International Election Observation Mission IEOM – “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

Joint Press Conference OSCE/ODIHR and Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

Monday, 25 March 2013, 15:00

Statement by Mr. Jueri LANDBERG, Estonia, Head of the Congress delegation

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Jueri Landberg, I am a member of the Raegavere Local Council which is a municipality in the northern part of Estonia.

I am happy to give you an overview on the observations of yesterday, made by the delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. I will also comment briefly on general conditions which are essential for truly democratic elections and for democracy as such.

You may know, the Congress is a political assembly of more than 300 local and regional elected representatives coming from the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. As mentioned, I am one of them, coming from Estonia. Your country has joined the Council of Europe - which is a Strasbourg-based organisation promoting democracy, rule of law and human rights – in 1995.

The Congress delegation which observed yesterday’s local elections comprised 15 members from 13 European states. It included also 4 representatives of the EU Committee of the Regions, our partner organisation in Brussels. The Congress observes elections on a peer-to-peer basis, involving European politicians elected at local and regional level who are experienced in grassroots affairs.

Our delegation arrived on 21 March in Skopje and held meetings with Macedonian authorities at ministerial level and the State Election Commission, with representatives of the international community in Skopje, as well as NGOs and the media. We also met candidates for Mayor in Skopje. A pre-electoral visit was carried out in February to assess the general political situation and the preparations for these elections.

Yesterday, seven Congress teams were visiting more than 100 polling stations in Skopje and its environs, in Kumanova, Veles, Stip, Strumica, Bitola, Struga, Kicevo and in Tetovo, Brvenica and Gostivar.

With a few exceptions, in the polling stations visited by Congress observers, the elections took place in a calm and orderly manner without major incidents. Election Day was technically well prepared, the members of the Electoral Boards largely aware of the procedures and in municipalities where at least 20 % of the citizens speak an official language other than Macedonian, the ballot papers were also consistently available in the official language used by these citizens.

However, there is room for improvement, in particular in respect of the practical organisation. I would like to mention only a few examples:

-          the accuracy of voter’s lists needs further improvement and voters should receive personalised information  indicating the address of their polling station;

-           the secrecy of the vote should be more carefully respected and incidents of family voting more actively addressed by the electoral staff;

-          the counting process needs a more systematic approach and recounting should be made obligatory;

-          despite the fact that special booths were provided for wheelchair users in many locations, polling stations were to a great extent not accessible for people with disabilities.

Prior to Election Day, we were told that in some 25 municipalities the local authorities had problems to organise these elections due to the lack of financial resources. Yesterday, the Congress delegation did not receive information that polling stations were not operational because of this situation. Nonetheless, in order to ensure that democracy functions properly at all levels of government – including the local level – the Macedonian authorities should address this issue and avoid such shortcomings in the future.

We welcome that Election Day was preceded by an active and competitive campaign. However, it must be said that the leverage factor of billboards and posters - which were mainly visible in urban areas - was on the side of the major ruling party.

A key factor, from Congress perspective, is the situation of the media - in respect of these elections but also in the broader context.

The media monitoring carried out by our colleagues from the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission showed that the campaign coverage in the news – both by public and several private broadcasters – was biased in favour of the governing coalition. There was no distinction between state activities and party campaigning. Furthermore, two broadcasters and several print media have been closed since the last elections.

The Congress delegation believes that such developments have contributed to a deterioration over the past few years. Pluralistic media and journalists who can fulfil their societal functions in an independent manner are vital for democracy.

The Council of Europe Congress stands ready to assist your authorities in this regard.

Thank you.