CG/BUR (11) 75

Strasbourg, 15 December 2004

Report on the Referendum

in “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”

(7 November 2004)


Rapporteur:  Sean O’Brien (Ireland, L, SOC)

Document adopted

by the Bureau of the Congress on 10 December 2004


At its meeting of 17 September 2004, the Bureau of the Congress decided to send a Congress   delegation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to observe the Referendum process on 7 November 2004 on the new law on municipal boundaries and on the decentralisation in FYROM.  This delegation comprised Mr Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Head of Delegation, Mr Joseph Borg (Malta), Mr Emin Yeritsyan (Armenia), Mr Brian Coleman (United Kingdom), and was accompanied by Mr Oscar Alarcón from the Congress’ Secretariat.

The Congress wishes to express its thanks to Ms Hanne Juncher, Resident Expert at the Council of Europe Information Office in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and her staff for their assistance, help and logistical support.

The Congress worked in close co-operation with the Ambassador and Head of OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission, Mr Friedrich Bauer, and wishes to express its thanks in particular to Ms Angela Bargellini, Deputy Head of Mission and OSCE Political analyst, and to Ms Holly Ruthrauff, Election adviser, and all the OSCE/ODIHR staff for their very competent and useful support.

OSCE/ODIHR had gathered around one hundred and fifty short- and long-term observers (STOs and LTOs), not representing any elected body.  The Congress’ Delegation teams received information from the respective long-term observers about their area of responsibility.

The Council of Europe’s delegation took part in a series of preparatory meetings organised prior to the elections by the OSCE/ODIHR and by the Council of Europe Office in FYROM. On those occasions, it should be noted that an overview of the political situation of the country,  the electoral procedures and media situation were provided, and a meeting with the Association of the units of local self-government of the Republic of Macedonia (ZELS) was also organised (see programme in appendix).

Political Background

After a violent process during 2001, the International community managed to assemble the four main parliamentary parties for peace negotiations in Ohrid, and on 13 August 2001 a formal peace agreement known as the Ohrid Framework Agreement or “Ohrid Agreement” was signed.

Full decentralisation of government as foreseen in the Ohrid Agreement is expected to take place   from 1 January 2005, on the basis of the Law on Local self-government (2002) and the three most important decentralisation laws, namely: Law on Municipal Financing, Law on Territorial organization, Law on the city of Skopje.

The debate on the new Law on Territorial Organization was very politicized.  The new law was very negatively received by the press, academia, mayors and the opposition who claimed that the government had used ethnic criteria in determining the new boundaries. This being so, the Government has been criticized for a non-transparent policy-making process, for a lack of communication to the public of the criterion adopted in the new law (such as viability in terms of population size, infra-structure and local economy), as well as a disregard of local referenda organized to oppose the new Law on Territorial Organization.  The result was demonstrations and road blocks across the country.

Under the new law, the number of municipalities is reduced from the current 123 to 84. Two municipalities are added to Skopje, bringing the Albanian community within the city above 20% and making the city bilingual.  Struga will include surrounding municipalities and change to an Albanian majority, while Kicevo remains as it is until 2008 when five municipalities merge into one and it changes to an Albanian majority.

The World Macedonian Congress (WMC), a nationalist Macedonian diaspora- funded NGO had been trying for months to collect the required 150,000 signatures to force a referendum on the new law.  While the initiative started in a rather quiet manner, receiving small public attention, it gained momentum after some opposition parties decided to support it, such as VMRO-DPMNE, which is in internal disarray but well organised at grassroots level.  After a successful collection of signatures (184,454 out of 150,000 legally required) to initiate the referendum process, the Parliament adopted a decision to hold a referendum and scheduled it for 7 November.  The signatures were validated by the State Election Commission and submitted to the Speaker of the Parliament in accordance with the legal provisions.

The question of the referendum was: “Do you favour local self-government territorial organisation (municipalities and the City of Skopje) as defined in the Law on territorial organisation of the Republic of Macedonia issued in 1996 and the Law on the City of Skopje issued the same year?”

This being so, the following points should be noted:

a)    Current boundaries defined in 1996 Lawestablishes 123 (rural) municipalities + the City of Skopje (7 municipalities). Total: 130 municipalities.

b)    New Law on Territorial Organisation: 74 (rural) municipalities + City of Skopje (10 municipalities). Total: 84 municipalities.

The referendum will require a 50%+1 turnout to be valid and a simple majority in favour (50%+1) to be successful. If the referendum is approved, the new Law on Territorial Organisation adopted in August 2004 will be repealed.

On 6 September, Parliament adopted the Law on financing of municipalities, the last of the three main decentralisation laws.  Fiscal decentralisation will take place in two stages. Although the municipalities have expressed concern at the level of decentralised funding foreseen under the new legislation, this law has not given rise to the same level of controversy generated by the laws on municipal boundaries and the city of Skopje.

Political Parties and the Campaign of the Referendum

The campaign on the referendum officially started on 7 October 2004.  It was referred to as “propaganda” and not as electoral campaign in the classical term. There was no registration requirement for those wishing to participate.  The rhetoric of the various political groups has been strong and both sides have tried to outline in the most negative terms the fate of the country should the referendum go one way or the other.  The two governmental coalition partners, Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and Democratic Union of Integration (DUI), together with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) announced that they would call their voters to abstain from going to the polls and vote in the referendum.  However, since the campaign started, analysts commented that the campaign of the Government was not very visible.

There were two visible and important camps:

a)    Pro Referendum (YES vote): Opposition parties (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Union “VMRO-DPMNE”, LP Third Way), World Macedonian Congress (WMC), Citizens Movement for Macedonia (CMM), others

b)    Against the Referendum (NO vote):Government (SDSM, DUI, LDP, smaller parties), DPA, others.

VMRO-DPMNE clamed that a “yes” vote was not against the Ohrid Framework Agreement, but only against the manner in which the new Law on Territorial Organization was negotiated and adopted.  The Main opposition ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), announced that it would boycott the referendum, although the Congress delegation did not observe any kind of boycott.

According to OSCE/ODIHR, Parties have relied on door-to-door campaigning.  Some rallies and roundtables were organised across the country.  The campaign silence began at midnight on Thursday 4th November[1].

The recognition of the constitutional name of "Republic of Macedonia" by the United States some days before the referendum completely dominated the debates during the last days of the campaign and even more during the official silence period of the campaign.  During this campaign silence an official celebration with the presence of some politicians, mayors and public personalities was organised in Skopje.

Media System

The Macedonian media system is characterized by a huge number of outlets operating in the country.  After independence in 1991, hundreds of private newspapers and TV stations sprung up changing the media scene rapidly.  The media have a reasonably high level of structural differentiation.  However the controversial association of the media with powerful businesses groups and political parties, has resulted in questionable independence of editorial policies.

One of the features is the existence of the parallel market that arises from its linguistically and culturally diverse communities.  Several regulations including the constitution guarantee the rights of the ethnic communities to freely express and define the manner in which those rights should be implemented and developed.

As far as the legal framework for the media coverage of the referendum is concerned, it should be said that the Law on Broadcasting Activity requires the broadcasters to provide the opportunity to any political party for the promotion of its political programmes and policies, under equal terms in compliance with the election regulations.  In addition, the Law on Referendum does not contain legal provisions on the campaign except for the 48-hour moratorium on campaigning prior to voting day.  What is more, the Broadcasting Council adopted the Recommendations for Electronic Media Coverage of the 2004 Referendum defining the guidelines for covering the referendum.  These recommendations set up basic principles for the electronic media to conform to.

According to OSCE/ODIHR, the media provided adequate coverage of the referendum. However, following the OSCE/ODIHR preliminary results of media monitoring, the editorial line of certain journals shows the bias of the journal. This being so, there is a difference between public and private broadcasters:

-          The public broadcaster has been against the Referendum (45% MRTV1-News),

-          The private broadcaster has been pro referendum (62% TV SITEL-News)

-          The private broadcaster TVA1 has been neutral (42.20% )

The paid airtime for the Referendum has been dominated by the United opposition (64%), followed by the leading coalition (32%) and by the Citizens Movement for Macedonia (CMM, 4%)

Gender issues

The participation of women in the political process is at a relatively low level.  In the Parliament, women hold 21 seats (approx. 18 %).  This is, however, an improvement over the previous legislature in which only 9 women held mandates.  The election laws require inclusion of at least 30 % of women on the candidate lists, but do not specify their place on the list.  There are two women serving in the government in the positions of Vice-President of the government for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

There is only one woman out of 9 members in the SEC.  The Congress delegation visited the head of Kumanovo Municipal Election Commission, who informed us that the representation of women in election boards was about 52 % in Kumanovo.  As far as participation of women in this referendum is concerned, several female politicians and university professors participated actively in public rallies and debates.

Minority issues

A census was conducted in November 2002 and the results announced in November 2003. A Census Monitoring Mission, organised by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, observed the process.  The 2002 Census shows an increase in the percentage of ethnic Albanians and a decline in the percentage of ethnic Macedonians.   

According to the 2002 Census, Macedonians are the big majority (66.6%), followed by Albanians (22.67%), Turks (4.01%), Romans (2.25%), Serbs (2.07%), and other ethnic compositions.  Implementation of the OHRID agreement comes too slowly for many ethnic Albanians but too quickly for many ethnic Macedonians.

Observation of the Referendum on 7 November 2004

The two Congress delegation teams were able to observe 30 polling stations. One Congress observer team was deployed in the city of Skopje and the other in Kumanovo city.

It should be noted that Military personnel, prisoners, persons in custody and displaced persons were authorized to participate in an early ballot.  It took place on 6 November and it was the Congress team in Kumanovo who took the initiative of observing this situation.

Special voting provisions were allowed for people with disabilities, either at home or in hospitals/institutions. They had to apply in advance for a special vote. The Local Election Board would then make provision for them to be visited and their vote cast. This provision was poorly advertised resulting in an almost negligibe utilization.

The Referendum was carried out in a calm and orderly manner in the overwhelming majority of the polling stations visited.  People seemed satisfied to be able to vote for their preferred option.

In general, the observers got the impression that the electoral process was fair and free. The Congress delegation would like to draw the attention to the relatively low participation turnout, in particular in Albanian ethnic zones, where the participation was practically non-existent.


Both Congress delegations met Domestic observers in all polling stations visited.  Since political parties were unable to monitor the referendum-day process, they seemed to look for other ways to accredit their observers, for instance through an NGO.  This may have explained the large number of observers accredited by the WMC.

However, a number of procedural shortcomings were noted but did not seem significant enough to influence the outcome.

The Delegation welcomed the compliance with measures to safeguard the integrity of the polling process: voters presented photo IDs, signed the voting register and marked their ballots in secret.

Regarding the vote count, the Congress delegation enjoyed good co-operation with the members of the polling board. The counting process observed was rated as ‘strong’ and ‘clear’, reflecting good training and understanding.         


In order to improve future Referenda and the general election environment, the Congress invites the authorities of the Former Republic of Macedonia to take into account the following points:

a.  Polling stations should be selected to ensure they are of a suitable size and offer unimpeded access to elderly and disabled voters. There are still too many Polling stations of unacceptable size in consideration of the number of voters

b. To ensure a better level of political pluralism on election administration bodies (including Polling Boards)

c.  Improve the training of Polling Board members with a view to alleviating some procedural irregularities and ensuring the proper conduct of all voting and vote count procedures prescribed by law.

d.      To prevent “group voting” and “family voting”.  This behaviour stems from cultural attitudes and practices that fail to recognize women´s right to full and equal citizenship with men.  This is facilitated by polling officials refusing to adhere fully to electoral laws.  Considering that family voting is a practice which tends to deprive women, and sometimes young people, of their individual voting rights and as such amounts to a form of electoral fraud, the Congress, following its Recommendation 111 (2002) on women’s individual voting rights: a democratic requirement, calls to give particular attention, therefore, to the prevention of family voting when training electoral commissions.

e.      The special voting provisions for people with disabilities should be well advertised and the procedures should be simplified. It is essential that this sector of society should be fully enabled to participate in the democratic process.




Thursday 4 November 2004

Arrival of the Congress delegation

Friday 5 November 2004

08:30-09:30            Registration(Accreditation and Additional Materials)

09:30-09:45            Welcome to Seconded STOs and Introduction to the Mission

                                 Ambassador Friedrich Bauer, Head of Mission

09:45-10:00            The OSCE/ODIHR and Observation

                                 Holly Ruthrauff, ODIHR Election Advisor

10:00-10:30            Overview of the Political Landscape, Main Political Parties and the


                                 Angela Bargellini, Deputy Head of Mission and Political Analyst

10:30-10:50            Media Overview

                                 Mirella Marchese, Media Analyst

10:50-11:00            Questions

11:00-11:30            Coffee Break

11:30-12:30            Referendum Legislation and the Electoral Framework

                                 Vanja Skoric, Legal Analyst and Rumen Maleev, Election Analyst

12:30-14:00            Lunch Break

13:30-14:00            Registration for Locally Recruited STOs only (Accreditation, Briefing               Packs and Additional Materials)

14:00-14:10            Welcome to all STOs and Introduction to the Mission

                                 Ambassador Friedrich Bauer, Head of Mission

14:10-14:40            Polling Procedures

                                 Rumen Maleev, Election Analyst

14:40-15:30            Code of Conduct, Observation Forms and Reporting

                                 Angela Bargellini, Deputy Head of Mission

15:30-16:00            Coffee Break

16:00-16:10            Security Orientation

                                 Torsten Jaeckel, Security Officer

16:10-16:25            Financial Arrangements

                                 Angela Ghilascu, Finance Officer

16:25-16:40            Deployment and Logistic Arrangements

                                 Lex Van Voorst, Logistics Officer

16:40-16:45            Introduction to the Long Term Observers (LTOs)

                                 Hannah Roberts, LTO Co-ordinator

16:50 - 18:30          Regional Briefings(see plan overleaf)

Saturday 6 November 2004

8:30  –   9.30 Congress Delegation meeting

10:00 – 12:00         Council of Europe briefing (PACE + CONGRESS) in Holiday Inn

13:00 – 14:00         Meeting with Interprets and drivers

14:00 – 18:00         Familiarisation with area to observed and observation of special

                                 electoral voting in Kumanovo.

20:00 - 21:00          Meeting with OSCE/ODIHR OBSERVATION MISSION

Sunday 7 November 2004

Referendum day

Monday 8 November 2004

09:00 - 11:00          OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission to the Referendum Meeting

14:00 - 15:00          Joint Press conference with OSCE/ODIHR

Tuesday 9 November 2004-12-02

Departure of the Congress delegation

Press release

Referendum generally consistent with international standards for electoral processes

SKOPJE, 8 November 2004– The 7 November referendum in “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, was generally consistent with OSCE and Council of Europe standards for democratic electoral processes. The referendum day and preceding campaign were conducted in an overall calm and orderly manner. The limited cases of reported procedural or other irregularities did not appear to challenge the overall integrity of the process, concluded the International Observation Mission to the Referendum, which published its preliminary findings today, based on the work of some 200 international observers.

The mission was deployed by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, (OSCE/ODIHR) and joined by representatives from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. The referendum was called in reference to legislation, which establishes new municipal boundaries throughout the country.

“I welcome the fact that the referendum took place without incident and that voters were able to base their choice on overall balanced media coverage, although it focused more on the broader political issues rather than the fundamental question of the referendum,” said Ambassador Friedrich Bauer, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR mission. “However, the referendum was characterized by certain problems, which mainly related to incomplete, and in some cases outdated, legislation as well as inaccurate voter lists.”

“The referendum was an opportunity to confirm the maturity and self-confidence of all the people of this country for the consolidation of democracy. The political behavior of citizens showed that they were able to make an informed choice. We look forward to seeing this replicated in future elections,” said Zekeriya Akcam, Head of the CoE Parliamentary Assembly delegation.

Sean O’Brien, Head of the CoE Congress delegation, added: “The voting process was transparent and the secrecy of the vote was largely respected. We believe that further training of officials would alleviate some procedural irregularities that we observed.”

The observation mission received reports of alleged intimidation, which reflect a certain atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust. This was reinforced by the perception that anyone going to the polling station was seen to be voting in favor of the referendum.

The referendum was noteworthy for several accomplishments. The State Election Commission operated in an efficient and consensual manner, and its decision to print the ballot papers in languages of all ethnic groups that comprise more than 20% of that particular municipality was commendable.

Shortcomings included the incomplete legislation and its interpretation, in particular the decision not to apply existing campaign regulations in the context of the referendum. The accuracy of voter lists was again questioned, however political parties did not make use of their legal right to review the lists.

On referendum day, observers reported that the voting was generally administered in an orderly and efficient manner. However, there were limited observed instances of polling stations that either failed to open on schedule or closed early, and isolated cases of reported intimidation and ballot stuffing. Instances of inattention to procedural details were observed during counting and tabulation of votes.

For further information, please contact:
Urdur Gunnarsdottir, ODIHR Spokesperson, +48 603 683 122,,
David Cupina, CoE Parliamentary Assembly Secretariat, +33 661 148 604,,
Oscar Alarcon, CoE Congress Secretariat, +33 661 148 531,

[1] Law on Referendum does not contain legal provisions on the campaign except for the 48-hour moratorium on campaigning prior to voting day

[2] Turkey recognizes "the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia " under its constitutional name.