Strasbourg, 6 February 2001

CG/Bur (7) 85

Report on the elections in Serbia Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 23 December 2000

Rapporteurs: Head of the Congress delegation of observers : Mr Yavuz MILDON (Turkey), Vice-President of the Congress

Document adopted by the Bureau of the Congress on 1 February 2001


I. Introduction

Following the invitation of the Yugoslav General Consul on behalf of the Serbian Government, the Bureau of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) decided, at its meeting on 15 December 2000, to send a delegation to Serbia, the biggest component of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which has requested membership of the Council of Europe. The mission was aimed at observing the early election to the National Assembly of Serbia scheduled for 23 December 2000.

The CLRAE observer delegation was chaired by Mr Yavuz Mildon (Turkey, R), Vice-President of the Congress and comprised Mr Viorel Coifan (Romania, R), Mr Horst Lässing (Germany, L), Ms Sylvie Affholder, Mr Giampaolo Cordiale (Congress Secretariat) and Mr Dan P. Medrea (expert). Mr Rinaldo Locatelli, Head of the Congress Secretariat joined the delegation on 21 and 22 December. The Rapporteur would like to express his thanks to Mr Medrea who made a valuable contribution to the preparation of the Congress mission to Serbia and to the drafting of the present report.

The Congress representatives worked in close co-operation with the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly delegation of observers and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly obervers.

The delegation's mission was organised by the Secretariat of the Council of Europe in close co-operation with the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the Republic of Serbia parliamentary election 2000. Special mention of appreciation should be made to Mr Nikolai Vulchanov, Head of the ODIHR/OSCE Mission, Mrs Elisabeth Rasmusson, Deputy Head of Mission, Mrs. Barbara Carrai, Parliamentary Liaison Officer as well as to all the staff and Long Terms Observers of the Mission who kindly assisted the Council of Europe observers. Part of this report relies on information supplied by this OSCE/ODIHR EOM which enjoyed a long term presence and a large number of observers for this election.

The programme of the meetings appears in Appendix I to the present report. Apart from the official programme arranged by OSCE/ODIHR, the delegation's members also met:

Three observer teams were deployed in Serbia as follows:

Mr Mildon / Mr Medrea Cacak

Mr Lässing / Ms Affholder Kraljevo/ Vrnjacka Banja

Mr Coifan / Mr Cordiale Subotica

Neither the Council of Europe nor OSCE deployed observers in Kosovo for this election.

Following the election, the Council of Europe and OSCE teams presented their specific observation findings during a debriefing session. The two political organisations prepared a joint press release (see Appendix II) and held a joint press conference.

II. Background to the election

After years of ethnic cleansing, the Kosovo conflict, NATO's bombing campaign and a popular uprising that deposed the president, Serbia is entering a transition democracy. Political power has been transferred to the alliance of 18 former opposition parties (Democratic Opposition of Serbia - DOS) representing a wide political spectrum with the Socialist Party of Serbia lead by the Yugoslav ex-president Slobodan Milosevic finding itself in opposition for the first time since its creation in 1990. The Serb Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj has joined to the opposition maintaining its ultra-nationalistic policy and substantial rating.

Undemocratic, nationalistic, irresponsible and short-sighted governments over the past decade were unlikely to carry out vital economic reforms. Severe economic meltdown has deepened with wars and sanctions. Several representatives of civil society whom the Congress delegation met rated Serbs among the poorest people in Europe and condemned widespread corruption as the biggest single issue.

Serbs are willing to rebuild a strong and peaceful national identity but are likely to face difficulty in keeping hard-line nationalists and extremists in check.

Intended at leaving the way clear for the first non-communist Yugoslav leadership since World War II, DOS alliance compelled an agreement by main political parties to call for early elections to the National Assembly of Serbia. Since the new Assembly had to be the first democratically elected in Serbia, the stakes of December election were especially high.

The new Election Law - a compromise document

On October 9, the outgoing National Assembly of Serbia hastily adopted a new law on national elections, which came into force on 18 October. According to information provided to the Congress delegation by political parties representatives, this law was drafted by the Serb Radical Party, supported by Milosevic's Socialists and accepted by the democratic opposition as a compromise document. Mr Zoran Djindjic - set to replace the acting Socialist Prime Minister of Serbia in late January - was quoted as saying that the law was "a very bad one" and that once in power, the DOS would amend it in view to ensuring that ethnic minorities rights are respected.

The new Election Law marks some differences compared to the previous legislation, i.e. a proportional system taking place in a single, nation-wide constituency; a two-tier election commission; the use of transparent boxes; signing in the voter register; finger marking to avoid double/multiple voting.

Despite shortcomings, the new law provides for better security arrangements raising the confidence of voters and contestants. This is important since many elections in Serbia have experienced serious manipulation and irregularities.

The single constituency - lack of representation for region-based minorities

The law regulating previous elections to the National Assembly provided an increased number of 29 electoral units favouring the largest party. One of the amendments to the new electoral law establishes an electoral system with one single constituency covering the whole of Serbia, and with a proportional distribution of seats. It should be reminded that in Serbia there are important geographically concentrated minorities such as Hungarians in Northern Vojvodina, Romanian speaking Vlachs in the Timocka krajina of south-eastern Serbia and Sandzaks in the Novi Pazar corridor.2 Parties with regional support are not likely to gain, on republican level, the 5 percent threshold required by the law to enter the parliament unless competing in a coalition with nation-wide parties. A method of relevance for such issues could be to divide the country into a small number of constituencies, and eventually combine full proportionality between parties and geographical representation.

It is recommended that this issue be addressed as a matter of priority when reviewing the Election Law in view of future elections. The delegation suggest several improvements (see below) that could be envisaged in the new Law.

III. Election administration

There is good reason to be satisfied with the arrangements for improving transparency, impartiality and accountability of this election. Multiparty election commissions have been appointed to this aim.

The REC addressed some of the Election Law's shortcomings enacting far-reaching regulations. According to the Law, elections were to be performed by a two-tier election administration, consisting of a Republic Election Commission (REC) and Polling Boards. The lack of intermediate level could burden pre-election preparations as well as delay announcement of preliminary results. The REC compensated the legal lacuna created by the absence of an intermediate level by setting up multiparty Working Groups at municipal level. Their members, with to a representative from the Republic Statistic Office, were in charge of checking the protocols for logical and numeral mistakes, correcting the minor ones. Besides these additional entities, the REC designated one of its members to co-ordinate the election process in the districts.

The Congress delegation noted that the members of the electoral boards and the Working Groups were solely appointed by the political parties and wondered whether the presence of an independent authority (like a judge) would not be appropriate, should there be any problem during the election day.

During the meeting on December 23, Mr Andrija Simic, President of the REC, gave the delegation the following information:
- 6,506,253 voters were reported at central level;
- 8,722 polling stations were supposed to be prepared for the vote cast, including areas in Kosovo;
- the electoral staff comprised 25 members and 25 deputies of the REC, 700 members of Working Groups and approximately 110,000 members of Polling Boards in polling stations.

Domestic and international observers were accredited representing the CeSID (Center for Free Elections and Democracy in Serbia), a number of embassies, the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and Parliamentary Assembly, OSCE, the Center for Democratic Transition from Podgorica3.

Seven political parties and one coalition were competing. They submitted a total of 1,530 candidates on the list.

4 complaints on REC'S decisions were appealed to the Supreme Court of Serbia. All of them were decided upon and did not have an important impact on electoral proceedings.

As for the election in Kosovo, legal prerequisites were met in the districts of Pristina, Pec, and Mitrovica while in Prizren and Gjilane they were not. 250 polling were to be open for about 150,000 voters.

The REC could forward its observations after the vote cast to the new parliament in order to amend the Election Law by enabling citizens abroad and imprisoned persons to vote.

Neither Electoral Law nor REC's regulations provided special arrangements for illiterate people.

Several region-based national minorities would not be able to enter the new parliament as a result of a single constituency system;

The number of female candidates was low.


Municipalities maintain a computer register of voters they are supposed to amend upon request of constituents or ex-officio. They compile an extract of the voter register for each polling station and forward it to the REC. Municipalities also provide polling stations with ballot boxes, finger spray, screens and sealing equipment.

IV. The campaign

In a significant improvement of past elections, the electoral campaign was conducted in respect of fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression and a calm atmosphere free from intimidation. It is a sign of progress that the authorities were not any more compliant with the repressive Law on Public Information adopted in 1998, the Milosevic's regime used to stifle independent media.

Very low key of the campaign profile marked the contrast of the December election to previous polls in September. Campaign material was very limited and the big rallies did not take place. The number of campaign meetings was particularly low.

Run-up period to the poll was however shadowed by violent clashes in southern Serbia between Albanian activists and Serbs4. They became a major campaign theme with attempts of reviving nationalist paranoia to distract voters from real issues.

Representatives of parties opposing the DOS emphasized the bias of the election campaign alleging unequal access to the media and security arrangements. Acknowledging unfair coverage by the media, Mr Djindjic - head of the Democratic Party, a cornerstone of the DOS - stressed journalists lack of interest in those parties having exerted pressure on independent media several months earlier.

The CLRAE would like to remind that fair, impartial, and comprehensive coverage by the news media is a critical component of the elections process.

V. The Polling Day

The Congress teams were able to visit 48 polling stations both in rural and urban areas. It also met several local politicians, representatives of civil society as well as OSCE/ODIHR Long Term Observers and members of the Working Groups in the municipalities visited.

The Congress delegation would like to stress the overall calm and relaxed atmosphere of these elections, which was a positive sign and a reflection of civic awareness. The international observers were welcome in the polling stations and did not feel hostility. The voter turnout was quite satisfactory, electors were able to cast their votes freely and without fear or undue influence and were pleased that an election had been called. The low level of invalid ballots papers (2,39%) must be underlined.

All procedures were correctly applied and the secrecy rules were obeyed during the counting of the votes. The members of the Working Groups performed their duties in a satisfactory manner and no major mistake was witnessed by Congress observers.

Domestic observers (i.e. employed and trained by CeSID) were likely to be well acquainted with their role and duties reporting correctly and without interfering with the work of polling staff.

One of the Congress teams visited a polling station in Kraljevo exclusively devoted to the soldiers stationed in near-by barracks. This team observed that no pressure was exerted on these persons able to exercise their right to vote.

The delegation shares the views that these elections were conducted in a rather satisfactory way, despite the fact that they were prepared within two months. Nevertheless, there is a number of irregularities and shortcoming were observed by the Congress delegation which would like to make suggestions that could be considered when drafting the new Electoral Law.

Provisions of the law excluded any postal vote by mail or vote for Serb residing temporarily outside Serbia. The Law did not enable, for example, for 30,000 displaced Serbs in Montenegro, or soldiers serving in the Federal Army in Montenegro, to cast their vote unless they returned to Serbia;

Whereas provisions to provide assistance to blind, illiterate or disabled voters in the polling stations were foreseen in the Law, no mechanism was foreseen to enable disabled persons to vote, for example, by means of a mobile box.

Prisoners did not have the possibility to vote.

These shortcomings constitute a limitation of the exercise of the voting rights for a certain number of categories of the population.

Some polling stations faced difficult working conditions, especially in wintertime. Access to the polling stations was not always easy, in particular for disabled or elderly persons. For technical reasons, the number of polling stations was reduced in some municipalities5, especially in rural areas.

No specific problems were noticed concerning the electoral lists, except for some displaced persons who were not registered in the proper polling station.

There is no prerequisite in the text of the Election Law or REC instructions to prevent the voter leaving the polling station with his ballot paper nor introducing fraudulent ballot papers (so-called ballot stuffing).

All polling stations were not provided with appropriate booths to guarantee that the elector could vote in complete privacy;

Even though the general conduct of the polling agents was satisfactory, the delegation had the impression that they did not get adequate training. This resulted in the violation of several REC's instructions. It seemed also that these instructions were not clear enough and did not provide for a step-by-step procedure. Moreover, polling staff were quoted as saying that training was mainly conducted by political parties with limited involvement by the authorities.

Many cases occurred when identity of the person was not correctly checked, mostly in rural areas.

While the new Election Law provides that secrecy of the vote must be fulfilled, open voting observed in most polling stations raised concern whether its regulations were respected;

Group or family voting was also noted in some cases, this being mainly limited to the vote of husband and wife.

According to the information provided by the REC, 21 polling stations in southern Serbia bordering Kosovo did not open because of security reasons.

The CLRAE's delegation agreed that the observed shortcomings did not influence the outcome of the election and reached the firm conclusion that the 23 December poll marked significant progress towards meeting the standards of democratic elections.

VI. The results

The REC validated the Serbia poll, stating that 57,72% of the eligible voters did cast their ballots to elect the National Assembly. It publicised the following final figures:

Number of votes (in percent) / seats won in parliament:

1. Democratic Opposition of Serbia 64,08 / 176
2. Socialist Party of Serbia 13,76 / 37
3. Serb Radical Party 8,50 / 23
4. Serbian Unity Party 5,33 / 14

Overwhelming majority of the DOS coalition spearheaded by Vojslav Kostunica would allow it to form the new Serbian government. In control of the key levers of power in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia such as the 60,000-strong police force, the media and the judiciary, DOS should now have a free hand to carry out democratic reforms.

Milosevic's long-dominant Socialists are a distant second, shortly followed by the ultra-nationalist Radical Party of former paramilitary leader Vojislav Seselj and the hard-line Serbian Unity Party of slain warlord Arkan (Zeljko Raznatovic) indicted for war crimes - the biggest election surprise. Mr Seselj is particularly suspicious and resentful to the West and nationalist to the very bone. Arkan had been indicted by a United Nations court for leading paramilitary units in the Bosnian and Croatian wars in the early 1990s. Interpol also wanted him for several bank robberies. However, to some Serbs he is a hero who risked his life for their country.

The President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the election in Serbia stated in the press conference following the election that "…The forces of extreme nationalism are still alive and the dangers they represent should not be forgotten or underestimated."

All other parties scored less than the 5 percent required to be represented in parliament. Among those which failed to make the grade were the neo-communist Yugoslav Left party of Milosevic's spouse Mira Markovic and the Serbian Renewal Movement of maverick opposition politician Vuk Draskovic, who refused to join Kostunica's coalition on the eve of the September federal, provincial and municipal elections.

In Kosovo voter turnout was below 60% - the lowest ever in the region. Ethnic Albanians boycotted the poll and the Socialist party defeated the DOS alliance.

Following the request of the Serbian Radical Party, the Republic's Supreme Court ordered on January 4 a partial re-run of December's parliamentary election in 19 of 8,000 polling stations, after voting irregularities were found.

The new poll which took place on 10 January 2001 is expected to yield only one possible extra seat for the Radicals, but it will postpone the Serb parliament's first meeting and as a result the assembly's approval of a new cabinet until late January.

Three of the 19 polling stations being re-run are in the capital, Belgrade, four in the southern town of Leskovac, and 12 in scattered locations across Serbia. A total of 4,000 voters are registered at those polling stations.

VII. Conclusions

The 23 December election is a clear sign by the Serb population to continue on the path of democracy instigated in September 2000. The Congress hopes that it will allow Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to pursue its reconciliation with its neighbouring countries in South-Eastern Europe and strengthen ties with all Europeans countries.

In the meantime, it should be noted that democracy in Serbia is still fragile and under development, and that international attention and support have to be devoted.

The need to rebuild, following the disaster of wars over the last few years in the Balkans and to ensure that such conflicts never occur again, has provided the impetus for a far closer degree of wide-Balkanic co-operation. The basis of this co-operation may lie in the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation (1980) and its two Additional Protocols. Region-wide co-operation should also be the driving force in tailoring economic assistance to specific needs.

Already in November 2000, during the “Skopje Forum” the Congress urged the early conclusion of a multilateral agreement among South-East European countries in order to develop interregional and cross-border co-operation, and called on all European cities and regions to set up partnerships and twinning arrangements with their counterparts in South-East Europe, in response to their urgent requests for economic and social assistance. The Congress had also stressed the importance of developing interregional and cross-border co-operation and direct partnerships and called for setting-up an active network aimed at creating a union of associations of local and regional authorities in South-East Europe. The cordial discussion Mr Coifan had with Mr Kern, President of the Executive Board of the City of Subotica, underlined the importance of transborder co-operation, especially in the Danube-Kris-Mures-Tisa Euroregion.

Furthermore, the Congress asked the Council of Europe, other international organisations and their member States to assist with implementing these proposals, which would enable local and regional authorities to work together freely across national borders. 

The development of local and regional democracy could help overcome difficulties in Serbia. The Congress may like to inform the Yugoslav authorities that it is ready to assist the domestic legislatures, governments and civil society to address the challenges. A specific initiative might be the organization of an international conference on local democracy in Serbia and cross-border co-operation. The CLRAE Bureau has already decided to offer its support and expertise on the matter. Talks with the Standing Conference of Yugoslavian towns and municipalities have already been initiated.



Les élections législatives en Sérbie témoignent d’un changement très positif
Belgrade, 24 décembre 2000- Selon la Mission internationale pour l’observation des élections à Belgrade, les élections législatives du 23 décembre 2000 en Serbie qui, dans l’ensemble, se sont déroulées dans le respect des normes internationales agréées pour des élections démocratiques, témoignent d’un changement très positif.

Ces élections marquent pour la Serbie une étape importante sur la voie de la démocratisation. Contrairement aux élections précédentes, les libertés fondamentales ont été respectées au cours de la période pré-électorale, a déclaré Adrian Severin, président de l’Assemblée parlementaire de l’OSCE et Représentant spécial de l’OSCE pour les élections serbes, et Andreas Gross, rapporteur de l’Assemblée parlementaire du Conseil de l’Europe. La nouvelle législature et le prochain gouvernement seront confrontés à de nombreuses difficultés qu’il leur faudra résoudre. Ces élections, ainsi que le retour de la Yougoslavie au sein de l’OSCE et d’autres organisations internationales ouvrent la voie à un rétablissement à la fois politique et économique.

Une administration électorale multipartite a appliqué la loi récemment adoptée dans la transparence et avec impartialité et, en prenant certaines dispositions, a su remédier à bon nombre des lacunes de la législation héritée du passé, bien que des améliorations s’imposent encore. Le climat dans le secteur des médias s’est amélioré sensiblement depuis les dernières élections puisque des opinions politiques diverses ont pu s’exprimer, bien qu’en dehors du temps d’antenne gratuit, les médias appartenant à l’Etat ont assuré une couverture favorable à la coalition de la DOS. Pour la première fois, des organisations internes non partisanes ont été accréditées comme observateurs, permettant ainsi à des milliers de citoyens serbes d’observer librement le processus électoral.

Autre démarcation par rapport aux élections antérieures, la volonté des électeurs a été respectée le jour du scrutin et lors du décompte des voix.

For further information and complete appendix please contact [email protected]

1 Mr Ilic played a key role during the October uprising that toppled Slobodan Milosevic. The other co-president of the New Serbia is Mr Milan St. Protic who became Mayor of Belgrade following the September 2000 municipal elections.

2 According to the new law, part of the single electoral unit is also the UN-administrated province of Kosovo where ethnic Albanians overcome 90% of the population.

3 CLRAE provided 6 observers and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly had a 9-member delegation. They joined the OSCE/ODIHR 24 long-term observers and 26 parliamentarians from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. OSCE reported that more than 300 international short-term observers were deployed on 23 December.

4 The remote area close to the Kosovo boundary was hit by ethnic Albanian activists of the "Liberation Army” of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac last month leaving four Serbian police dead and angering the local Serb population.

5 In Kraljevo, the number of polling stations was reduced from 176 (September 2000) to 99. This compelled some citizens to travel 10 kilometers to reach the nearest polling stations in mountaneous zones.