Within the framework of the project for consultative assistance for Macedonian civil society organizations – in regards to the electoral process, I have been engaged by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia and by the Centre of Excellence, as an expert in the field of electoral reforms, in Republic of Macedonia.
As part of the project implementation, together with my colleague Zoran Zelic from GONG, we have had three expert missions (in the period from August 28 – December 9, 2015) with the purpose of providing support to CIVIL in strengthening their professional skills and in forming public – advocating policies in regards to the electoral reform in Republic of Macedonia.
Working on the project, I noticed a high level of professionalism and great interest among CIVIL’s colleagues for improvement and acquiring new knowledge, and there was a high level of cooperation, which contributed to fully achieving the goals and results of the project that resulted in the will of CIVIL and other organizations for further networking and joint activities for improving the electoral legislation, for monitoring the electoral process and for preventing manipulations in the electoral context.
The Croatian Ambassador to the Republic of |Macedonia, Mrs. Danijela Barisic, gave support to this project, and with her openness (despite being in the beginning of her mandate) and participation in public meetings, she further expressed Croatia’s readiness, through the Centre of Excellence of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of Republic of Croatia, to provide professional assistance to the colleagues from Republic of Macedonia in all their future projects that include cooperation and support to the development of a democratic society. The colleagues from CIVIL especially respect the engagement of the Ambassador and expressed hope for further cooperation between the two countries.
Having in consideration that Republic of Macedonia is preparing for early parliamentary elections, planned for April 2016, the exchange of knowledge and experience with Croatian counterparts resulted in concrete proposals of CIVIL for regulating the Voters Register, for appointing the State Election Commission of Republic of Macedonia as an independent and professional body, in a methodology of impartial observation, in a communication between CIVIL and other civil society organizations working on human rights and the electoral process – on a joint action in advocating for the improvement of the electoral legislation and the Voters Register.
Furthermore, the need for regulation and supervision of the financing of the election campaigns was also emphasized, as an important element for ensuring a fair election race and fight against corruption.
The experience of GONG in working with observers and monitoring of all phases of the electoral process, was especially useful and served as the basis for the plans on monitoring the electoral process and for the organizational structure of CIVIL, which will organize and conduct non-partisan observation of elections.
During the project, CIVIL held meetings and conducted interactive work in workshops, along with public meetings with its counterparts from MOST, with representatives of the Open Society Foundation, with the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, with representatives of OSCE and NDI, the German Embassy, the Embassy of the United Kingdom, with representatives of political parties and independent experts in the field of the electoral process.
- First expert mission (28 August to 2 September, 2015)
The subject of the first expert mission was the regulation of the Voters Register, monitoring of elections and the importance of independent work of the institutions in conducting the elections. During our work, we were informed that in Republic of Macedonia the process of negotiations was in progress (closed to the public), with representatives of parliamentary parties and experts for amendments to the Voters Register, with a focus on the methodology of planning and updating the Voters Register. The idea was to come up with a model of updating the Voters Register until elections had been announced, whereby one of the proposals was active registration of voters a few days prior to the elections, as we were informed by CIVIL and other participants.
The presentation of the Croatian Act on Election of Representatives to the Croatian Parliament , Law on Voters Lists and the Law on the State Electoral Commission , provided an image on the Croatian electoral and legal frameworks, which showed great similarities with the Electoral Code  of Republic of Macedonia.
Namely, the Electoral Code regulates in one place all the elections in Republic of Macedonia, as opposed to the Croatian example, where special laws regulate each election cycle, which we asses as positive and support the adoption of a single Electoral law, which from the perspective of the system and the systematization of legislation is a better and more convenient solution.
Participants in the project expressed serious remarks regarding the work of the electoral administration in the area of the Voters Register and the institutions that are linked to the making of these public records, such as the State Election Commission (in the further text: SEC) and the Ministry of Interior (in the further text: MOI). In fact, as we were previously informed, regarding the issue of responsibility for the accuracy of the Voters Register, the SEC claims that the Ministry of Interior is responsible for the list of voters, while the Electoral Code provides that “the Voters Register is led by the State Election Commission”. In order to apply for inclusion in the Voters Register a voter has to be 18 years, has to have permanent residence in Republic of Macedonia, and has to have a valid ID card or passport.
Regarding the competence, according to the given provision, it appears that the SEC, which is in charge of the Voters Register, should be responsible for the accuracy of the data. Still, there are different interpretations to this understanding, and we have been informed that the SEC considers that it is not a body that can confirm the accuracy of the Voters Register and that this is under the competence of the MOI, an organ that keeps records on residence and citizenship, which apart from records of registers and other official records, are the basis for the compilation of the Voters Register. The SEC can also check the accuracy and confirm it based on direct checks, but without having the manner in which this is performed prescribed – de facto – this is done (and whether it is done).
A clear distinction should be made between the responsibilities of the SEC and the MOI regarding the lists of voters, and it shoud be determined who is responsible for the accuracy of the Voters Register.
In Croatia, the Voters Register is under the competence of the Ministry of Public Administration, which manages the archiving of data on the electorate, whereby, the register of voters is defined as a set of personal data of all voters, and the Voters register is part of the Register of Voters, which is prepared after it is closed and is the base for voting.
Regarding the Macedonian legal regulations in the area of the Voters Register and the right to vote, a question is raised concerning citizens that do not have a valid document, an ID/passport, in terms of how they can exercise their right to vote. Here, we propose for the following possibility to be considered – to have these voters vote based on voting certificates, after having previously examined their voting rights by a competent organ.
This way there is greater possibility for voters to vote, who on Election Day will be (or are) outside their place of residence (especially for a certain category of voters, such as students, workers-migrants…). In this context, we have presented the legal solutions within the Croatian Law on registration of voters, which provides the opportunity for previous registration of voters living in Republic of Croatia, who will be voting abroad or temporary registration in the register of voters outside the place of residence for those voters who will find themselves in a another city / municipality in Republic of Croatia, and issuing certificates for voting outside the place of residence, based upon which voters will be able to vote at any voting place in the Republic of Croatia or abroad.
The main purpose of these items contained in the Croation Law on registration of voters is to allow all voters free movement without hindering the realization of their right to vote.
In practice, often it turns out that the voters lists are inaccurate as a result of the inexperience of the authorities, the migration of the population and due to the fact that citizens do not check to see if their names figure in the Voters Register while it is available for checking, all of which make the compilation of the Voters Register more difficult.
Regarding the arrangement / updating of the Voters Register, the role of the electoral administration and of MOI are important, which need to implement a strong media campaign and activate the citizens before the elections, on the one hand, to fulfill their civic duties and update their personal documents, as well as to simultaneously actively involve citizens as a form of a citizen supervisor, who will report to the police all information on irregularities that have been detected (for example, fictional residence), and publically inform on the number of voters at each address, which will be available to citizens for revision (website of MOI, SEC) and will enable application and confirmation of this information.
How to achieve free elections: The experience of Croatia and Macedonia in a comparative perspective “A solution is possible, fear has to disappear!” 31 August, 2015
The public media service needs to act more strongly and enable the provision of information to citizens, the public (publication of announcements, targeted programs on the elections with competent participants, with the purpose of informing the citizens on the electoral procedure), so that the citizens would be associates and would facilitate the competent authorities to provide information from their environment.
Nevertheless, all this assumes that the Voters Register is constant, which includes the obligation for its regular updating, stressing that if the registration of voters is not done automatically, then a sufficient period for registration has to be anticipated. Furthermore, it is important for the Voters Register to be published and for there to be an administration process subject to judicial control.
And finally, there is no doubt that the state through its apparatus needs to enable all voters to realize their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote, and that individuals should not bear the consequences of wrongful actions or inaction of the state. In this context, for the updating of the Voters Register it is very important for all voters to be able to obtain the right to register, to correct or modify data in the Voters Register under the same conditions.
The independence of the bodies for conducting elections is of great significance. Therefore, the political actions should be clearly limited within the profession, in order to prevent electoral manipulations and the increase of distrust in the electoral process.
In this area, it is important to encourage the non-governmental organizations working in the field of independent monitoring of the electoral process and/or promotion of human and civic rights.
My colleague Zelic from GONG presented to the participants of the project, a methodology for non-partisan election observation during the pre-election period, on the day of the elections and in the post-election period. Based on the exchange of knowledge and experience, CIVIL gained new ideas, as well as what to advocate, with the objective – improvement of the electoral legislation and designing specific proposals and measures for action in order to prevent possible manipulations in the upcoming elections.
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