Rapport fra parlamentsvalget i Makedonia
(18/11-2002) På tross av at det forekom forsøk på å avspore valgprosessen, ble parlamentsvalget den 15 september i det store og det hele gjennomført i tråd med internasjonale standarder om frie og rettferdige valg. Nå er valgobservasjonsrapporten klar, skrevet av Helsingforskomiteen i Makedonia.
A SUMMARY REPORT ON THE MONITORING OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN MACEDONIA, SEPTEMBER 2002
The Macedonian Helsinki Committee
Although the Ohrid Framework Agreement of August 13, 2001 provided for early elections on January 27, 2002, regular elections for representatives in the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia took place on September 15, 2002.
The Helsinki Committee, bearing in mind the specific conditions in which these elections were to take place, attempted to contribute to the joint efforts with strengthened monitoring. The goal was to have a preventive influence and by virtue of its field presence to discourage the potential attempts to prevent the peaceful and democratic realization of the elections.
On August 24, 2002 the Committee undertook training for the members of its own monitoring network. The seminar was attended by 45 monitors, members of different ethnic communities, from 21 municipalities from the Republic of Macedonia. Several topics were covered at the seminar: constitutional basis and guarantees of the right to choose, international provisions and standards, latest legal regulations in Macedonia and the specific rules passed with respect to the elections (the Monitoring Codex), the separate Helsinki Committee standards, as well as the practical guidelines for the elections monitoring. Without attempting to provide for a wide coverage of the whole territory of the Republic of Macedonia and all of the polling stations, the monitors from the Helsinki Committee were instructed to combine the two basic methods: part of the monitors were to cover several polling stations where they were to monitor the voting, the potential infringement of the citizens’ rights and the general atmosphere, while the rest of the monitors to remain at a single polling station in order to follow the dynamics of the elections and the possible specific violations of the citizens’ rights in the individual segments of the voting process.
The basic instructions given to the monitors were that the Helsinki Committee: a) is not interested in the elections outcome, the rating of individual political parties and candidates or the victory of a given party option; b) insists on the objectivity and impartiality of the monitoring; and c) what is monitored on election day is the fulfilment of the right of the citizens to freely and in accordance with their own knowledge and volition make their own choice. In order to realize this, the monitoring was to cover other monitors on the polling stations.
Two representatives from the International Helsinki Federation (IHF), Mr. Åge Borcgrevink from the Norvegian Helsinki Committee and Ms. Lamia Muzurovic from the Secretariat of the Federation were also involved as monitors.
The Helsinki monitors visited 315 polling stations in 82 objects were voting was taking place, in 73 municipalities. During the period 16-20.09.2002 the Helsinki monitors submitted their written reports, and on 21.09.2002 they verbally elaborated their experiences. Based upon the short-term, as well as the long-term monitoring process of the pre-election and election processes, some summary conclusions are presented in this report.
1. Pre-election Campaign
A number of surveys regarding the pre-election mood of the electorate were conducted in the period preceding the elections. The results were regularly presented in the printed and electronic media, so the citizens were acquainted with the virtual situation in the field. The surveys showed that the coalition “Zaedno za Makedonija” had a significant advantage. On the other hand, during a longer period of time there were indications that the ruling coalition might be preparing to undertake a series of falsifications during the elections. In May 2002 the members of the Helsinki Committee were informed by credible and non-partisan individuals that there is a specific modality being prepared in order to rig the elections. Namely, the well known modalities were expanded by the so-called “Bulgarian train” that involves providing a voter with an authentic looking counterfeited ballot that already has a candidate circled, and as a ‘proof’ that he had indeed voted, the voter returns the genuine ballot to those who have given him the counterfeit. In return, the voter receives a certain sum of money or some other kind of favour, and not uncommonly, ‘removal of a threat’.
Especially dubious was the attempt to directly expand the list of registered voters by issuing citizenships to ethnic Macedonians who live in the neighbouring countries or in the Diaspora. This step was even more indicative because it was taken immediately before the closing of the list of registered voters and its sending to the State Election Committee (SEC) by listing the address of the Ministry of Interior as the address of the new Macedonian citizens, so the procedure can be undertaken by a third party, and thus ‘make it easier ‘. It is interesting to note that this coincided with the Albanian-language newspaper “Fakti” daily publishing stories of unresolved citizenship status of ethnic Albanians. Therefore, it is not surprising that parallel with the previously mentioned case of extending new ‘Macedonian’ citizenships, a revision of around 150.000 citizenships given to ethnic Albanians was also announced. This case was ‘co-balanced’ by the case of a candidate from one of the ethnic Albanian parties who supposedly didn’t have a Macedonian citizenship. Although the Law on the Electoral Procedure does not postulate that as a condition for candidacy for the Parliament (art. 5), the Law on Political Parties (art. 3/3) states that only Macedonian citizens can be members of a political party.
Bearing in mind that citizens are free to found political parties in order to “… participate in the procedure for selecting members of the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia…” (art. 3/1-2 from the same Law), only partially does this case become an issue of interpretation. On the contrary, the view that a person who is not a Macedonian citizen should not be a member of the Parliament seems more substantiated.
With respect to the Albanian community in Macedonia, there were serious indications that the main political parties were trying to enforce “voting discipline” through grave threats. The appeal published in “Fakti”, together with the one latter published in the weekly “Lobi” to the ethnic Albanians working abroad to return home during elections were also indicative of this. These articles also made a reference to the supposedly negative experiences with their voting through the diplomatic-consular offices (although this voting model has been abandoned for ten years.
On the other hand, this appeal can also be seen in the light of the continuing attempts on the part of the civil society and the international community to motivate the voters to participate in the elections through the stressing of the importance of the elections in the development of democratic principles in a society, through the numerous domestic and international monitors, through the training of the police forces in providing safety and integrity of the voters, as well as through the appointment of a non-partisan of the SEC.
These were the reasons for which the Helsinki Committee decided to issue a statement in which it reminded that the public opinion polls before the election in 1998, 1999 and 2000, with rare exceptions, were highly accurate in their predictions. Consequently, they can be considered to represent and excellent base for comparison and a form of prevention against possible irregularities. With respect to the “express dissemination” of citizenships, while the legality of this act is highly suspicious – the trivialization of the relationship between the citizen and the state is more than imminent.
From the numerous incidents that were obviously aimed at the destabilization of the interethnic relations, the more concerning ones were the murder of two policemen in Gostivar and the kidnapping of four citizens. The police responded in an inappropriate manner which prompted the Helsinki Committee to issue a statement in which it pointed out to the further undermining of the reputation and role of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Macedonia, indicating that it is difficult to determine whether those activities are a part of the legally defined functions of the police, or are party orders.
In order for the police to perform its legal functions, such as “protection of the life, personal safety and property of citizens” or “protection of the freedoms and rights of the people” that include the identification of the killers of the two Gostivar policemen, of exceptional, even essential importance is the cooperation with the local population. This cooperation is all but impossible until citizens doubt the objectivity or motivation of the police and their actions. Therefore, it is very important for the police to eliminate those elements that undermine the trust they have with the population.
The open devaluation of the police function can be seen from the selective indictments, i.e. the selectivity in the prosecution. This not only violates the presumption of innocence, but it also means violation of article 25 of the International Pact for Civil and Political Rights which stipulates that individuals have the right and opportunity to choose and be chosen without discrimination and without unfounded limitations. Actually, the Law on the Election of Representatives stipulates only one limitation of this kind: the candidate not to be serving a prison sentence.
The arrest of individual without a court order (with reference to article 188 from the Law on Criminal Procedure, and without respecting the provisions of article 184 from the same Law) represents a direct attack on the legality of the work of the police. It seems that even some journalists have forgotten that the Constitutional Court has revoked the provision from article 29 of the Law on Internal Affairs, as well as the corresponding provisions from articles 29 and 30 from the Bylaw for Task Realization of the Ministry of Interior, which renders the action of “forcefully bringing in someone for an informative interview” illegal.
The violation of the law on the part of the highest police structures constitutes an infringement of article 7, paragraph 1 from the Law on Electing Representatives (LER) according to which the officials from the Ministry of Interior (according to article 24 from the Law on Internal Affairs those are the minister and his deputy) have their jobs temporary suspended from the moment they are accepted as candidates in the parliamentary elections.
The Helsinki Committee has called upon the police to perform its function in an energetic manner, but while doing so it should not select those it prosecutes based upon their party membership and to base its arrests exclusively upon a court order. By virtue of this, the possibility for the abuse of police for party purposes is reduced. At the same time, the Helsinki Committee has called upon the State Election Committee to check whether there are officials from the Ministry of Interior on the candidates’ lists that officials were supposed to stop performing their function from the moment they have been accepted as candidates. Unfortunately, the SEC proclaimed itself as not having the authority to do so as opposed to the article 32/1-1 from the LER, and which had a direct influence on its work just before the reporting of the results (see title 4).
An additional argument for the argument that the minister of interior and his deputy not to cumulate his function with the status of a candidate for a representative, was the Pletvar incident when the road was blocked in order to prevent the rally of the “ZA” coalition (SDSM, LDP, etc.) from taking place. The blockade was organized by the members of the “Lions” special forces and it made it clear that some parts of the police (the parapolice structures and the people around the minister) have openly put themselves at the service of the party. This was augmented by the incident in which the representative from the “ZA” coalition, Mr. Petar Gosev, found himself at the aim of the “Lions”. On this occasion, the inner collisions between the police structures was made very obvious by the “Lions” aiming of their weapons at the regular police force who subsequently retreated in order to return with reinforcement.
The last period of the campaign was marked by a fierce demeaning of the opposition on the part of the ruling bloc, to which the opposition responded only seldom and with a significantly lower intensity, but in the same, inappropriate manner. This was complemented by the well known, for Macedonia, methods of unauthorised influence of the political parties over the voters. For example, in one situation, the thugs from one political party attempted, and were successful to large extent, to prevent the departure of a group of followers of the opposite coalition to its final rally in Skopje. There were also intimidations that those who are present on the rallies of the opposing party would be taken note of and would later face reprisal.
The method of small time bribery was also wide spread in a number of places, and in culminated with a curiosity: in one place bags of flour were distributed right before the elections. After the elections the party that did it (DPA) asked for its bags back!!! Also, there were instances when smaller sums of money were also given.
According to the Helsinki monitors this was most openly done by the candidate of the ruling bloc, Mr. Amdi Bajram. Mr. Bajram, a member in the previous Parliament distributed T-shirts with his face printed on them, together with an appeal to vote for him. A number of voters came to the polling stations wearing those T-shirts. In our opinion, it is at least a swindle of the LER and can as well be interpreted as a violation of that law. The Helsinki Committee recommends the Roma NGOs to undertake a series of interviews and education of the voters in this respect.
2. Pre-election Silence
The pre-election silence was blatantly violated by distributing flyers with a vulgar content against the opposition coalition “ZA”. It can be guessed with a great assurance that this activity – starting with the printing and ending with the distribution – was done by the “Glavata gore” coalition (VMRO-DPMNE and LP) based upon the following reasons:
a) At some locations among these flyers it was possible to find the flyer containing the platform of the VMRO-DPMNE candidate, Mr. Nikola Gruevski;
b) In a town near Skopje, a Helsinki monitor witnessed the distribution of these flyers from a vehicle without licence plates;
c) The police did not undertake a visible effort to investigate who distributed these flyers during the pre-election silence, nor who printed that material.
Vehicles without licence plates were unfortunately not only tolerated by the government, but was probably also encouraged by the police and certain police structures. The press regularly reported about a number of used vehicles that were imported from abroad by police officers, reserve policemen, members of parapolice units, as well as by members of the army. These vehicles could not be registered as a result of the irregular procedure used to import them. The individuals who had imported them abused their membership in the security structures to use these vehicles in the traffic. There were also instances of members of the organized crime using these vehicles in their criminal activities, which was witnessed by citizens. Consequently, if the distribution of the flyers was not realized by the members of the police or parapolice structures, it is obvious that it was done by structures that were tolerated instead of prosecuted by the police.
“The Graffiti War” also points out to the conclusion that the ruling coalition allowed itself the worst vulgarities, although the opposition coalition, as well as other ‘smaller’ parties demonstrated rudeness in this sense. The comprehensive photo-documentation put together by a Helsinki monitor illustrates that the heating up of campaign was matched by the vulgarity of the graffiti. The most common targets of these vulgarities were the presidents of the SDSM, LDP and DUI. This culminated in the violation of the pre-election silence with the distribution of printed propaganda that contained the vulgarities from the graffiti. It seems however, that all this was counterproductive. Namely, almost all of the citizens who have reported this incident to the Helsinki Committee have stated to the Helsinki monitors that it was something that they could no longer tolerate and that as a result of that they would vote for the coalition that was attacked. Furthermore, when asked about what had bothered them most during the elections, the answer most often given by the citizens was “The vulgarity!”
If the “graffiti war” is difficult to control, the use of vulgarity in the printed materials should come under serious scrutiny of the competent state institutions. The Helsinki Committee feels that the infiltration of rude, or even anti-cultural patterns in the social life through the elections is impermissible for a democratic society. It clear that this issue is in close connection with the issue of censorship, but that should not represent an obstacle for the legal procedure, especially within the framework of LER. The insults of a given political party or even individual candidates, in conditions where the voters are giving their vote for those who are insulted, represent insults or all of those voters. Therefore, if such cases happening outside of the election campaign are dealt with through private litigation, during the campaign they should be dealt with in a different, more systematic manner. The best solution seems to be the LER.
The silence was also breached by the electronic media. The state-controlled MTV aired “comprehensive news” that covered the “latest” achievements of the government in the previous four years. In one town, a local TV station aired an hour-long segment on the “development and achievements of VMRO-DPMNE”, while the local radio station in the same town aired a statement by the candidate from the “Glavata gore” coalition.
3. Election Day
3.1 Voting location and access to the polling station
Although the general assessment of this element of the election is satisfactory, there are a number of weaknesses that can be pointed out. Namely, in several municipalities we could notice what we call monopartisan marking with election posters. This is was supplemented with the visible division of ethnically clean areas or those predominantly populated with a given community which resulted with a complete absence of posters from the other community. This represented a disbalance in the equal representation of the candidate and deserved to be sanctioned with article 115 from the LER. The Helsinki monitors could not perceive any activities in this respect.
In most cases the buildings used for the voting process were void of political posters. However, it seems that the parties found a way to circumvent the legal provisions by writing graffiti and political statements. The parties that stood out in this respect were DUI with their “DUI – UCK” writing and VMRO-DPMNE. This raises the issue for the more precise definition of paragraph 8 from article 55 of LER.
With very few exceptions, the police was appropriately situated near the polling stations. However, between them and the polling stations in the majority of the locations visited by the monitors, there were people that we call “standers”. They are activists from mainly the larger parties who did not wear any party insignia, but were well known to the local population. Only at one place did the Helsinki monitors determine the presence of two groups of “standers” – those from VMRO-DPMNE were in the centre of the schoolyard, while those from SDSM were close by. There were no contacts or clashes between them. The impression that the Helsinki monitors got was that the police unnecessarily tolerated this frivolous loitering of these “standers” near the polling station. At several locations there were also vehicles without licence plates. The police did not intervene even when in those vehicles there were persons who were sitting in it for extended periods of time without any visible activity.
The incidence of what we call “party transportation” is interesting to note. In many places it was easy to notice, and somewhere it was done openly, that there were party activists going to the houses of the voters that they believed would vote for their party and organized their transportation to and from the polling station. In the rural areas that can be understood as neighbourly help, but in urban areas it creates a doubt about its sincerity.
In general, the locations were well chosen (elementary and high schools, as well as community centres). However, we can note that some of these objects were not wheelchair accessible. They either didn’t have a ramp for the wheelchairs, or were even on an above-the-ground floor with the stairway as sole access. On the other hand, in those locations that were wheelchair accessible, the Helsinki monitors noted that there were a number of disabled people who realized their right to vote. Furthermore, in a number of places, the size of the room where the voting took place was obviously inadequate. That manifested itself either through difficulties in the organization of the voting, or even as inability of the monitors to follow the voting procedure while the voter is going through the procedure in front of the voting board. In other locations the small size of the room prevented the setting up of the screens, which resulted with the decrease in the privacy of the voting process. Also, it is worth noting that in individual cases the setting up of two polling stations next to each other (e.g. two classrooms) in the initial period resulted in creating long lines and difficulties in the access to them due to the people trying to read the lists.
For this reason, and bearing in mind that the LER does not provide regulation with respect to these issues, the Helsinki Committee suggests to amend the law or pass a bylaw proposed by the SEC in order to regulate the criteria that the polling stations need to meet – accessibility, size, location, etc.
Although the signs prohibiting smoking and carrying of weapons were clearly displayed, the first one was disregarded on several locations, while a Helsinki monitor noticed a case of an armed uniformed policeman (who was not part of the security for that polling station) who realized his right to vote. The Board did not react to this. There were instances in which a Board introduced two new prohibitions: prohibition to take photographs and prohibition to make voice recordings. In the first case the Board did not substantiate the prohibition, while the other one was a case of a member of the electoral board (EB) who wanted to record the discussion over a conflicting issue. It is necessary for the SEC to take a position with respect to these new prohibitions, which in lot of respect are reminiscent of times past, as well as to make efforts for consistent implementation of both prohibitions in the spirit of the law.
3.2 Electoral materials
The voting boxes met all standards and there was not a recorded case in which some things were problematic or not clear. There is only the question of whether it is a good practice to mark the box in which the ballots need to go, and right next to it to put an empty one. In one situation, a voter was confused in which one he needs to drop the ballot. He was answered that one of the boxes was for the “ZA” coalition, and the other one was for the “Glavata gore” coalition. Regardless of the fact that this was a (successful) joke, by the reaction of the voter it could have been sensed whom had he voted for.
The screens (outside of their setup, see p. 3.1) had a serious handicap in the fact that they had a gap in the middle. Practically in all cases when the voter was deciding for a candidate who was in the lower part of the ballot, the ballot would go out through the gap, so by the movement of the ballot one could sense the moment in which the voter was making his choice. This issue, without a doubt, requires attention from the authorities.
A serious issue is the set of ballots on which in most case the number of the polling station was printed (however, in two locations the Helsinki monitors noticed that it was not the case) against the empty space on the ballot where the number of the polling station needs to be filled in by hand. If this number is not printed or filled in creates room for manipulations according to the “Bulgarian train” model, since it is enough to steal ballots from one polling station (which had happened and was registered by the SEC) and to use them at any other polling station in the same region. The converse practice limits the room for manipulations, i.e. the perpetrator would have to use the ballots from each specific polling station. Therefore, we feel that it is necessary to amend the practice.
To this is related the use of specific markers. The Helsinki Committee was alarmed by the accounts that certain candidates through their activists were putting pressure on the voters through the “control mechanism” of distributing markers. Threats were made that in that way they would have a way to monitor whom the voters voted for. This issue was raised by the Helsinki monitors in their discussions with the presidents of the EB, and their answers differed – some of them said that such ballots would not be considered valid; others shrugged and did not know how to act in such a situation. It is fortunate that the markers were more of a threat to the voters, rather than a reality, but it is clear that the SEC needs to take a position with respect to this issue.
The confirmed section from the electoral list showed a serious weakness combined with the abandoning of the system with electoral identity cards. First, a significant number of voters had problems with finding their polling station. Second, the insufficiently updated lists led to a situation where, according to a rough and summary estimate on the part of the Helsinki monitors, about 14 thousand voters could not vote.
The system of “modern branding”, or the use of a spray and an UV lamp demonstrated numerous weaknesses. Especially in some municipalities dominated by a population of ethnic Albanians there were cases in which the check was not performed, was only simulated, or the spray was not used. In several locations the EB was faced with the “handshake” problem, and in one instance, the EB found an interesting way to deal with it by undertaking an empirical experiment. One member of the EB was sprayed and then he shook hands with the other members, after which they used the UV lamp to run the checks. All those who shook hands had traces from the spray, some on the base of the thumb, some on the palm. Based upon this they established a “criteria” against which they could tell those who had their thumbs sprayed from those who only shook hands. To this we can add the check performed by a Helsinki monitor. After he was sprayed during the voting procedure he asked three different EBs to run a check on him. During two of these checks, even after the UV test was repeated – he was told “with certainty” that he was not sprayed!!! The cases in which two opinions clashed: unsprayed voter against a signature in the electoral list were resolved in the interest of the list even when with a relative certainty a mistake in the signing was determined.
Based upon all these experiences, and bearing in mind that the electoral identity cards provides an information for the polling station of each individual voter, the Helsinki Committee feels that the system of “modern branding” needs to be abandoned or seriously reconsidered. Besides the previously listed drawbacks, the following two rare aspects need to be also taken in account: a) hypothetically, it could be possible that the freshly sprayed thumb leaves a clear fingerprint on the ballot and in that manner to at least formally breach the secrecy of voting, or even something more; and b) in a practical sense, the spraying should be the last thing in the procedure, together with the return of the identification document. Although there was only one case registered by a Helsinki monitor where a voter was sprayed after there was a mistake in the identification, the fact that the EB did not provide this individual with an opportunity to vote at the right place (no document which he could present in front of the relevant EB was provided to him) remains.
Therefore, the “modern branding” should be checked in a very transparent manner (it should not be a privilege of a specific, randomly chosen member of the EB), the collision with the possible signature in the electoral list should be regulated, the spraying should be the last step in the procedure and it should be applied to the left thumb, etc.
3.3 Electoral board
The global assessment is that they performed their task in a good manner; they have demonstrated high level of training and skilfulness in their handling of problematic situations, which were handled in a courteous manner. However, certain improvements can also be made.
Only on several locations did the Helsinki monitors report rude presidents and members of the electoral board, and even then two different situations could be identified: a) nervousness during the morning when the longest lines were registered, and b) initial rudeness which through conversation and the explaining of the function of a monitor was later transformed into polite behaviour, although not congenial.
The high level of training was, after all, limited to the usual situations, while the reactions to the less common situations were usually answered by “No”, “Who knows”, even “Who ever reads the instructions.” As a result, a number of situations that are dealt with in the instructions from the SEC were improvised. Regardless of how good improvisers these people are, the fact remains that there were improvisations even in those cases that did not call for them, and there were no reactions in those cases where the logic of things needed to be followed. At one polling station we even heard the answer “We are not going to write the numbers on each of the ballots, are we?”
Neutrality, as an important requirement for each of the members, and especially for the president of the EB was probably the weakest link. There were many cases in which even the president of the EB was wearing a party symbol instead of the badge issued by the SEC, was openly declaring his own political preference or was even, as a result of a party pressure, assisting an illiterate voter. In several instances, especially when ethnic Albanians were the members of the EB, the monitors noticed that they were instructing the voters how to vote. To this we can add the especially loud reading of the name of the voters that could have been directed to the party monitors and their registering of the voting of “their” voters. There is yet another phenomenon, which we called public voting – when the voter would publicly announce who we would vote for – was not prevented by the president of the EB or another member. Although it cannot be concluded that that had an influence on the counting of the votes and by virtue of that to significantly influence the outcome, the impression remains that in this manner a pressure is put on the voter and his or her freedom of expression is limited.
The provision that the identity card or the passport are the only valid forms of identification for the voting was generally respected. However, on two locations the Helsinki monitors registered that a drivers licence was accepted, and on another the identity card was so damaged (the picture was slightly coming off the paper) that it is questionable whether that kind of identification could be accepted.
The relationship between the members of the EB was satisfactory, except in two situations. One was a case of an inter-party conflict, and in the other there was a conflict between more and less experienced members of the EB. In one town the provision that the presidents of EB need to have legal background was not adhered to, and although there was a sufficient number of available individuals with legal background in a number of polling stations the presidents of the electoral boards did not have that background.
The registers of the president of the Electoral Board are a huge practical weak point, which could be transformed into developing a serious act of prevention. In other words, one of the key functions of the EB is to maintain order and safety at the polling station. In a number of situations it was applied in the context of the actual room where the votes were cast. Even this narrow context of interpretation of the function, especially in the cases of long queues, did not give the best results, but still deserves high merit. Only in several cases of lack of order the party monitors have taken the liberty of maintaining it. Naturally, extremely impolite and even aggressive behavior on the part of those monitors was noted in those cases.
The true problem is related to the space in front of the room or even the building where the votes are cast. At this level there was a lack of any sense of responsibility whatsoever; in other words there was a vacuum between "their" room and the space outside. That is where the cases of the so-called "standers" (see.3.1), party transport vehicles etc. were noted. Furthermore, the aspect of analytical thinking was absent from the work done by the EB. The very Chair of the EB had the capacity of notifying all the major negative or illegal activities and registering them for the SEC to be able to give a post-festum reaction. Namely, the minutes and the reports are formed by collective participation by all members. Therefore it is likely that those are a result of party compromising. In other words, a number of claims remain unregistered, instead of contributing to the improvement of the procedure or resulting into indictments.
It seems to be more than necessary for the SEC to insist on appointing politically neutral legal experts as presidents of the EB in future and to define their jurisdiction. On the other hand they should also collect the analytical impressions of the voting process and the vote counts, as well as to collect all claims made by the presidents of EB that may be processed as indictments as a result of these elections. Without this aspect, an environment is created for possible events of criminal nature, where "someone else" is responsible in terms of making an indictment (v. 3.5).
3.4. Forms of restrained voting
The general conclusion is that the people declared their vote freely at these elections. However, some of the weak points, especially in the domain of electoral manners, already noted in the previous elections in a larger scope, were also noted this time. First of all and common to all ethnic communities comes the so-called "couples vote". Married couples in huge numbers and quite at ease made their way behind a single screen, and even demonstrated misapprehension when the EB tried to prevent them from proceeding. It is likely that the problem was solved by way of education, however, there are ways where the EB could act as a preventive entity. First and foremost, when the identification reveals a married couple, the issue of the ballot could be delayed. Then follows the explanation that the husband and wife should cast their vote separately etc. This would prevent the situations where the couples act out of ignorance and when embarrassed upon the revelation of their ignorance, they react in protest.
In terms of the situations where it's a case of male dominance in the marriage, it is likely that a tougher stance should be taken in rejecting arguments along the lines of "the poor thing doesn't know how" etc. In several such cases the Helsinki monitors were able to see how the husband's arguments reached the level of humiliation for the wife in revealing her illiteracy or ignorance. The similar case arises with senior parents or people in general, allegedly illiterate. The illiteracy in terms of numbers is virtually rooted out nowadays and the legal requirement is the business capacity to vote. Therefore, the whole system of assistance should be questioned. It could be arranged for someone to read out the lists of candidates on display outside the polling station to the illiterate people and to indicate the corresponding numbers. All they have to do then is to remember one single number!!! They're surely capable of doing so. In fact, this resolves the situations where the voter knows exactly who to vote for. With the Helsinki monitor's assistance the voter did not need the reading out of the entire ballot, but only asked for the number of a particular candidate on the ballot. The moment he got that information, further assistance became unnecessary. The Helsinki Committee strongly recommends the replacement of the institution of assistance behind the screen with assistance to imply only correlating numbers and candidates outside the polling station.
Automatically, this would mean avoidance or decrease in "group" voting that, unfortunately was manifested in ethnic Albanians as well as the Romany. Even at the reaction of the Helsinki monitor shaped in showing interest as to the manner of casting the vote, the replies were traditional- "this is the way it's always been." At one polling station, however, the impression remained that even there some things change. Namely, a group of women were "directed" by a younger woman who either told them which name to circle or circled the names on the behalf of two of the women. All of this was happening before the very eyes of the EB, behind the back of the OSCE monitor who was evidently "concentrating" on the work of the EB, completely ignorant of the scenes behind the screen. Unfortunately, the "leader" of the group voting action had to leave the queue, go behind the screen and "help" the casting of the vote, and from the back to return to her place in the queue to complete the procedure for herself. This OSCE monitor didn't notice even that!?? Therefore the Helsinki Committee recommends the following: a) The NGOs for human rights acting specifically in the ethnic Albanian communities (which are present in a large number) should seriously undertake spreading education at this level, especially because of the evident lack of any serious self-criticism whatsoever; b) The SEC should consider carefully the possibility of making group voting a valid reason for declaring the results at a polling station where it occurs null and void.
Attempts to rig elections or to take criminal action to prevent free elections remain outside the domain of the electoral manners. Without entering the phantasmagoric "rumors" for the special disappearing ink and self-forming chemicals which are undignified and uncharacteristic for any sophisticated society, there still remains the concern that despite all warnings of the possibility of the so- called "Bulgarian train" still certain structures allowed the attempt or even the realization of such a forgery. The Helsinki monitors noted a false alarm, but commend the awareness and the alertness of the relevant EB as well as the correct manner in clarifying the case. Even more so because of the fact that their suspicion was not unfounded - the voter did try to exit the polling station without placing the ballot in the box.
Unfortunately, there was a case of a "Bulgarian train" noted at a polling station despite the huge practical difficulties in detecting such cases.
It is a disappointing fact that the police, despite registering the case, haven't taken any measures to find the true perpetrators of this act. Namely, there must be certain amount of guilt at the voter, but the illegal act should also include the person who demanded such an act from the voter. This particular case was allegedly about a group of racketeers close to the regional chief of police. If this is true, the Helsinki committee appeals to the central services of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to investigate the case and take relevant legal measures depending on the results of the investigation.
This case, correlated to the public display of voting ballots by the former MP Mr. Amdi Bajram, as well as the allegations made by the former Minister of Internal Affairs Mr. Ljube Boskovski to have such ballots in his possession, are more than enough reasons for the SEC and the Ministry to join forces and make the effort to investigate the origin of the ballots and if they were stolen from a polling station in Suto Orizari – to find the perpetrator and the people who may have been given such stolen ballots. This would enable the detection of other places where such an attempt or a realization of a "Bulgarian train" has occurred, since it's necessary to root it out at the very beginning. Either way, if the pre-elections public opinion polls are taken as a criterion, known as a highly correct criterion at all levels in the previous elections, it turns out that the “Glavata Gore” coalition has gained a larger percent of the expected votes. The same coalition consists of parties that were in power during the elections. Therefore, the probability of a forgery, and a successful forgery at that, (although not so successful as to win the elections) lies with the same coalition. In such a case it is "clear" that the heads of police should try and lay the blame on the other participants in the elections.
3.5. Special cases
Apart from the already exposed cases in the media as incidents during the election day, which were still in a small number, we would like to focus the attention to the following cases containing such indications as to imply further investigation by the authorities, while there is no evidence that either the SEC or the police have ever undertaken any activities:
a) In the Skopje municipality of Kisela Voda, in the "Vasil Antevski-Dren" High School, the Principal of the school, Mr.Mirce agitated on the behalf of the “Glavata gore” coalition among the people queuing to vote;
b) In the village of Trabotiviste, near Delcevo, a group of "unknown" people have beaten up a young man in the local tavern with "reasons unknown". The word "unknown" is the link of association to the elections. Namely, according to the locals, the unknown people were members of the reserve forces and the special unit of "Lions", and the unknown reasons were the fact that the young man had said the previous night in public that he would not vote for the “Glavata gore” coalition .
c) The most serious incident happened in the "26 July" Primary School in Suto Orizari where on the election day, at about 11 o'clock a group of ten people, known among the locals as "Amdi Bajram's racketeers" tried to drag out by force a member of the EB outside the polling station. During the incident the man managed to struggle free and return to his place. When the monitors from the next room -a polling station (including a Helsinki monitor) came to the place of the incident and demanded an explanation- the racketeers have withdrawn in the schoolyard and 15 minutes later they left the school. However, when the Helsinki monitors ran a second check up in the afternoon, a group of "unknown" people was noted to stand at the entrance of the school openly showing off their weapons and hanging around their vehicles (four -wheel- drive vehicles with Slovenian license plates). At the same time, frequent "party transport" was undertaken and supervised by these armed "standers".
Having no evidence that these cases were adequately processed, the Helsinki committee makes an appeal to the police and the SEC to check these allegations (possibly through the relevant chairs of the EB) and if they are confirmed -to undertake legal measures in investigating the cases.
Bearing in mind the unfortunate experience with the previous local and presidential elections, as well as the parliamentary elections, including the numerous incidents in the pre-elections period of all these elections, the general impression is that the huge number of internal and external monitors was more than justified. Most of the Helsinki monitors believe that the presence of the foreign monitors had a positive and a comforting impact at the polling stations where they were appointed. In combination with the serious efforts of the international community to contribute to peaceful, fair and free elections, the general impression is that the internal monitors also fulfilled their duties efficiently. On the Election Day, their behavior was more than correct and the reaction against the incongruent numbers at different levels of the election committees was completely justified.
This positive impression is marred by the fact that in the pre-election campaign, many prominent, current and former party activists were covered by the "blanket" of NGOs, which inevitably made an impact on the neutrality of their campaign for fair elections. Moreover, on the day of the elections, throughout Macedonia, the people in the local community had the opportunity to see a well-known activist of the SDSM, and a smaller number of VMRO-DPMNE activists wearing an "internal monitor" badge. Also, the support given to the rumors of the "chemical forgery" by a coalition of NGOs involved in the monitoring of the elections was biased and even naive. At one polling station the monitors of this coalition of NGOs did not wear their badges, but still participated in the monitoring of the elections.
Still, this isn't sufficient evidence to decrease the high mark of appraisal for the work of the NGO monitors and their contribution to fair and democratic elections.
4. Post-elections period
The constitutional element of the political system of Macedonia whereby the current Government carries out the duties in the pre-election as well as the post-election period up to the appointment of the new cabinet, in the light of these elections proved to be a serious weakness. First of all, a situation recurred from the previous multi-party elections where the parties in power used their positions for propaganda. If we add the complete lack of objective position of the state television network (even at the level of the legal obligation for equal presentation of all candidates) and the open "conducting" of the printed state-owned media, the pre-election period turned into a parade of the achievements of the current Government.
The sources of the funds for paid advertisements of the achievements of the current Government compared to the previous government should also be seriously questioned.
A special phenomenon occurred immediately before the day of election and the days after: a huge number of people were employed without consideration of the necessary economic and legal and existing requirements. The same is true for a number of granted allotments, lands, apartments etc. The only partly lucky circumstance is the immediate reaction of the media in reporting such abuse of power.
Special attention should be paid to the police. The same way they deserve to be commended for their successful "coverage" of the polling stations at the day of the elections, the more frightening and threatening to the democracy in Macedonia was the forced entry of the highest officials of the Ministry of Internal affairs in the SEC and the attempt to fabricate illogical and unfounded constructions for a certain "chemical forgery", after Prime Minister Georgievski correctly received the preliminary results. The recorded scenes of the physical forced entry in the print of "11 Oktomvri" in Prilep helped to show publicly the mechanism used in the last couple of years by certain police (and military) circles. Their unawareness that the forced entry is recorded by the video security system of the print is probably the reason why they decided to use the old pattern of presenting a distorted version of the truth through a "loyal reporter". This time it was Mrs. Teodora Davcevska from TV "Sitel" who reported that in the presence of international monitors, the Ministry of internal affairs has carried out a legal and justified search of the print. To their detriment, both the video-recordings and the sober and determined reaction of the Managing Board of the print credibly proved that the international monitors arrived much later at the scene and they were uninvited by the police, that the search warrant was more than dubious and that there were no eye-witnesses to the search and no recorded minutes signed by the witnesses (which is a legal requirement) and that there were no legally valid foundations for the action.
Apart from this event, the highest officials of the Ministry of internal affairs were bold enough to make a forced entry in the SEC the very next day at the time that supports the thesis of preventing the announcement of the official results of the elections. This procedure definitely deserves to be investigated legally and criminally, but aside from the results of such an investigation, it is likely that these events as well as the previously listed procedures are threats to the democracy and the existing institutional forms of revealing doubts.
The general estimate of the Helsinki Committee concerning these elections, already stated at the preliminary summary of the results is that they were fair and democratic, that the citizens were able to cast their vote freely, that the irregularities were in a small number and did not have a significant influence on the final result. Many of the interviewees expressed their confusion in the discrepancy between the ferocity of the campaign and the calmness of the elections. The timely, long-term and persistent presence of the international community, in alliance with the mass NGO monitoring, as well as the serious efforts made by all political parties involved, made a serious contribution to the prompt solution and repression of the pre-elections incidents, and to the lack of maneuvering space for the extremists who were determined to the very last moment to use undemocratic means against the elections.
A special emphasis should be added to the successfulness of appointing a non-party person at the top of the SEC, which enabled the SEC to respond to its duties in very complicated situations in the best possible way. The special training for the police for this occasion -for the units of the police engaged in "covering" the elections, showed efficient results, although the positive impression has been lessened to a certain extent because of their passivity in certain cases and refraining from action in a number of cases.
Bearing in mind the principle that we ought to learn a lesson maximally from the weaknesses, not hope never to deal with them again, the Helsinki committee, without trying to repeat the estimates and the suggestions stated in the text of this Report, only wishes to point out the following elements:
- it is of utmost importance that the SEC become more involved at the level of the acknowledgment of the known weaknesses and to propose changes to the Law on Electoral Procedures, as well as to develop the system through specific legal acts;
- The SEC and the election experts should pay special attention to the issue of whether the system of "modern branding" is the most adequate and the most cost-effective. It seems that the system of election ID cards is at least at the same if not at a higher level, and bearing in mind the financial calculations it wouldn't do any damage to think about the system of electronic voting. The latter is of a special quality at the level of dynamics, in other words it surpasses the problems that have arisen in the previous two systems based on the principle of one person- a fixed polling station;
- The Ministry of Justice should make a constructive effort if they were to test the possibility of making criminal charges against the vulgar and disparaging occurrences as experienced during the elections. The criminal charges should be brought upon authority without the danger of falling into the trap of "censorship";
- The same Ministry in cooperation with the SEC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs should initiate the serious consideration of the issue of jurisdiction/responsibility of the reporting of the cases which have so far remained only a blur on the election process and to place clear parameters for a system of sanctions in such cases, as well as making "post festum" efforts for such cases to be properly processed. The Helsinki committee expects to see results especially in the cases stated in this Report, and
- The Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia should give the priority to the issue of amending the Constitution in terms of regulating the possibility of the so-called "technical government" which would be formed at the moment of announcing the elections and whose responsibilities whether positively or not- would be listed unambiguously with the corresponding sanctions. At the same time, it is crucial to avoid the line of thought that this government would never do this or that. On the contrary, they ought to bear in mind the well-known maxim that power corrupts and higher power corrupts even more.
The Helsinki committee calls upon all state officials, as well as the NGOs to look upon the election process in its long-term roots in the cultural matrix of the voter as an individual. Therefore, substantial and qualitative changes are possible at this level if there is education of the voter as the holder of the sovereignty in a democratic society at every election - not only the ones which are deemed crucial or historic or otherwise in a particular moment. The educated, regular voter is the key requirement for a democratic control of power.