municipality, DSS were standing alone. SPS, SRS, SPO and Social Democracy, the party of the former Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Obradovic, also stood outside of any coalition. There were 3 Serbian candidates for Mayor of Medvedja.

(b) Albanian

There are two established political parties in the Albanian community of Southern Serbia. Both date from the early 1990s, and emerge from the then Democratic Party of Albanians.

The Party for Democratic Action (PVD) is the leading Albanian Party. It controls the Presevo municipality and gained seats on the Bujanovac municipal assembly in the September 2000 elections. It contested all three municipalities and provides candidates for mayor in Presevo and Bujanovac. Its President, Riza Halimi, has been the major Albanian interlocutor in the region.

The Party for Democratic Union of Albanians (PBDSh) is the secondary party, and the opposition in Presevo. They contested the mayor’s race in Presevo, but jointly supported the PVD candidate in Bujanovac.

A third Albanian group taking part in the election was the recently-emerged Movement for Democratic Progress (LPD). At the moment, it is not a registered political party. It contested council seats and for Mayor of Presevo but only assembly seats in Bujanovac.

(c) Roma

The Roma Community in Bujanovac has established a viable political party, the Party for Roma Unity, which is the first political party to represent the interests of Roma in Serbia. They contested seats in Bujanovac, where they had a real opportunity to win seats, and Presevo.

A citizens’ group of Roma also took part in the elections in Bujanovac. The leader of this list was a former councillor.

Electoral Information by municipality

Bujanovac

Presevo

Medvedja

 

Council Seats

41

38

35

2002 Assembly Elections

(excludes independent candidates)

Party

Candidates

Party

Candidates

Party

Candidates

KZB

KO

PVD

PBDSh

LPD

PRJ

41

33

41

16

19

8

KZP

PVD

PBDSh

LPD

PRJ

38

38

23

26

2

KZM

PVD

DSS

SPO

SPS

SRS

SD

35

24

34

35

28

16

5

2002 Mayor

Elections

Party

Candidate

Party

Candidate

Party

Candidate

KZB

PVD

Manojlovic

Arifi

PVD

PBDSh

LPD

Halimi

Zylfiu

Selimi

KZM

SPO

Ind.

Draskovic

Doderic

Marinkovic

2000 Municipal Election Results

Party

SPS/JUL

PVD

Ind. (S)

Empty

No of Seats

27

9

1

4

Party

PVD

PBDSh

SPS

Ind. (Alb)

No of Seats

18

13

6

1

Party

SPS

No of Seats

35

Glossary of acronyms of all Coalitions and Parties contesting July 28 municipal elections

Party Acronym

(English, Serb, Albanian)

Party or Coalition Name

(English, Serb, Albanian)

(if Coalition, acronyms of member parties)

Community

PDA

PDD

PVD

Party for Democratic Action

Partija Demokratskog Delovanja

Partia për Veprim Demokratik

Albanian

PDUA

PDUA

PBDSH

Party for Democratic Union of Albanians

Partija Demokratskog Ujedinjenja Albanaca

Partia për Bashkimin Demokratik te Shqipëtarve

Albanian

MDP

PDP

LPD

Movement for Democratic Progress

Pokret Demokratskog Progresa

Lëvizja për Progres Demokratik

Albanian

PRU

PRJ

PBR

Party for Roma Union

Partija Romskog Jedinstva

Partia për Bashkimin e Romëve

Roma

CB

KZB

KPB

Coalition for Bujanovac

Koalicija za Bujanovac (DA, DS, DSS, SPS, DHSS, ND, NS)

Koalicioni për Bujanoc

Serbian

CP

KZP

KPP

Coalition for Presevo

Koalicija za Presevo (DA, SPS, SPO, DSS, DS, NS)

Koalicioni për Preshevë

Serb

CP

KZM

KPM

Coalition for Medvedja

Koalicija za Medvedju (DA, DS)

Koalicioni për Medvegjë

Serb

CS

KO

KM

Coalition Survival

Koalicija Opstanak (SPO, SRS)

Koalicioni Mbijetimi

Serb

SPS

SPS

PSS

Serb Socialist P

Arty

Socijalisticka Partija Srbije

Partia Socialiste e Serbisë

Serb

SRM

SPO

LSP

Serb Renewal Movement

Srpski Pokret Obnove

Lëvizja Serbe për Përtrirje

Serb

SRS

SRS

PRS

Serb Radical Party

Srpska Radikalna Stranka

Partia Radikale e Serbisë

Serb

DA

DA

AD

Democratic Alternative

Demokratska Alternativa

Alternativa Demokratike

Serb

DP

DS

PD

Democratic Party

Demokraska Stranka

Partia Demokratike

Serb

DPS

DSS

PDS

Democratic Party of Serbia

Demokratska Stranka Srbije

Partia Demokratike e Serbisë

Serb

CDPS

DHSS

PDKS

Christian Democratic Party of Serbia

Demohriscanska Stranka Srbije

Partia Demokristiane e Serbisë

Serb

ND

ND

DR

New Democracy

Nova Demokratija

Demokracije e Re

Serb

SD

SD

DS

Social Democracy-Vuk Obradovic

Socijal Demokratike-Vuk Obradovic

Social Demokracija-Vuk Obradovic

Serbian

NS

NS

SR

New Serbia

Nova Srbija

Srbija e Re

Serb

Representation of Women

The representation of women in municipal assemblies across Serbia is extremely low. As a step to remedy this imbalance, the new Election Law (Article 20) requires the submitters of electoral lists of candidates to ensure that at least 30% of candidates are “of the less represented sex in the list”. In order to ensure that there is a balanced distribution of gender in the list, the order of candidates was made so that at least 1 in every 4 was a woman. This issue was monitored closely throughout the election process.

Code of Conduct

Thanks to the efforts of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the OMIFRY, all of the political parties in the region signed an electoral “Code of Conduct” on 3 July 2002. Highlights of the Code commit the signatories to abide by the following:

    · comply with the spirit and letter of all the laws, rules and regulations
    · not use any form of threat, pressure, coercion or promises to voters
    · respect opponents and avoid criticism of parties, leaders and candidates
    · refrain from deliberate dissemination of false and malicious information
    · cause injury or damage to any person or property
    · refrain from speech calculated to create conflict between communities
    · refrain from carrying weapons in public
    · accept the results of the election

Media and the election campaign

The public media in the three municipalities consists of one public radio station in each. On 3 July 2002 an agreement was signed by the managers of the three public radio stations, the Presidents of the Interim Councils and the OSCE Ambassador to FRY on basic principles for the elections. OSCE media personnel in Bujanovac monitored compliance and no problems were reported. There was limited coverage of the elections in the national media.

Complaints

Before the election, the EOM took note of complaints to the municipal authorities from the Party for Democratic Action (PVD) in relation to the voter register in Bujanovac. The complaint involved two issues:

    - an unexplained increase in the total number of registered voters by 4000 compared to the most recent voter register, produced in December 2000; and
    - an alleged omission of some 1800 voters from the Albanian community.

The EOM followed up this complaint and established that:

1500 of the contested 4000 voters were identifiable IDPs from the Serb community in Kosovo. The entries of these persons were appropriately marked as not being eligible to vote on 28 July.

The list of the allegedly omitted voters includes incomplete or otherwise unidentifiable entries, ineligible entries, entries already included in the voter register and omitted eligible entries.

The representatives of the local and state authorities, with successful OMIFRY facilitation, undertook a commendable and competent effort to remedy the problem.

The SPO in Medvedja complained about biased media coverage and the abuse of state resources.

Observation of the first run of elections on 28 July 2002

The 4 Congress observers were included in the deployment plans of the OSCE/ODIHR, which had gathered some 124 short term observers (STOs), mostly persons seconded by the OSCE member states and a limited part OSCE/ODHIR staff.

On the eve of the Election Day, the members of Congress’ delegation met Mr Radomir Ristic, President of the Bujanovac Electoral Commission. They were informed of the mixed composition of polling boards - obligation of having both representatives of the Albanian and Serbian communities, information on the training of members of the electoral Commission - and about the modalities for the preparation of documentation necessary for voting. The delegation was rather positive given the goodwill of the people met although there was a lack of professionalism. The delegation notably noticed that the voter’s lists were not properly secured.

The two teams of Congress observers were deployed to the city of Bujanovac, as it was considered by the OSCE as the most sensitive of the three municipalities given the ethnic composition of its population (around 50% Albanian, 35% Serbian and 15% Roma) and the previous share of power that gives advantage to the Serbian Community. As an illustration of this situation, the Congress delegation was informed that although the population of Bujanovac had a majority Albanian population, out of 1000 municipal civil servant, 970 were Serbs. This town was also considered to be very competitive given the fact there were only two candidates for the post of Mayor, one Serb and one Albanian. The Congress’ delegation also noticed a strong army presence in the streets of Bujanovac, special forces having especially been sent from Belgrade. In this respect, it is to be pointed out that the fears expressed by OSCE officials were later confirmed, as the complaints lodged by the political parties on the results in some polling stations led to the rerun of elections on the 11 and 25tAugust.

Although a small riots that took place on the eve of polling in Bujanovac city centre, the first run of elections on 28 July took place in a relatively calm atmosphere and elections were on the whole in conformity with the international electoral standards of the OSCE and the Council of Europe as well as with Serbian legislation. The number of observers was large enough so that there was one team per polling station, which enabled each of the Congress’ teams of observers to be appointed to the observation of only one polling station for the whole election day. Congress’ observers were thus able to follow the whole electoral process right from the opening of the polling stations at 7 am untill the counting of votes from 8 pm onwards and the delivery of reports and ballot papers to the Bujanovac Electoral Commission. In this respect, it is to be highlighted that the mixed composition of the members of the polling boards was a key asset that ensured the smooth running of the elections.

Nonetheless, in spite of these positive conclusions, it is to be pointed out that improvements in the procedures are needed, especially with regard to the preparation of the lists of voters. Indeed, as indicated above, major complaints were presented to judicial authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia prior to the elections, mainly for two reasons : an unexplained increase in the total number of registered voters by 4000 compared to the most recent voter register, produced in December 2000; and an alleged omission of some 1800 voters from the Albanian community. In some cases, electors were even added to the list but the number of ballot papers available was not consequently increased. The delegation also regrets that the electoral campaign was rather short, given the short notice for elections.

In addition, group voting was widespread and long queues were observed outside some polling stations. According to OSCE officials, this situation was due to the fact that there were an unequal share of electors in polling stations, some having 500 electors registered and others more than 2000. Apparently, the Serbian authorities did not take into account OSCE advice on this matter.

Concerning the political results of the elections; as was expected, the ethnic groups in all three municipalities cast votes almost exclusively for their own candidates. In the municipality of Bujanovac, the results of elections for both municipal councillors and mayors did therefore favour the candidates of the Albanian community.

Two additional elections re-run in Bujanovac

As indicated above, two additional runs of elections, that the Congress did not observe, were held in Bujanovac on 11 and 25 August. According to OSCE data, relying on the Law on Local Self-Government, several parties challenged the conduct of these elections in several polling stations on 28 July. The Bujanovac Municipal Elections Commission (MEC) therefore determined that repeated elections should be held in 11 voting areas. On 11 August, these repeated elections were conducted in the presence of the OSCE assessment teams, and representatives of the Republican Election Commission. They were found to be in keeping with the international standards and technical shortcomings were not seen to have affected the outcome. However, complaints were subsequently lodged to the Municipal Elections Commission regarding alleged voting irregularities in 9 of the 11 polling stations concerned. The MEC, affirmed by the Municipal court, then decided that another round of repeated elections would take place in 2 of these 9 polling stations on 25 August. The OSCE finally declared that these second partially repeated elections were generally conducted with international standards and Serbian elections laws.

Conclusions

The Congress’ delegation was, on the whole, satisfied with the way the elections were conducted during the first round of elections held on 28 July 2002. Congress’ observers concluded that municipal elections in Southern Serbia were, in the main, carried out according to international standards and welcomed the efforts made by the Republic of Serbia and the three municipalities - Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja - to improve confidence in democratic institutions and promote reconciliation among the region's ethnic communities.

The delegation was, generally, also pleased with the good co-operation between the members of the polling board, members of the different political parties and the Bujanovac municipal electoral commission and the domestic and international observers, though there was some tension following the results in some polling stations. The delegation was also highly satisfied with the quality of training of polling board members in the polling stations where its members were deployed.

However, the delegation noticed a series of shortcomings. It notably deplores the weak representation of women in the Municipal Electoral Commission and some polling boards, and invites the Serbian authorities to increase women's involvement in future elections. The practice of group voting was also widespread mostly involving elderly persons' votes and women. A specific training on this issue should probably be provided in this sense in accordance with the Congress’ Resolution 134 (2002) and Recommendation 111 (2002) on “women’s individual voting rights: a democratic requirement”.

Finally, it should be out pointed that the conclusions of the Congress’ delegation only refer to the first round of elections held on 28 July. Given the strong ethnic tensions that prevail in the region and what was at stake, it is however not surprising that results were so contested. Such a move could certainly be seen as positive as its shows the great interest that people have in the electoral process. However, it must be understood that repeated contestation of results could compromise the democratic process and further divide the population. It can also threaten much of the progress and goodwill achieved over the past year.

On the whole, the Congress welcomes the fact that the elections ended peacefully and wishes to congratulate the Serbian authorities for their commitment in organising fair and democratic elections. It calls for the opening of a real dialogue between the different ethnic groups of the region and hopes that these elections, which strengthened democracy, will, in the long term, bring peace and stability to the whole region and assist in the creation of favourable conditions for genuine economic development, and an improvement in living conditions for the people of Southern Serbia.

APPENDIX 1 - OBSERVATION OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA / FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA
28 JULY 2002

Deployment area of the CLRAE delegation

 

Team

Nationality

Tel number

Deployment area

A

Thomas JIRSA

Olivier TERRIEN

Czech

French

-

+ 33 6 07 43 52 25

Bujanovac

B

Owen MASTERS

Giampaolo CORDIALE

English

Italian

+ 389 70 647 815

+ 33 6 07 42 77 45

Bujanovac

APPENDIX 2 - INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION

Republic of Serbia
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Municipal By-elections
28 July 2002

Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions

Bujanovac, 29 July 2002—The International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) for the 28 July 2002 elections of Mayors and Councilors for the Municipal Assemblies in the Republic of Serbia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, is a joint effort of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE).

Preliminary Conclusions

The 28 July 2002 early elections for mayors and municipal assembly councilors to the three municipalities of Bujanovac, Presevo, and Medvedja in Southern Serbia generally were conducted in accordance with international commitments and standards for democratic elections, although further improvements are still needed.

The elections were of particular significance because they represent a further step towards confidence building and reconciliation among the ethnic communities after tension and recent conflict in the region. During previous municipal elections, the electoral system in place undermined the representation of minority communities on the municipal assemblies. During the months leading to the current election, the Government of Serbia and the three local ethnic communities expanded a significant effort towards reconciliation. In addition, a proportional electoral scheme was adopted to ensure a more effective representation of the minority communities on the municipal assemblies and provisions were made for multilingual election materials.

Additional features contributing to the positive evaluation of the current elections include:

    - Representation of national minorities and political parties on election commissions at all levels, although the law does not require such representation;
    - Active participation of all ethnic and political actors in the electoral process and their agreement to abide by a code of conduct;
    - Overall compliance of local media with the agreed guidelines during the election campaign; and
    - Broad access provided to domestic observer organizations to monitor the polling and counting, although the law is silent on the issue.

The accuracy and transparency of voter registers were contentious, especially in Bujanovac, although improvements were noted. The EOM addressed complaints on the issue and found that, while further improvements were required, the complaints also required more factual and legal precision. However, such improvements will not be possible without the active participation of citizens from all three communities.

The new election law improved the election system, in particular increasing the representation of women and requiring the use of multilingual election materials. However, the election law has significant shortcomings that were raised previously by the OSCE/ODIHR, including:

    - the allocation and the removal of councilors’ mandates after the election remain in the control of political parties;
    - the political plurality of and multi-ethnic representation in the permanent membership of election administration bodies are not guaranteed in law, but in practice pluralism was provided;
    - the accreditation and presence of domestic observers in polling stations are not provided in law, but they were given unhindered access in practice;
    - the provisions for inclusion on voter lists do not include a residence deadline in a given municipality; and
    - the timeframe for the election administration is overly compressed.

On election day, the voting and counting processes were carried out largely in accordance with the legal and procedural requirements and in a calm atmosphere. In the majority of polling stations visited, observers rated positively the conduct of polling, though irregularities were also noted. The integrity of the vote was properly safeguarded. However, group voting and voting in the open were observed. In an isolated number of polling stations, crowding was a significant problem, at times creating tension. The voter turnout was relatively low.

The OSCE/ODIHR and the CLRAE are prepared to assist the authorities and civil society of the Republic of Serbia to overcome remaining challenges and to build on the progress already accomplished in this election.

Preliminary Findings

Background

On 8 July 2002, the OSCE/ODIHR established an Election Observation Mission (EOM) in the Republic of Serbia for the early municipal elections that were held on 28 July in the three Southern Serbia municipalities of Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja. The elections were called to choose new councilors to the three municipal assemblies, following an early termination of their mandates by a government decree on 25 April. Interim Councils, including representatives of the Serb, Albanian and Roma communities, were appointed. For the first time in Serbia, the municipal presidents (mayors) were also to be elected.

The elections were of particular significance because they represented a further step towards the peaceful resolution of tension and recent conflict in the region, mainly caused by the exclusion of the Albanian and Roma communities from administrative structures. Furthermore, they are the first elections to take place in these municipalities since the democratic transition in FRY in 2000. These elections provided an opportunity for the entire population of the region to be reintegrated into the democratic process.

Nikolai Vulchanov (Bulgaria) headed the EOM with a team of four international experts based in Bujanovac. Given the short-notice invitation and relatively small geographical area of the municipalities, the OSCE/ODIHR did not deploy long-term observers in addition to the core team. The Embassies of OSCE participating States and international organizations accredited to FRY contributed some 110 STOs to the EOM to observe the election day proceedings.

The EOM compared the conduct of these elections with international commitments and standards for democratic elections formulated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document, United Nations and Council of Europe instruments, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, and other documents. These criteria require that the vote be universal, secret, accountable, transparent, free, fair, and equal.

The EOM was well received in Southern Serbia. The authorities and political actors co-operated well with the EOM. The EOM benefited from the good relations already established by the OSCE Mission to the FRY (OMIFRY).

Political Environment

The Southern Serbia municipal elections in Bujanovac, Presevo, and Medvedja were conducted in a complex environment. The multi-layered competition run across ethnic, party and administrative boundaries.

Each of the three municipalities has a distinctly different ethnic mix. While Presevo has a large majority of Albanians and Medvedja is substantially majority Serb, Bujanovac’s ethnic composition is believed to be majority Albanian. The preliminary results of the April 2002 Census indicate the number of citizens in each municipality, but the figures are not yet sub-divided into age, nationality or religion. Roma populations are small in all three municipalities, although in Bujanovac their number is larger.

There is general satisfaction among the parties with the new election system that provides for the direct election of the municipal presidents (mayors) and single constituency districts with multiple assembly members allocated on a proportional scheme. There is a perception that this system minimizes the possibility of manipulation thereby reducing tensions in the municipalities.

Generally, representatives of all political parties, for their own reasons, agree that the election date followed too soon after the establishment of the Interim Councils. They complain that the 28 July date left the parties with insufficient time to organize and the voters faced an inconvenient election date in terms of the summer holidays and agricultural work. As a result, voter turnout was relatively low.

The Government of the Republic of Serbia, and the Serb, Albanian and Roma communities undertook systematic steps to ensure the efficient and transparent administration of these elections, in particular through the use of inter-community consultation, as part of a genuine effort towards confidence-building in the region.

Political Parties

Locally, political dividing lines exist within each of the ethnic communities – Serbs, Albanians and Roma. Generally, the mainstream Serb parties represented in the Parliament of the Republic of Serbia have their municipal branches in each of the three municipalities. The main parties of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, namely the Democratic Party (DS) and the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) registered a joint list with the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) in Bujanovac and Presevo, while running separately in Medvedja. The non-parliamentary Albanian parties, the Party for Democratic Action (PVD) and the Party for Democratic Union of Albanians (PBDSh) ran separately. The Party of Roma Unity also contested the elections in Presevo and Bujanovac.

The parties were focused on local constituencies and seem unconcerned about broader scale implications for this election. All participants expected that members of the three communities would vote along ethnic lines, disregarding other campaign considerations.

Legal Framework

The elections are the first to be conducted under a new legal framework for municipal elections in the Republic of Serbia. This follows the adoption by the Serb Parliament of the Law on Local Elections (hereinafter the “election law”) on 13 June 2002.

The voter register and election day procedures are governed by the provisions of the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament (10 October 2000). The OSCE/ODIHR has provided detailed comments on this law.

The new election law has significantly revised the previous legal framework governing municipal elections in Serbia. In particular, the election law:

    · establishes municipalities as single constituencies with municipal councilors elected on a proportional basis and provides for the direct election of mayors;
    · enables increased representation of women in the electoral process by requiring electoral lists to consist of at least 30% women candidates;
    · requires election materials to be multilingual in areas with national minorities;
    · clarifies the role and responsibilities of the Municipal Election Commissions (MECs) and Polling Boards (PBs); and
    · prohibits coercion of employees or undue pressure on citizens to vote.

The demarcation of electoral units that were often designed in a disproportionate manner under the previous law were improved. For the municipalities of Bujanovac and Medvedja, the previous law favoured the local Serb communities. Furthermore, women’s representation was very low in the three municipal administrations.

However, certain key recommendations regarding compliance with OSCE commitments, detailed in previous OSCE/ODIHR EOM reports to Serbia and Montenegro have not been implemented through the new legislation. The new election law:

    · enables political parties to control the allocation and removal of councilors’ mandates after elections;
    · does not guarantee the right of domestic observers to be accredited and to be present at polling stations; and
    · does not fully guarantee political plurality and balanced ethnic or gender representation on electoral administration bodies.

The election law was amended on 18 July, well after the elections were called, by Parliament using emergency measures to clarify the requirement for a successful candidate in the elections for mayor to obtain an absolute majority (i.e. 50% plus 1 vote of the votes cast). The previous provision was unclear whether an absolute majority or a simple majority (i.e. the largest number of votes) was required. While accepted international practice in general does not permit the changing of election laws once an election is called, clarification of legislative provisions through amendments of the law or administrative regulations, as was the case with the 18 July amendments in Serbia, falls outside of this prohibition.

Election Administration

The election law creates a two-tiered structure for the administration of municipal elections. The MECs have responsibility for the implementation and co-ordination of the elections within its area and appoints PBs to manage the vote and count in each polling station. While there is no role for the REC in the municipal election process, both it and the Secretariat of the Republican Government were actively involved in advising and assisting the work of the three MECs. The MECs reflect the Interim Municipal Councils in being multi-ethnic and having political plurality. Membership of the MECs and PBs was extended for all parties and coalitions that submitted electoral lists with a number of candidates that was at least two-thirds of the number of assembly seats. The two-thirds threshold prevented smaller parties, including the Roma party, from guaranteeing their presence on MECs and PBs. There is no guarantee for representatives of mayoral candidates upon the extended MECs or PBs.

As in previous EOMs, the timeframe for election administration is compressed, placing the administration under pressure to implement adequately the law.

The Albanian community in Medvedja requested and obtained assistance from the authorities to facilitate the transportation of eligible voters currently residing in Kosovo to take part in the election.

Voter register

The right to vote is granted to citizens of Serbia who are 18 or older, who possess business capacity, and who are registered as permanent residents in the municipality, without any time requirement for residence. This latter shortcoming prompted allegations that voters were moved into Bujanovac to change the demographic picture of the municipality. However, no evidence was found to substantiate these allegations.

While the accuracy and transparency of voter registers were improved, the registers remained a contentious issue, especially in Bujanovac. The controversy centered around the eligibility to vote in the light of significant migration across the administrative boundary with Kosovo. The EOM followed up on complaints on this issue and notes that such allegations indicate the need for further confidence building between the communities living in the area.

The EOM was informed that the voter registers were compiled in the order of registration requests rather than in alphabetical order. On election day, the voters’ entries were found in the voter register polling station extracts by their sequential numbers, which should appear on the invitations to vote. However, where a voter failed to bring an invitation to the polling station, finding their entries took time and created some delays in the voting process. Nonetheless, the authorities provided an unofficial alphabetical list to remedy the difficulty.

The accuracy of the civil and voter registers should be improved with the active participation of citizens. The inaccuracies originate from previous tensions and failure of citizens and at times of officials to report changes of civil status in a timely manner.

Media

The public media in the three municipalities is limited to one public radio station for each community. The OMIFRY had two media monitors/trainers headquartered in Bujanovac. On 3 July, an agreement was signed by the managers of the three public radio stations, the Presidents of the Interim Councils, and the OMIFRY Ambassador on basic principles and guidelines for the local elections. In addition, multilingual election broadcasts took place for the first time on public radio. The OMIFRY media personnel in Bujanovac monitored compliance with the agreement.

Although few problems were reported, the OMIFRY media monitors noted concern with the coverage by Radio Presevo. In the final week of the elections, the station began to give extensive coverage to the Chair of the Presevo Interim Council, Riza Halimi, who was also a candidate for the newly created position of Mayor. To a lesser extent, Radio Presevo also favored in its coverage the Party for Democratic Action (PVD), Mr. Halimi’s party. The OMIFRY media department considered Radio Presevo’s conduct to be a violation of the guidelines provided in the 3 July agreement.

Campaign

Even though long standing ethnic rivalries remain, the parties agreed that the main issues facing all three municipalities were economic development, improvement of the infrastructure and housing. With the limited time to campaign, the main parties mostly relied on meetings/rallies and “door to door” canvassing. Thus, the campaign was relatively quiet.

Due to the efforts of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the OMIFRY, all political parties in the region signed an electoral “Code of Conduct” on 3 July, committing to abide by a general framework for fair conduct during the election campaign.

All parties complied with the letter of the law requiring 30% of the candidates on each party list to be women.

Complaints

The EOM notes a complaint to the municipal authorities from the Party for Democratic Action (PVD) alleging inaccuracies in the voter register of Bujanovac. The complaint involved two issues:

    · an unexplained increase in the total number of registered voters in the municipality since December 2000 by some 4,000 names, however no list of names was provided; and
    · an alleged omission of some 1,800 voters from the Albanian community, with a list substantiating the claim.

The PVD complaint was submitted on 12 July, the last day for administrative amendments to the voter register, creating serious difficulties for the municipal authorities to remedy the problems.

On 25 July, the “Coalition for Bujanovac” submitted a letter to the EOM, without copying to the authorities, alleging that some 5,000 voters from the Albanian community were “registered in Kosovo and voted there during the recent November elections”. While noting that changes to the voter register were no longer possible after 25 July, the EOM accepted to follow up on the allegation.

The EOM concluded that in both above complaints with the three separate allegations, the allegations required more factual and legal precision.

The EOM found that:

    · the alleged 4,000 additions to the voter register included some 1,600 IDPs who were properly marked as such and who were not eligible to vote in the present municipal elections in accordance with the Republic of Serbia election legislation. The remaining 2,400 alleged additions could not be investigated without the complainant providing a list;
    · the alleged 1,800 omissions included some 500 names in fact included in the voter register and another 300 names ineligible to vote in the municipal elections in Bujanovac. The remaining 1,000 omissions proved to be eligible voters and some 500 of them were eventually registered after a court order. The Bujanovac municipal administration’s and Judiciary’s effort to address and redress the PVD complaint regarding the 1,800 omissions are commendable.

While the EOM continues to follow up on the “Coalition for Bujanovac” allegation, the EOM notes that:

    - the list of 5,000 names includes the entire voter population of villages within the area of the Bijanovac municipality;
    - the allegation refers to these voters having taken part in a different election some 8 months prior to the current one; and
    - the election in Kosovo and the current one are conducted under different legislative and administrative frameworks with different voter registration requirements.

Election Day

On election day, the IEOM deployed some 110 short-term observers, covering 102 out of 133 polling stations in the three municipalities. In the majority (73%) of polling stations visited, observers rated the conduct of polling as “excellent” or “good”, though problems were also noted.

In terms of safeguarding the integrity of the vote and preventing multiple voting, in an overwhelming majority of observations, the inking and verification of ink on voters’ finger were performed properly, and identification documents with photos were checked. However, in more than 70% of the polling stations visited, voters did not sign the voter register as required by law. In most polling stations visited, voters whose names were not on voter registers or who could not produce proper IDs were appropriately turned away. Regrettably though, the secrecy of the voting was not always respected, with group voting observed in 44% of the visits and voting in the open in 22% of cases.

In a few cases (15%), unauthorized persons were seen in polling stations, but they were rarely interfering with the work of the polling boards. Observers reported not a single case of undue pressure on voters and only isolated cases of pressure on polling board members. Also, there were only 8 reports of campaign materials in or within 50 meters of polling stations and no campaign activities were reported within polling stations.

So far as domestic observers were concerned, they were reported present in polling stations in 75% of visits and not a single case of restriction was reported in terms of their access to polling activities. This is all the more remarkable since the law makes no provision for the accreditation of domestic observers.

In an isolated number of polling stations where the number of voters assigned was excessive, crowding was a significant problem, at times creating tense situations. As a result voting hours were extended in the affected polling stations. Otherwise, election day proceeded in a calm and orderly manner.

Observers evaluated the vote count from 45 polling stations and characterized these in an equally positive tone, indicating overall confidence in the accuracy of the results.

This statement also is available in Serb and Albanian.
However, the English text remains the only official version.

Mission Information & Acknowledgments

Mr. Nikolai Vulchanov (Bulgaria) heads the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission. Mr. Tomas Jirsa (Czech Republic) leads the CLRAE short-term observation delegation

The IEOM issues this statement before the final certification of the election results and before a complete analysis of the IEOM observation findings. The OSCE/ODIHR will issue a comprehensive report shortly after the completion of the electoral process.

This statement is based on the election preparations and campaign observations of four election experts of the OSCE/ODIHR EOM based in Bujanovac and deployed for three weeks prior to election day. The statement also incorporates the election day findings of some 110 short-term observers reporting from 102 out of 133 polling stations in the three municipalities.

The IEOM wishes to express appreciation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the Ministry of Interior, the Republic Election Commission, the Co-ordination Body, and other Republic and Municipal authorities of Southern Serbia for their cooperation and assistance during the course of the observation.

APPENDIX 3: INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION

Republic of Serbia
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Early Municipal Elections
28 July2002

For information only – not an official document

Press Release

Southern Serbia municipal elections generally in line with international standards.

Bujanovac, 29 July 2002---Yesterday’s municipal elections in Southern Serbia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, generally were conducted in accordance with OSCE commitments for democratic elections and Council of Europe standards, concluded the International Election Observation Mission in a statement released today (attached).

“The elections built upon the efforts by the Republic of Serbia and the three municipalities – Bujanovac, Presevo, and Medvedja – to increase confidence in democratic institutions and promote reconciliation among the ethnic communities in Southern Serbia. The elections were generally in line with international standards, but further improvements are still needed”, said Nikolai Vulchanov, Head of the Election Observation Mission of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

“The voting and counting yesterday generally met the legal requirements and were conducted in a calm manner”, said Tomas Jirsa, head of the delegation of the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE).

The international observers noted that a positive atmosphere was created by the representation of all national minorities and political parties on election commissions and within the electoral process at all levels. The media generally abided by a code of conduct that required balanced coverage. Election day activities were orderly. However, overcrowding was a problem in a few isolated polling stations and group voting was widespread. Broad access was provided to both domestic and international observers.

While noting the strengths of the electoral framework, some shortcomings were observed by the international monitors. The accuracy and transparency of voter registers were contentious, especially in Bujanovac. Further improvements are needed. The election legislation also requires further amendments.

Mission Information

The International Election Observation Mission is a joint undertaking by the OSCE/ODIHR and the CLRAE. The OSCE/ODIHR long-term observation was established on 8 July with four election experts. For election day, the International Observation Mission deployed some 110 short-term observers, including four from the CLRAE.

For further information and complete appendix please contact webcplre@coe.int



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