Observation of Municipal elections in “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, held on 24 March 2013

Session of the Chamber of Local Authorities, 25th Congress Session, 30 October 2013

Speaking Notes, Jüri Landberg, Head of Delegation

Dear colleagues,

As you will know, the Congress was invited by “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” to observe the municipal elections, which were held on 24 March 2013. Further to a smaller pre-election visit, carried out in February, a 15 member-delegation - including four representatives of the EU Committee of the Regions – was deployed from 20 to 25 March.

Elections were organised for the post of Municipal Mayor and Municipal Councillor throughout the territory.

On Election Day, seven Congress teams operated in the areas of Skopje, Kumanovo, Veles, Stip, Strumica, Bitola, Struga, Orhid, Kicevo, Tetovo, Brvenica and Gostivar and visited, in a total, more than 120 polling stations.

In general, we were satisfied with the calm and orderly way these elections were carried out and that some progress was made, following the recommendations of the Congress in 2009:  I would like to mention in this context the training of the members of the Electoral Boards, the participation of women in political life and, to a certain extent, also the inspection of voters’ lists.

While the Electoral Code was amended in the weeks before the elections, this amendment enjoyed, at least, consensus across the parties.

However, there are some issues which need to be addressed by the authorities.

The main concern of all international observers was the active but partisan campaign with a favour towards the governing system. Candidates could campaign freely and access public spaces without limitations. However, the delegation noticed a bias in the media towards the governing parties.

Together with our colleagues from OSCE/ODIHR, we concluded that – due to the deep politicisation of the country along party lines - there was a blurring between government and party activities which did not always provide for a level playing field between all the parties. Therefore, we recommend “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” to ensure a pluralistic media landscape and appropriate working conditions for journalists, in harmony with genuinely democratic values.

We are also of the opinion that Skopje should take steps to increase voters’ confidence by further improving the procedures for compiling and maintaining voters’ lists. In addition, voters should be provided with personalised information on the address of their polling station.

Another issue, to be addressed by amending the Electoral Code, is the complaints and appeals procedure. The current procedure provides for tight deadlines and complaints have to be filed according to very strict regulations. On the other hand, there is a lack of regulation with regard to internal procedures (for example with regard to documentary evidence to be used to decide on complaints). Also, decisions on complaints about election materials can only be taken if at least two complaints have been submitted for the given polling station. In general, international observers were made aware of the lack of confidence of different actors in respect of legal remedy – the authorities should not disregard this matter.

The main irregularities observed in the polling stations on Election Day concerned family or group voting and the secrecy of the vote. Therefore, we recommend instructing the electoral staff to pay systematic attention to these issues during future elections.

Although, all things considered, the counting of the votes was assessed positively, different members of the Electoral Boards interpreted the regulations with regard to the validity or invalidity of ballot papers in different ways. This caused lengthy and sometimes chaotic counting procedures. Therefore, the Congress recommends introducing provisions which allow the electoral staff to clearly distinguish valid ballot papers from invalid ones and thus avoid leeway in decision-making.

I would be remiss not to mention that the Congress delegation expressed concern that – as a consequence of the present global economic and financial crises – several municipalities reported problems in organising these elections because of the lack of financial resources. Therefore, we have to pay close attention to further developments.

On the positive side, we recognise that the Macedonian stakeholders were able to overcome the political crises culminating in 2012 and, by properly organising these elections, showed their common will to further advance on the European track of integration.

I thank you for your attention!