The election rerun in polling station 2011 in Tearce on December 25, 2016 represents a small illustration and a troublesome reminder of the immense problems with the election process in Republic of Macedonia. It concerns one polling station with 714 registered voters, in a small, ethnically mixed rural municipality, for which the Administrative Court decided that the voting should be repeated, following the complaint and appeal of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM).
This small place could have made a big difference in the outcome of the difficult election struggle that took place on December 11. In the sixth electoral unit, the difference between the rival coalition led by the ruling VMRO-DPMNE and the oppositional SDSM was 303, or with the repeated voting 207 voted in favor of the ruling party. That is why Tearce was so important for the two fiercely opposed parties. A win with a difference of more than 303 votes in favor of SDSM would have meant equaling of the number of parliamentary seats won from the current 51:49 in favor of VMRO-DPMNE to a completely equal number of MP’s, 50:50.
What happened in Tearce?
Briefly, the rerun in Tearce was almost like an ordered demonstration on how not to conduct elections.
CIVIL – Center for Freedom, whose long-term observers are in the phase of post-electoral monitoring of the situation, assigned observers immediately after the decision of the Administrative Court for an election rerun in polling station 2011, on December 20. The parties had only three days to prepare and additionally promote their programs, taking in consideration that election silence starts the day before the voting.
As expected, during the very first day following the decision of the Administrative Court, CIVIL’s observers came to the first information that strong electoral pressure had begun on voters.
They noted many irregularities also during the rerun in Tearce on December 25, which correspond to the nature of the irregularities registered also during the election process that ended with the day of the voting on December 11.
According to reports from the ground, in the four days prior to the rerun there had been vote buying, which is supported by testimonials of witnesses.
The voters were asked not to vote, and in return they were offered high amounts, whereby they had to hand over their ID cards to be “kept” until the day after the rerun in order to reduce the turnout of voters who assumingly would vote for the opposition. The price for refraining to vote had ranged from 50 to 100 euros per voter, or it reached amounts from 500 to 1,000 euros per family. Others received financial “rewards” for a vote for one or another political party.
Despite the attempts of certain media to disqualify CIVIL’s information on the cases of vote buying, finally, these cases were also confirmed with MOI’s announcement on the day of the election rerun, according to which a procedure has been initiated against two persons for this act of crime.
Observers of CIVIL – Center for Freedom also came across unofficial information that around 40 ID cards of voters in Tearce had been given back to the voters during the day of the election rerun.
As to the election silence, it was as if it did not exist at all. Just like during the election silence with the voting on December 11, in this small settlement as well, it was even more obvious that the election silence was not respected. Party activists of all political parties, without any reservations, were agitating during the election silence.
CIVIL’s observers were monitoring the rerun at polling station 2011 in Tearce from 6:30h. The election material at the polling station had not been organized on time, though it had been complete. Voting had been enabled several minutes after 7:00
The UV lamps had stopped working. The first stopped working at 8:30h in the morning, and the second one stopped working at 8:55h, and at 9:05 it was determined that they were working after all. Eight or more voters had been turned back from the polling station in the period while the UV lamps were supposedly not working. It is strange how precisely these two lamps were not working on that day. It is just one polling station!
According to the reports of the observers of CIVIL – Center for Freedom, members of the Electoral Board had constantly been on their telephones. When there were no voters at the polling station, they had been continuously going through and checking the Voters Register, after which they had been making telephone calls, probably, to inform the party headquarters for which they work for on the turnout of the voters who were under control.
CIVIL publically reminded the members of the Electoral Board that sharing information with party headquarters and mobilization of voters is against the law and election procedures, but without any success.
The Electoral Board might have not functioned according to the law entirely, but it did strictly abide to the rules they made up themselves. So, the Electoral Board asked for and retained the authorizations of CIVIL’s observers, which is against the procedure. During the counting of votes, a member of the Electoral Board had lit a cigarette after which everyone had started smoking in the room, making another member feel sick, which followed with a medical intervention.
There was strong presence of the police, the media and civil society representatives, domestic and foreign observation missions, along with many senior party representatives.
The communication between the Electoral Board and journalist teams at times was with a high tone, while cameramen and photo reporters were photographing and recording literally all voters separately. According to CIVIL’s observers, several citizens had complained of feeling uncomfortable under such media attention.
A member of the Electoral Board had addressed the journalists with a high tone and expelled them from the polling station, even though it seems that the same did not apply to one television station with a national concession.
A person without accreditation had entered the polling station and recorded without authorization, after which was asked to stop with the recording, but this was not registered in the records despite the indications made by CIVIL’s observer.
The Electoral Board was unable to help a voter that could not be found on the Voters Register, even though previously he had figured on the online version.
Increased presence of police forces was noticed in Tearce, where there was an election rerun in polling station 2011. The police behaved professionally and in correctly, whereas the increased presence was with the purpose of ensuring the right to vote and the legality of the process.