To: Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations; Delegation of the European Union in Skopje; Members of the European Parliament; Embassies of all EU Member-States represented in the Republic of Macedonia; OSCE Spillover Mission in Skopje; Embassy of the United States in the Republic of Macedonia; Reinhard Priebe, Head of the Senior Experts Group; Peter van Haute, European Expert and Negotiator
Skopje, January 14th, 2016
MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR CITIZENS IN MACEDONIA IS FOR THE ELECTIONS TO BE FAIR, FREE AND DEMOCRATIC!
We address you in the wake of Mr. Johannes Hahn’s, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, visit to the Republic of Macedonia, which is scheduled to take place on January 15th, 2016, i.e. on the day when, according to the agreement brokered to address the political crisis in the state (known as the Przino Agreement), new government needs to be in place, tasked with organization of fair and democratic early parliamentary elections, scheduled for April 24th, 2016.
First and foremost, we would like to express our position that at this moment the crucial conditions for organization of such elections are not fulfilled and the climate in the state is not conductive to organization of fair, free and democratic elections which would restore the faith of citizens that they are free in their decision-making and that the electorate’s decision will be duly respected by the institutions and by all political parties. In that regard, we would like to remind that full implementation of the Przino Agreement should mark the end of the deepest political crisis in the country since 2001 and should result in organization of fair, free and democratic elections.
Allow us to present several arguments and examples in support of our position and to put forward specific demands and ideas concerning the need for urgent steps to be taken with a view to create conditions for the organization of free, fair and democratic elections later this year.
Primary reason behind our belief that currently there are no sufficient conditions for organization of free, fair and democratic elections in April 2016 is identified in serious delays concerning implementation of the points enlisted under the Przino Agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities, which are directly related to the elections. In this regard, it should be noted that the State Election Commission (SEC), being the key institution responsible for updating the Voters List and organizing the elections, is not fully operational as well as that interparty agreement concerning the reforms in the field of media and media freedoms was not reached.
As regards SEC, as an institution with new composition and expanded competences, it should be noted that establishment thereof has not been completed and it does not operate in full capacity. The legal service within SEC was not established, although it should play a key role in documentation and preparation of cases arising from possible complaints concerning the election process, according to the new Electoral Code.
Moreover, the procedure on cleaning the Voters List is not agreed and adopted, while its enforcement is far from becoming a reality. Having in mind the statements made by the President of the State Election Commission in regard to this matter, citizens expect to have the Voters List updated, as a crucial process on ensuring credible elections, by means of checks and cross-referencing various databases and records falling within the competences of relevant institutions, but also by means of complete and thorough field verification of all data.
All these procedures require at least one to two months of institutional preparations, whereas the cleaning of the Voters List would necessitate three or four months of intensive work. In case this process remains unfinished prior to the start of election campaigning, holding the elections on the set date would become extremely risky and would open space for further complication of the existing political crisis, resulting in major damages for the citizens and the country.
Another major threat to holding fair, democratic and free elections in April 2016 is identified in the absence of interparty agreement concerning the media reforms, which are deemed to be among the most crucial factors for creation of the level playing field for media representation of all political options. Lack of media reforms would leave space for the governing parties to yet again pursue fierce propaganda as part of their election campaigns, abounding in hate speech and information manipulation, instead of engaging in battle of ideas, concepts and policies. The citizens recognize the extremely important role played by the media, in particular the media outlets benefiting from budget funds, in restoring the political power back to the citizens, instead of to the political parties only. For these reasons, in the absence of key media reforms, primarily targeting the public broadcaster and the independent media regulatory body, fair and democratic elections cannot be organized.
At the same time, we would like to indicate that VMRO-DPMNE and DUI, as the parties in power, continue to hinder and distort implementation of the Przino Agreement, as well as the Urgent Reform Priorities arising from Priebe’s Report. The section on electoral reforms under the Urgent Reform Priorities anticipates complete implementation of OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, with special emphasis on the separation of the state and political party, accuracy of the Voters List and system on resolution of complaints and appeals. Moreover, under the section on de-politicisation of public administration, the Urgent Reform Priorities recommend immediate suspension of the Law on Transformation of Temporary Positions into Permanent Contracts, which was explicitly rejected by VMRO-DPMNE and DUI. The governing parties deploy similar behaviour as regards the protection of citizens’ privacy and oversight of secret services, as well as strengthening the independent regulatory bodies overseeing the executive branch of government. The Urgent Priority Reforms anticipate effective parliamentary and judicial oversight of interception of communications. To present, no serious steps have been taken in relation to overseeing interception of communications and, therefore, the citizens and civil society organization are still uncertain whether their communications are being illegally intercepted and whether content thereof is being abused, thus violating their privacy.
Civil activists and open-minded citizens are still targeted with hate speech and threats on the part of pro-governmental journalists and media outlets. Reaction on the part of competent institutions is either slow or non-existing and they fail to take efficient actions to prevent and sanction such occurrence. In the public, an image has been created concerning the impunity and inviolability of particular individuals protected by the government, while they continue to disseminate hate speech and threats, thus enhancing fear among citizens, which is most certainly not conductive to creation of climate for free, fair and democratic elections.
Given the above enlisted, we – the civil society organizations – demand the EU, USA and all other domestic and foreign factors engaged in resolution of the crisis to acknowledge these arguments and postpone the early parliamentary elections until the crucial preconditions related to the elections and set forth in the Przino Agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities are enabled. Our single objective is to ensure actual fair, democratic and free climate in the country for the elections to take place, which would enjoy the trust of all citizens and would be recognized as articulation of their political will and choice.
Furthermore, we urge the political parties engaged in negotiations to resolve the political crisis to demonstrate responsible and democratic behaviour and to immediately implement the solutions agreed upon, as well as reach an agreement on items that have not been settled thus far, but are of crucial importance for having fair and democratic elections. In this regard, it is our firm belief that fulfilment of the Przino Agreement requirement concerning the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Gruevski is of crucial importance, irrespective of the fact whether the early parliamentary elections will be held as scheduled, in particular because the establishment of transitional government chaired by new Prime Minister is one of the most important elements that would guarantee fair and democratic elections.
We call the competent institutions (Ministry of Interior, Public Prosecution, courts and other bodies) to timely act upon all reports and indications or upon public information concerning use of hate speech and encouraging intolerance for particular groups or individuals.
The civil society organizations will continue to play an active and constructive role in the resolution of the deep social and political crisis in the country, will remain to be a democracy-building and policy-making actor, and will demonstrate civic awareness on political engagement in the interest of citizens, as it has been noted by the European Commission in its latest country report for the Republic of Macedonia.
Association Center for Strategy and Development PAKTIS – Prilep | Association for Civil Society “8th of September” – Skopje | Association for Democracy, Debate, Dialogue and Decentralization “PLAN 4D | Association for Development and Activism “Aqua” – Struga | Association for Development of Culture and Cultural Heritage Protection Kontekst – Strumica | Association for Economic and Political Researches and Analyses KVANTUM PRIMA Kavadarci | Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women in Republic of Macedonia – ESE | Association for Protection of Cultural Identity of Egyptians IZIDA 41/21 | Association for Research, Communications and Development PUBLIC | Association for Spreading Democracy and Democratic Principles in Society PROJECT-EU, Kavadarci | Association Inicijativen glas – Prilep | Association “Izbor” Strumica | Association Justitia | Association of Balkan Egyptians in Macedonia | Association of Citizens “Za nas se raboti” | Association of Citizens “Bistra” – Rostushe | Association of Citizens Esperanza World Cultural Center | Association of Citizens for Promotion of Women Activity Tiiiit! Inc. | Association of Citizens Kontrapunkt | Association of Citizens PROFICIO – Multiethnic Tolerance through Economic Prosperity | Association of Citizens “Signposts” – Gevgelija | Association of Citizens “Vratete nasmevka” – Veles | Association of the Participants in the Armed Conflict in the Defense of the Sovereignty of RM 2001/2002 | Association Regional Center for Sustainable Development – Kratovo | Association “Women’s Forum” – Tetovo | Center for Civic Initiative | Center for Cultural Heritage| Center for Democracy and Development | Center for Democratic Development and Initiatives – CDRIM | Center for Education and Development | Center for Environmental Research and Information “Eko-svest” | Center for Interethnic Tolerance and Refugees | Center for Local Democracy Development | Center for Sustainable Community Development – Debar | Civic Initiative “Arsena” | CIVIL – Center for Freedom | Coalition for Sustainable Development – CSD | Coalition of Civil Associations “All for Fair Trials” | Coalition Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalized Communities | Contemporary Art Center | EHO Educational-Humanitarian Organization Shtip | Faculty for Things that Can’t be Learned / AKTO | Food Bank Macedonia | Forum – Center for Strategic Research and Documentation | Foundation for Local Community Development – Shtip | Forum for Security Policy Research “Securitas” – Bitola | Foundation Open Society – Macedonia | Freedom Square | Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia | I love GTC | Institute for Human Rights | Internet Hotline Provider Macedonia | Jadro – Association of the Independent Cultural Scene | Local Development Association “Acija Plus” – Resen | Macedonian Centre for European Training | Macedonian European Movement | Metamorphosis Foundation | National Council for Gender Equality | NGO Association of Roma Intelligence – Anglunipe | NGO Info-center | Platform for Civic Politics – “Ajde!” | Progress – Institute for Social Democracy| REACTOR – Research in Action | Roma Education Center “Umbrella” | ROMA S.O.S. – Roma Organization for Multicultural Affirmation | Rural Coalition Kumanovo | Student Organization “Izlez” | Syndicate of the Macedonian Diplomatic Service | There is a Future | Transparency Macedonia | Vox Academica | Dyslexia Association “Einstein” | Young European Federalist – JEF Macedonia | Youth Cultural Center – Bitola | Youth Educational Forum