On 23rd February 2016, the Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia postponed its dissolution for 7th April 2016 under strong pressure exerted by the public, citizens, international community and number of political parties, justifying its decision that key points defined as minimum preconditions for organization of elections are not fulfilled. These three points concern work of the State Election Commission (SEC) and revision of the voters list, regulation of media work for the purpose of enabling level playing field for all political options to present their programs in front of the electorate, as well as efficient separation of the state and party, i.e. preventing party influence on state (institutions) in the pre-election period.
The day set for Parliament’s dissolution is approaching; however, in our and in the opinion of significant portion of the public, the minimum preconditions are still not secured for Parliament’s dissolution and announcement of credible elections that would enjoy the trust of all citizens in the Republic of Macedonia.
As regards SEC’s work on revision of the voters list, our analyses demonstrated emergence of several obscurities and inconsistencies in terms of the scope of voters considered “disputable”, how many of them would be subject to verification and what procedure will be used to delete voters for which it has been proved they do not belong to the voters list.
SEC established as many as 310,000 suspicious entries in the voters list. According to the method used for verification of these names, published by SEC in early March 2016, more than 124,000 disputable voters will not be verified or deleted. Around 110,000 voters are designated to undergo administrative (manual) verification against registers kept by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Ministry of Justice (MOJ). MOI and MOJ should have presented results of their verification work to SEC no later than 31st March 2016. To date, there is no public information, announced by SEC or by MOI and MOJ, concerning results of such administrative verification and cross-reference of registers. Results obtained from this type of voter verification directly affect the scope of SEC’s field checks that should be based on indications from this previous verification conducted by MOI and MOJ.
In the aftermath of field checks, disputable voters should be deleted from the voters list, but there is no straightforward legal procedure in place for that purpose. Under all variations, this procedure should allow the right to appeal in front of second instance administrative body, i.e. in front of the Administrative Court and High Administrative Court. One cannot speculate about the duration of this procedure, but it is assessed that it would render organization of credible elections on 5th June impossible.
In any case, by the end of activities concerning revision of the voters list, the president of SEC will have to sign this list, thus guaranteeing that it has been fully updated and ready for holding early parliamentary elections. If the voters list is not cleaned within the anticipated deadline, it might happen for the president of SEC to indicate that more time is needed for that purpose. Here, we would like to reiterate that SEC is responsible for creating credible voters list that would restore citizens’ confidence in the election process and the democracy in Macedonia. Therefore, without further delay and free of any pressure, SEC should make a public announcement about objective possibilities for completion of all obligations related to cleaning of the voters list and when it can be expected to finalize all preparations for fair, free and democratic elections. Only then would citizens know whether 5th June is actually an attainable date for holding the elections.
If the Parliament is dissolved on 7th April 2016, but the president of SEC does not sign the voters list, i.e. does not approve its use on the forthcoming elections, the state would enter a period of legal vacuum or, more specifically, it would enter a state of legal chaos that has been present in Macedonia for too long. Under such circumstances, the political and institutional crisis would deteriorate further and the consequences thereof would be difficult to anticipate. Therefore, we firmly stand on the position that the decision on parliament’s dissolution must be reconsidered and that such decision should be taken only after all conditions are fulfilled for organization of fair and democratic elections.
As regards negotiations on media reforms, it must be stated that they are “dead”. The Parliament of the Republic of Macedonia has been presented with several different draft amendments to the Law on Audio and Audio-Visual Media Services. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (IUJMW), the Media Council of Ethics (MCE), the Macedonian Institute for Media (MIM) and the Institute for Communication Studies (ICS) submitted the proposal drafted by the mediator Peter Vanhoutte, while the Macedonian Media Association presented its own proposal, supported also by the Macedonian Association of Journalists (MAJ). This proposal was put for reconsideration before Members of Parliament on 4th April 2016 and was supported only by MPs from the opposition. MPs from the ruling majority voted against the proposed law. At the same time, SDSM proposed amendments concerning the financing of the public broadcasting service, i.e. discontinuation of broadcasting fee levied on all citizens. The opposition’s proposal was not adopted by the Parliament.
In the meantime, instead of fully abandoning such practices, pro-governmental media are additionally intensifying their one-sided, propaganda-prompted and manipulative information to the public. Media lynch against the Special Prosecution Office, for example, has reached alarmingly serious proportions, and the hate speech does not seem to be controlled.
Such course of events is undoubtedly indicative of the fact that state-of-affairs in the media landscape are continuously deteriorating and that, even if the best and most adequate legal changes are adopted, it would take several months for them to take effect. Therefore, it is quite clear that, in terms of the media situation and media reforms, there are no conditions for holding fair, free and democratic elections.
Last, but not least important, not a single factor in the political crisis should disregard or undermine work of the Special Prosecution Office (SPO), especially in terms of criminal prosecution. SPO is facing many and unscrupulous barriers in its operation, in particular related to the case “Titanic”, which concerns reasonable suspicion about election frauds committed by high level officials at the ruling party – VMRO-DPMNE. In that case, the court has denied motions for detention orders against the suspects who might appear as holders of candidate lists and even be elected Members of Parliament. Serious obstructions to SPO’s work continue in other cases, such as: 1) “Torture” where high-ranked police and political officials from VMRO-DPMNE are suspected of having tortured the leader of the opposition party “United for Macedonia”, Ljube Boskovski, immediately after the elections held on 5th June 2011; 2) “Fortress” where several police officers are suspected of having illegally destroyed the equipment used mass interception of communications in the first half of 2015, upon orders from the then-current Minister of Interior. In the last case, the court ordered home detention as alternative to the detention order requested by SPO. On several occasions, SPO complained that in respect to these and other cases, they are not encountering adequate cooperation on the part of other state institutions, in particular related to provision of evidence and documents that should be ex officio presented to SPO.
These trends in the key areas are seriously undermining the Przino Agreement and its primary goal – to ensure liberation of partisan institutions and provide instruments for the caretaker government to organize free, fair, democratic and credible elections. Therefore, we urge SEC to demonstrate responsibility in this critical point in time and immediately make public its opinion about the process related to revision of the voters list and to propose clear timeframe for the elections. Also, we urge the political parties and the international community to stand firmly behind crucial provisions from the Przino Agreement and care for true democratization of the state and irreversible exit from the deepest political crisis in the Republic of Macedonia since 2001.
Macedonian Centre for European Training
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia
Foundation Open Society – Macedonia
Institute for Human Rights