Strasbourg, 15 December 2000

 

CG/Bur (7) 63

Muncipal elections in Kosovo - 28 October 2000

Alain Chénard (France, L), President of the Observer team
Louis Roppe (Belgium, L), Rapporteur

Adopted unanimously by the Congress Bureau on 15 December 2000

Observations of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe

1. For the first municipal elections in Kosovo, organised by the OSCE under United Nations Resolution 1244 and the United Nations interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe joined an observation mission of approximately 150 observers, co-ordinated by the CEEOM (Council of Europe Elections Observation Mission), a mission set up specially by the Council of Europe in July, under the authority of Victor Ruffy (Switzerland), former Chair of the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly, and Owen Masters (United Kingdom), member of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe.

2. Ten members of the Congress and the Deputy Head of its Secretariat took part in the observation of the elections held on 28 October 2000. Their names and places of deployment are appended (see Appendix 1). The Congress delegation was led by Mr Alain Chenard (France). Louis Roppe (Belgium) was appointed rapporteur.

3. The United Nations and Bernard Kouchner, special Representative of the Secretary-General, rightly considered these elections as a first result of the United Nations policy to give Kosovo a large degree of autonomy while respecting the integrity and sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in accordance with the above-mentioned United Nations Resolution. They were organised by the OSCE and its Head of Mission, Daan Everts.

4. The basic registration groundwork was done by the Joint Registration Task Force headed by Jeff Fisher, a body based on two pillars of the UNMIK representing the Civil Administration and the OSCE. It was the crowning of a long process, begun in June 1999, when the United Nations Mission was established and immediately enlisted the help of the Council of Europe and, in particular, the Congress. In co-operation with the OSCE, one of the objectives was to pave the way for the establishment of municipalities in Kosovo. Initially they were placed under the direction of international administrators, whom the Congress helped to select. They were also given municipal councils provisionally appointed by the United Nations. The Congress had said from the outset that the elections should be based on legislation governing the municipalities, which they finally were, thanks to the signature by Bernard Kouchner of Regulation No. 2000/45 on the self-government of municipalities in Kosovo in July 2000. While this Regulation does not satisfy the expectations of the Congress on all points, particularly as the municipalities will not have their own resources at this initial stage, it was nevertheless an effort to come as close as possible to European standards, and refers notably in the preamble to the European Charter of Local Self-Government as one of its sources of inspiration. Experts from the Congress regularly assisted with the preparation of this text.

5. With regard to the election proper, it must be said first of all that the very fact that elections were held at all in Kosovo is a success in itself, as only a year ago the territory still suffered from a cruel absence of any administrative and political structure worthy of the name, as was mentioned in the reports drawn up by the Congress, sometimes in co-operation with the OSCE. The same can be said of the very rapid preparation of the electoral rolls, which only started in March 2000 and continued through to the end of July, with possibilities of rectifications in August and September.

6. The mere fact that very few voters had to be turned away was in itself a major achievement. The same applies to the calm atmosphere that prevailed during the polling, even between the Albanian parties, in spite of the danger of bloody confrontations of the type witnessed at times during the campaign preceding the elections. It should be noted in this respect that the international police and the KFOR also did their best to make sure the elections went smoothly, even if the action of the international police sometimes proved difficult or insufficient.

7. Similarly, the fact that the Council of Europe Mission was able to send 150 observers to Kosovo and that several hundred international supervisors for the polling stations were sent by the OSCE without this causing any major infrastructure and management problems was also a success in itself. The general report of the observation Mission, the conclusions of which are shared by the observers from the Congress, is available [SG/Inf (2000) 44 of 17 November 2000]. We should particularly like to highlight the first two recommendations in the final Report: “This election was an excellent starting point for local democracy in Kosovo. There is now a need for the international community to support the new municipalities with training, and in other practical ways.” and “The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CLRAE) should continue to be involved in the changes taking place in local government in Kosovo. It is also important that the move to implementing the European Charter on Local Self-Government in the province is encouraged and monitored by CLRAE.” and also the last one: “It is recommended that the Council of Europe undertake a mission early in 2001 to visit each municipality and report on the implementation of Regulation 2000/45 on Self-Government of Municipalities in Kosovo. In particular to report on the functioning of the Municipal Assembly, the committees of policy and finance and communities.”

8. The Parliamentary Assembly was also present at the election observation and the observers from the Congress also agree with the conclusions of the report submitted by its Rapporteur, Ans Zwerver (Netherlands, Socialist Group) [AS/Bur (2000) 075] of 31 October 2000.

9. The observers from the Congress worked in close co-operation with those of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, who were participating for the first time in such a mission, as the European Parliament had not wished to take part in the observation of a municipal election. Both teams of observers were ready to continue this collaboration, particularly with a view to helping the newly formed municipalities set to work and providing training.

10. The main drawback to these elections was the fact that the Serbian population in Kosovo and in Serbia itself did not enrol as voters, partly because of pressure brought to bear by Belgrade and in spite of the willingness shown by certain Serbian interlocutors in Kosovo itself. The major political changes in Belgrade came too late to change anything. However, if the situation were to change in the future, Bernard Kouchner has promised the Serbs that further elections could be organised if necessary.

11. Also regrettable is the fact that registration for the election was boycotted by a number of representatives of the Turkish minority in protest at Turkish not being used as an official language as it had been in the days of the autonomous province within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is all the more regrettable in that Turkish elected representatives in the municipalities would probably be better placed than Turks on the outside to continue the battle for recognition of their specific rights. Some Bosnians also criticised the lack of posters and election material in their language. It is worth noting in this respect that the official documentation available in the polling stations was bilingual, in Albanian and Serbo-Croat.

12. While these elections were a major success on the whole and an important step for Kosovo on the path to democratic institutions worthy of European standards, they were also marked by certain negative factors, even if these had no far-reaching effect on the general outcome of the process.

13. Indeed, it is to be hoped that the fact that forces generally considered to be moderate won a large proportion of the municipalities in Kosovo will make it possible to renew dialogue with the authorities in Belgrade, when the time comes, so as, for example, to find satisfactory and fitting solutions to the situation of the Serbian minority in Kosovo, who currently live in a situation of insecurity, in ghetto-like conditions in many places.

14. The election procedures were unnecessarily complicated.

15. First, the presentation of the electoral rolls was not particularly clear. There was no connection, for example, between the alphabetical list produced and – for the first time ever – a list containing the voters’ data with their photograph, but only by serial number and not presented in alphabetical order. Yet the voters were required to sign the list with the photographs.

16. Another problem with the electoral roll was that it had originally been compiled as a civil register and therefore contained the names of people between 16 and 18 years of age, who were not entitled to vote. This was a problem in so far as some young people between 16 and 18 years of age tried, and sometimes managed, to vote where the members of the election committee were unaware of the situation. Nor was there any connection between the receipts given to the voters when they registered and the electoral roll. As a result the election committees wasted far too much time looking for the voters’ names on the lists. This caused long queues to form outside the polling stations. The queues were often still there in the evening, and in some places people were still voting at 8 or 9 pm or even midnight before the counting could begin.

17. It should be remembered that the UNMIK had originally promised the population of Kosovo that registration would serve not only to compile the electoral roll but also to issue identity documents. Various difficulties made it impossible to keep this promise before the elections. This is regrettable and may have been a cause of frustration for some electors. Perhaps the idea should be taken up again and brought to fruition.

18. Another problem is that the ballot papers were too complicated, no doubt in deference to political correctness. In particular, voters had the possibility of voting for a party and then favouring the name of one of the candidates of that party (and that party only). They could also vote for individual candidates not standing for any party. However, the lists of candidates were too long to fit on the ballot paper, so the voters had to refer to the corresponding numbers on the lists posted in the polling stations and in each voting booth. Surprisingly, most voters seem to have understood the system and managed to use it, even in rural areas, and the number of voters who failed to understand the procedure was relatively small, as witnessed by the small number of spoilt ballots. However, this additional complication made the process of counting the votes extremely slow and laborious, preventing the rapid announcement of the results.

19. A further complication of the election process was the possibility of casting a conditional vote under certain conditions, for example if the voter was not on the polling station’s list. This of course caused further difficulties when it came to counting the votes, and made it necessary to have very complex polling stations where people could vote for any of the 30 municipalities of Kosovo. Unfortunately it proved impossible to organise special polling stations for this purpose. Many polling stations therefore had to serve as “twin polling stations”, further complicating the process. Voting abroad or by post is also complicated, perhaps too much so for municipal elections, and this caused further delays in the publication of results.

20. A further problem was the fact that many decisions concerning the election process were taken very late in the day. For example, the decision taken on the very evening of the ballot to change the rule whereby all electors already in the queue by 7 pm, the appointed hour for the close of voting, would be allowed to vote, in order to permit all the voters present, even those who arrived after 7 pm, to cast their votes. This was a source of confusion as some voters were not informed and were unable to take advantage of the extra time. This is all the more regrettable in that there were also rumours that some polling stations might reopen on the following day (Sunday 29 October), which was untrue.

21. Another late decision concerned an instruction issued by Bernard Kouchner himself about the presence of flags other than those of the United Nations and the OSCE. After lengthy reflection, on the evening of the day before the election Mr Kouchner finally decided to allow national flags (in particular the Albanian flag) to be hoisted outside polling station entrances. As the instruction was not transmitted to everybody, quarrels about the flag caused considerable delays in the opening of certain polling stations. Numerous other rules were changed in the weeks preceding the election, and such changes can disrupt the smooth running of the election.

22. These anomalies were a source of confusion, and raise the question of whether changing rules at the last minute in this way is really a good example of how a state governed by the rule of law should function.

23. On another note, mention should be made of the commendable civic spirit which characterised these elections in Kosovo. This was reflected, for example, in the fact that the different parties were represented in the polling stations, even those located in constituencies where one party or another seemed certain to win. Another example was the reliability of the electoral rolls, even though in certain cases many voters were unable to vote or could only vote conditionally.

24. Finally, one can but commend the patience of the voters, who often had to wait hours before they were able to vote. The atmosphere was generally calm, disciplined and courteous. Only towards the end of the day did agitation take over in places, when voters feared they would not have a chance to vote before the polling stations closed.

25. The presence in these elections of women, who are traditionally not very well represented on the political scene in Kosovo, can be considered as a partial success. The rules required the presence of 33% of women candidates on the lists presented by the parties, and this rule was indeed applied. Only 8% of the candidates actually elected were women, however.

26. Mention must also be made of the generally high degree of competence and efficiency of the international supervisors from the OSCE, even though the observers could not fail to notice that some of the supervisors were clearly less qualified than other staff of the polling stations they were supposed to be supervising and advising, and lacked experience and training. In some cases this resulted in a hostile attitude on the part of the supervisors towards the international observers co-ordinated by the Council of Europe.

27. The military were generally visible but discreet, as were the international police. Obeying orders, they generally entered the polling stations only occasionally in order to contact the persons in charge. When the queues grew too long, the few international police officers present were sometimes unable to control the crowds. In some cases KFOR lent a courteous helping hand.

28. In general the observers saw no propaganda in public places or in the vicinity of the polling stations, except on certain buses. The argument put forward was that the buses belonged to private firms. The observers nevertheless thought that buses providing a public service should not have been used for party propaganda, especially as they often stopped near or passed by polling stations.

29. Still on the subject of civic spirit, it is worth noting that even would-be voters who were turned away generally remained calm. Some such cases were people who had lived in Germany, say, and who claimed that they had written to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Vienna, which was responsible for registering voters living in non-neighbouring countries, in order to register but had received no reply. This may also be due to the fact that many people from Kosovo were expelled from Germany, for example, at that time and may not have received the papers they applied to Vienna for. The observers also noted that among the people who had been expelled there were many children who spoke to them in perfect German, not all of whom had found homes.

30. To turn to the question of intimidation, the long-term observers reported cases of intimidation prior to the elections. The Congress observers saw no major incidents of intimidation during the election process. However, the fact that the Serbs refused en bloc to register must be put down to massive intimidation from Belgrade which also concerned financial support for part of the Serb population. Some observers also noted that non-Albanian voters had felt intimidated by the abundance of Albanian flags present outside the polling stations. There were also cases, it seems, of women who did not dare to vote for fear of trouble at the polling stations.

31. The polling material was generally all present and correct. However, the polling stations were also supposed to receive a general list of all the voters registered in Kosovo, which, to our knowledge, they did not receive. In view of the volume such a list would occupy, this was doubtless impractical. The polling stations did, however, have lists of the voters who had registered with the IOM in Vienna, or in the countries bordering on Kosovo.

32. Family voting was observed, but was generally limited to two people. True, many people were presented as illiterate and therefore needing assistance. This was generally not noted in the reports, in spite of instructions to this effect. One case was observed, however, where the Chair of the polling station remained behind the voting booth, with the authorisation of the international supervisor, to assist people purporting to be illiterate, although nobody was supposed to give such assistance to more than one person – and it was not supposed to be given by polling station staff.

33. The Serbs’ failure to take part certainly affects the credibility of the result as a whole, but the Serbs only have themselves to blame.

34. The observers from the Congress insist that registration on the electoral roll should be an on-going process, in particular as it is widely accepted that a general election will probably be held in Kosovo next year in order to set up autonomous institutions at this level too, in keeping with UN Resolution 1244.

35. The counting of the votes generally went smoothly. However, the rule according to which the voter’s wish should be heeded even if he or she had failed to follow the instructions on how to fill in the ballot paper was often ignored, which explains why there were too many spoilt ballots. One case was reported where the result was not announced in the polling station, in spite of the request of the station Chair.

36. Another weak point was the time it took to publish the results. As is customary in the Balkans, the results were not announced outside the polling stations themselves, although reports were drawn up and copies handed to certain observers, at their request. Nor were the results published directly in the municipalities. However, the OSCE, which was in charge of the election, did publish the first results quite soon after the ballot.

37. Some polling stations were ill-equipped. Reconstruction is not yet complete all over Kosovo and certain services, such as the power supply, cannot be relied upon round the clock. So some polling stations were plunged into darkness in the morning, or in the evening when the votes were being counted, or had to make do with small gas lamps, as generators had not always been provided. Some polling stations were also set up in tents that had previously served as schools in certain villages. Observers also noted that some voting centres contained 10 or more polling stations, which made access extremely difficult: the voters waiting outside had no way of knowing whether there were still voters inside one polling station or another, and the police tended to wait until all the polling stations were empty. It is therefore very important to provide separate entrances to each polling station. There was also criticism to the effect that there were not enough polling stations in relation to the number of voters.

38. All in all, however, this election, which was the first in Kosovo to come up to truly democratic standards, can be said to have been a major success.

39. The Congress observers received two days’ training in Skopje and one in the field together with all the other Council of Europe observers; the names of the 10 Congress observers and one member of the Congress Secretariat and their places of deployment are appended.

Outlook

40. Municipal elections must not be considered as an end in themselves. Their purpose is to provide municipalities with a democratic structure that enables them to provide services and give a direction to municipal life for the benefit of all citizens. Municipal authorities must therefore be set in place without delay and given the necessary means, and where necessary additional members should be appointed to the elected councils from among the minorities that were unable or unwilling to take part in the election.

41. This also raises the question of the need for a permanent council and for training for local elected representatives and staff. The OSCE initiated this process long ago by setting up a training centre for local authorities, under the direction of Professor Wolfgang Rusch, who was delegated by the Council of Europe through the Congress’s ENTO network. It is very important to pursue and intensify these efforts in the present situation, and to provide a support service for local elected representatives, who are not always familiar with all municipal regulations or with the principles of political and financial management at municipal level. Indeed, Professor Wolfgang Rusch has made proposals along these lines that merit the attention of the Congress and included of the international community as a whole. The Congress should ensure that the mandate is extended and that sufficient funding is made available for consultancy and training work. The President of the Congress has raised the matter with the Secretary General and the Chair of the Ministers’ Deputies. Only partial progress has been made to date, as a result of the Council of Europe’s financial situation. Germany is to be thanked for the contribution it has announced in this connection.

42. Another important step is the setting up of partnerships with other municipalities of Europe. Some, in the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, for example, have already started to work along these lines. The Congress should make its networks available, particularly the network of Local Democracy Agencies, in order to foster and develop this process, in the interest of stability in the Balkans. It was in this spirit that elected representatives from Kosovo were invited to the Economic Forum of the Regions of Europe held in Skopje on 14, 15 and 16 November 2000.

43. Another factor is the future of Kosovo, which is determined at present by UN Resolution 1244. Although the changing mood in Belgrade and the presence of moderate elements in Kosovo are a source of hope for dialogue, this does not necessarily mean that a lasting solution for the future of Kosovo is in preparation.

44. Initially, therefore, efforts should focus on organising a general election in Kosovo and clearly defining the powers of the resulting assembly, and their limits, during the transition period, with due regard for an international community that will continue to play its part and a new government in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It is probably only after a (long) transition period that there will be hope of finding a lasting solution to the status of Kosovo, the interests at stake at present being diametrically opposed, with Belgrade clinging to the historical justification of Kosovo’s inclusion in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and almost all the Albanians of Kosovo wanting independence as soon as possible. The Congress, in close co-operation with the Venice Commission, is ready to play a key role in this process, as it did in drawing up the regulations governing municipalities.

APPENDIX

LOCAL ELECTIONS IN KOSOVO – 23/30.10.2000

DEPLOYMENT OF THE CLRAE DELEGATION

Christopher NEWBURY(United Kingdom) and Anthony ATTARD (Malta)

Prizren
Polling centres of Djonaj, Gorozup, Zjum, Romaja and Ljubiza

Ayse Bahar CEBI (Turkey) and Bringfriede KAHRS (Germany)

Prizren
2. Polling centres of Nasec, Vlasnja, Zur, Hoca Zagradska and Ljubicevo

Donald TIPPING (Ireland) and Saulius NEFAS (Lithuania)

Peja
2. Bureaux de vote de Rzmic, Junik, Gramocely et Dremovac

Irma PELLINEN (Finland) and Louis ROPPE (Belgium)

Pristina
Small villages of the Pristina district

Alain CHENARD (France) and Calin Catalin CHIRITA (Romania)

Skenderaj / Srbica
2. Vushtri / Vucitrn

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



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