Former president of the State Election Commission and member of the expert team of CIVIL-Center for Freedom, Aleksandar Novakoski, in the second part of the interview with CIVIL Media speaks about the protection of the right to vote, about the complete underperformance of the SEC in terms of the Voters Register and its capacities to conduct elections in December and about the cooperation with the civil society sector. Novakoski decisively and responsibly claims that the members of the SEC “cannot act like party staff and say that they listened to the voice of the party leaders”, and asks: if SEC continues in this manner, what will happen during the campaign, on the day of the elections and after that? He is decisive in that “there is complete dysfunction and complete obedience by everyone in the SEC”.
CIVIL Media: CIVIL – Center for Freedom sent several questions to the SEC and to this day has not received any reply. We asked the SEC what effect they expect from the campaign on raising public awareness on the registration of citizens whose names figure on the list with the 39.502 disputed voters. The campaign started late and only after it became obvious that the pace of registering was slow. Yet, this was just one part of the problems, for instance, the locations of the regional offices of the Ministry of Justice were not known, some of which were not even functional, according to the reports received in CIVIL. How should have the SEC been organized? Is this a matter of insufficient capacities of the SEC or is something else the issue?
NOVAKOSKI: When the SEC was not in charge of the Voters Register and was not updating it in accordance with the law, there was a certain clearing of the register together with the Ministry of Interior, with active participation of two foreign missions - OSCE/ODIHR, and at the end a conclusion was made that there were 26.000 people on the list that needed to be checked whether they should figure on the Voters Register. After five years, we have still not received an answer to whether they should be removed or not. After 2011, the SEC undertook staff from the regional departments of the Ministry of Justice, and now the number has increased and I think that it is over 100 employees. If we compare this number with some other countries according to the number of voters – residents, then we can see that we have the largest administration in electoral bodies! I tell you this most responsibly. Meaning, there is no chance that capacities are lacking, but that it is rather a matter of the dysfunction of the SEC in recent years. I really cannot say what the reasons are for this, because arrogance can be felt from their side, and they have not accepted not even one suggestion that was directed to them from the expert public. They only accepted suggestion from some foreign experts working in Congo, Sudan…, and accepted suggestions from political compromises. And this is a matter that concerns people and numbers, and the protection of the right to vote. If there is one thing that I understand in this matter, it is that one’s right to vote needs to be protected. And I don’t think that there is anyone who can prevent me from telling the truth. It is clear to everyone that those 39.502 disputed voters could have been checked one by one in just one year. As a non-governmental organization that puts great effort in revealing anomalies, though you might have not been directly in those institutions, you are aware that this could have been done. With contemporary electronic systems, and when in other countries voting is performed electronically and by mail, we have gone backwards and have been dealing with the checking of the 39.000 disputed voters for an entire year. Look, the SEC has 9 members who when they were selected gave an oath in the Parliament. They cannot act like party staff and say that they listened to the voice of the party leaders, and have them work now. No! They could have had their own opinion. I believe no one has ever prevented them in this. Everything could have been checked from the very moment they were appointed until now, person per person. I am sure of that. It depended only on the organization that is led by the members of the SEC. In any case, the electoral administration could have been put in function. They selected the electoral boards and could have used them, since so much money had already been spent they could have included those people as well. It is all a matter of ideas, organization, managing the process…Elections are a very serious organizational, but not technical operation. For example, what happens if 1.000 people out of these disputed voters are to appear at the elections, but are not on the Voters Register? We have no instrument with which to register them on the day of the elections, because they could also appear in the inspection. I believe that is a matter of complete dysfunction and complete obedience by everyone in the SEC.
CIVIL Media: Do you consider that, with this knowledge you have and the views that you have suggested, the SEC has sufficient time to change something in their work until the next elections in December?
NOVAKOSKI: I think that the SEC has time to make changes, apart from the Voters Register, in order for us to have credible, fair and democratic elections, having in consideration all the reports and notes of the OSCE/ODIHR. However, the SEC focused only on the Voters Register where it completely failed. In terms of other criteria, efforts are made for the media, efforts are made for resolving other problems, but the SEC in this composition keeps responding that it is not competent for any of those issues. And the SEC, from this moment on, but also until now, is competent only for the legality of the electoral process. We are in a situation when very few things can be changed until the next elections. The citizens passed the test at the last elections, when they went to vote in a peaceful and dignified manner, with certain incidents that are resolved by other authorities. Now it is up to the SEC to move as far away as possible from the clutches of these leader’s meetings and the conclusions adopted at these meetings. I think that even the leaders, seeing the weakness of the SEC, have to make decisions that the members of the Commission should implement. The segment on the financing of political parties, election campaigns, media still remains…, but if the SEC does not react in a timely manner by starting as of now to seek and give its own proposals (there doesn’t have to be changes in the law) on how certain areas should be regulated, then it will be very difficult to obtain results and hope for a good assessment, regardless of some resolved problems.
I am sceptic, because these elections, having in consideration everything that is happening in the country, will be the product of a major crisis that preceded them. We now also have the SPO functioning with their investigations, and this gives me the right to doubt whether the electoral administration is currently prepared to respond to this challenge. At this moment, I would like to be denied, however, the statements they are giving are extremely partisan. If they continue to work this way in the SEC, though they now have no reasons to work by someone’s orders, what will happen during the campaign, on the day of the elections and after that? Can you imagine if they continue to accept such suggestions and pressures from the political parties? If they manage to overcome this, they will calm the administration under them, allowing it to do its job.
The electoral boards did good work at the last elections, they had control, knowledge, training and education. I really cannot say how the SEC and the MEC will function with the new changes, but let’s hope that they find a way to complete the job properly. There is enough time for everything.
CIVIL Media: What would the reasons be for the SEC to stay away from the advices, recommendations and even the expertise of the non-governmental organizations that have experience in election observation?
NOVAKOSKI: I think that from the very beginning the SEC had its doors open to the civil society sector and part of the NGO’s. You know yourself the extent to which the NGO sector can interfere in certain matters, because it observes those processes, it gives suggestions, but it does not implement them. All of a sudden things went to another extreme, those who were the loudest from the NGO sector in the cooperation with the SEC are now silent. We neither have an opinion on the list, nor an opinion on removing these 39.000 disputed voters…Some of the non-governmental organizations came up with a thesis that there are many flaws, yet now are silent. This gives me the right to say that the SEC has withdrawn from the cooperation, but is cooperating with some foreign NGOs. I think that the experts that were brought did not manage to deal well with the advices they provide, but I can hardly suggest anything in this respect. They don’t want for things to be good in the SEC, so that they can be necessary. In this case, I think that it’s best the way you in CIVIL work, because you cover a segment that they can never cover, nor do they want to cover, but one that is very sensitive. There are people who work in the SEC with cross-data…, but, with respect to the few that I know, the others are clueless on this matter, they have not been experts in that area, and have not dealt with issues that have been directly connected with the electoral process.
Camera: Аtanasa Petrovski
This analysis is part of the project "Forward", which has the main objective of enabling long-term monitoring, analyses and recommendations in regards to the social-political events and processes in the electoral context. The project is financed with German funds of the Stability Pact for South-eastern Europe.
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