The professionalization of the State Election Commission (SEC) would make its work more serious and professional, and it is necessary to provide access to the media during sessions of the SEC, which would make the institution more transparent.
This was announced by the public policy researcher in the Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI), Nikola Zecevic, in the second part of the national conference organized by CeMI within the project “Let free elections become a habit – Building trust in the integrity of the electoral process in Montenegro”, which is financed by the European Union, and co-financed by the Ministry of Public Administration.
Zecevic pointed out that one of the main recommendations is the professionalization of the SEC and that it is suggested in the study for the SEC to consist of three to five representatives from the field of law.
“We believe that the proposed professionalization would influence the more serious and effective work of the SEC and would also like to refer to one of the data presented in our research, where the answers of the respondents indicate that a stronger introduction of experts in the SEC is needed. According to our findings, 65.5 per cent of the respondents assessed that the SEC should be made up of representatives of political parties and independent experts combined”, said Zecevic.
He said that representatives of confirmed electoral lists in the future should not participate in the work of the SEC with the right to vote.
Zecevic also said that the SEC has a problem with transparency.
“CeMI believes with its recommendations that it is necessary to provide access to the media during the sessions of the SEC. Also, it is especially important to pay attention to checking the authenticity of the signature. We also believe that it is necessary to increase the promptness of publishing information on the official SEC website”, said Zecevic.
When it comes to the municipal election commission, he said, it is necessary to professionalize the position of the president.
“He would be appointed by the SEC on the basis of legally defined criteria and a public call, while other members of the municipal election commission would be proportionally represented on the basis of their status in the local parliament”, said Zecevic.
Another recommendation, when it comes to municipal election commissions, is, as he said, increasing their transparency.
President of the SEC, Djordjije Vukcevic, said that often those who are dissatisfied with the results achieved in the elections do not look for errors in their own ranks, but, as he added, they mostly seek the mistakes of the bodies that conducted the elections or in the electoral legislation.
“Sometimes there are too many unjustified and unfounded objections, criticism. It seems to me that there is a certain lack of knowledge about the role of the SEC. SEC in this composition is a political body, because you have four representatives of the government, four opposition parties, one representative of minority people, one of the NGO sector and there is the president of SEC”, said Vukcevic.
He pointed out that the reform of the overall electoral legislation is very complex and does not imply only the Law on Election of Councillors and Members of Parliament and the Law on the Voter Register, but it touches an entire set of laws.
“The question is whether to professionalize the SEC. Immediately, in the beginning, one would say that, because this implies a greater degree of autonomy of knowledge, responsibility. I am all for the fact that people with integrity and authority will be responsible to themselves and their function and that they will complete the job well”, said Vukcevic.
Member of the Citizens’ Council, Boris Maric, thinks that the SEC is the most slowly developed institution in Montenegro and there still exists a crucial question “how to organize the SEC, and to increase professionalism and, in some way, through increasing professionalisation and integrity it comes to a certain level of depoliticization of the SEC”.
He said that all the talk about the electoral system must end in parliament among political subjects “and dominantly among political subjects, who are not in this room today.”
“They will have the most influence on the solution. We can point out and will continue to point out and send messages and point our fingers in concrete cases, which produce certain consequences. But in any case, we insist on something that is determining responsibility based on what is prescribed by law. This is the only way to reach a certain basic consensus on electoral conditions, which must end in the parliament”, said Maric.
Politologist, Predrag Zenovic, said that the election administration is only one of the elements which are important for preserving the integrity of the election.
“Full professionalization could be problematic. I think that the proposal that CeMI gave, which is a kind of half-approach to professionalization, is good. It should also have professional and democratic or political legitimacy. This approach is in line with the document of the Venice Commission, which also implies professionals, that is, lawyers in the SEC, but also representatives of those who participate in the elections”, said Zenovic.
Executive Director at CeMI, Nikoleta Djukanovic, said that the most common irregularities, when it comes to implementing electoral procedures relate to the incorrect use of the device for electronic identification of voters.
“Because of this, the process of voting often starts late. Not to talk about the fact that polling boards in Montenegro do not have an even practice when it comes to treating persons who are not recognized by the device for electronic identification”, explained Djukanovic.
Among the irregularities, as she pointed out, are the violation of the procedure of secrecy of voting with voters photographing the ballots, voters publicly declaring whom they voted for, polling boards accepting open ballots, not respecting the procedures which ensure the secrecy of voting.
“Then, the cases of taking voting ballots in place of other persons, who are not present, problems appearing when it comes to identifying voters due to the disorder of the electoral roll, promotive material close to the polling stations from election to election. These are reports made by citizens, which we recorded, about vote-buying directly close to the polling stations”, stated Djukanovic.
She said that cases of nonverbal, even physical confrontations between members of polling boards were common.
“What’s especially alarming is that on the local elections in 2018, cases were recorded of verbal attacks of polling board members on the observers, because they reported on the irregularities at the polling stations”, said Djukanovic.
She added that polling boards often do not secure the necessary number of ballot boxes.
As Djukanovic said, there are still a certain number of voters, who are not on the electoral roll, and should be and vice versa so it is necessary to think about more adequate mechanisms to decrease the number of such situations.
“Not to mention a large number of incorrectly reporter number of permanent residences of citizens”, said Djukanovic.
Head of the Department for controlling the financing of political entities and election campaigns, Dusan Drakic, thinks that the biggest challenge is the legislative framework on the financing of political entities and election campaigns.
“Even in 2017, we did an analysis with the Council of Europe, where we gave a total of 46 recommendation for changing the legislative framework. They are not technical but substantial and represent a good base for future changes of the law”, said Drakic.
He said that one of the faults was the unspecified status of groups of citizens and coalitions as legal entities.
“In essence, the Law on misdemeanours states that a misdemeanour can be made by both legal entities and individuals, which in this case are not a group of voters, they are not coalitions. For them, a sanction does not exist, nor a way to do anything”, explained Drakic.
Member of the Citizens’ Council, Dragisa Janjusevic, said that the degree of distrust between political subjects was at a maximum level.
“We have a political and social separation on all basis and we are society that has not made it past the first step, which relates to government changing on elections and from there generate all of our problems, among others the most important one, which is the electoral system, electoral process”, said Janjusevic.
When it comes to introducing open lists in the electoral system, he said that he thinks the Montenegrin society is not mature in a democratic way to apply that model.
“By doing that, we would complicate the electoral process and the processes of distrust that exist here”, said Janjusevic.
Member of the Citizens’ Council, Bozidar Vujicic, said that the right to vote as a human right was a base which should be talked about and that the government and the opposition are participants of systematic corruption.
“The Constitutional Court interprets the right of voters to vote directly as a right to vote personally. That would mean that in the countries where they vote indirectly, the voter does not have to vote personally and could ask their neighbour to vote for them”, said Vujicic.
He said that the Delegation of the EU to Montenegro knows that citizens do not have equal voting rights.
“But, unfortunately, they did not give a recommendation when it comes to this and they want to make us part of their composition one day so now it brings into question the sincerity of their desire”, said Vujicic.
President of the Governing Board of the Institute Alternative, Stevo Muk, said that there is not a single Agency for Prevention of Corruption, which would solve the problem of the “Envelope” affair, when there is not a prosecution which would preventively deal with the essence of the problem, not afterwards,
“And the essence of the problem, in a narrower sense is not the financing of a political campaign but the financing of vote-buying. Whole parties and structures participate in this, together with the ones who secure the sources of financing. And what are the sources of financing? Sources of financing are from organized crime or misuse of public recourses. There is not a third option”, said Muk.
He points out that he did not like that Vukcevic said that “they are not looking for reasons for losing elections in their own ranks, but the electoral laws”.
“I think that you should, as a president of the SEC should refrain from making such statements, because they irresistibly remind of the rhetoric of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), after elections when they say “he who loses, does not have the right to be angry”, said Muk.
At the national conference representatives of the parliament, political parties, public institutions in charge of monitoring election activities, NGO sector, media, representatives of international organizations in Montenegro and members of the Citizens’ Council for Free and Fair Elections all participated.
The Study Reform of the Electoral Legislation in Montenegro is available at http://cemi.org.me/product/reforma-izbornog-zakonodavstva-u-crnoj-gori/