Belgrade, March 22, 2022 - Elections are being held in a highly polarized socio-political context, strongly reflected in the media sphere. The involvement of public officials in campaigning, allegations of pressure on voters and misuse of state resources are reason for concern. Legal amendments have taken into account several recommendations of international and domestic observers. However, these amendments were adopted just before the calling of elections, at odds with international standards.
This was presented at the press conference organized at the Media Center in Belgrade.
Mr. Pierre Peytier, Head of Mission stated: “If implemented in good faith, the electoral legal framework generally provides for equitable campaigning conditions for contestants. The campaign has been generally peaceful so far, although its visibility has been partially affected by the short timeframe for campaigning, and the war in Ukraine highly concentrating media attention. Substantial concerns should be raised regarding allegations of pressure on public employees and voter intimidation, the involvement of public officials in the campaign and abuse of incumbency, along with misuse of state resources.”
Amendments have brought the legal framework for campaign finance more in line with GRECO recommendations, including a newly introduced interim financial reporting obligation before Election Day.
“However, longstanding issues related to unreported expenses in the electoral campaigns are of particular concern, including expenses for online political advertising, especially on social media. Interlocutors of the mission highlighted concerns regarding the effectiveness of the oversight mechanisms and sanctions, emphasizing that they remain largely inefficient in preventing violations” added Mr. Peytier.
Following the longstanding demands for electoral reforms by various stakeholders, the legal framework was amended prior to the start of the electoral process.
“However, these changes, some of which were substantial, were adopted right before the calling of elections. Legal amendments addressed a number of previous recommendations issued by international and domestic observation missions; however, essential segments of the electoral process remain to be fully addressed including related to media coverage, campaign finance regulations and misuse of administrative resources” explained Ms. Nino Rizhamadze, Legal Expert.
ENEMO noted that the REC was operating in an overall efficient and transparent manner, adopted all decisions collegially by the majority of all members while ensuring quorum. Sessions broadcasted live on the REC web page were open and accessible for all interested stakeholders.
Ms. Ana Mikeladze, Election Administration Analyst stated: “For the first time, the LECs were given the possibility, apart from the technical operation of elections, to be involved substantially in the election process. However, publishing LECs’ decisions with delay raises concerns, possibly hindering the proactiveness and performances of the middle-level election administration”
Furthermore, Ms. Mikeladze explained: “A voter may support only one electoral list, contrary to international standards and leaving space for violating the secrecy of the vote, as it potentially reveals a voter’s political preference. The process of certifying signatures, according to some ENEMO interlocutors’ created obstacles to equal political participation and raised concerns while delaying certification.”
The media sector remains challenged by various difficulties and flaws, despite amendments and a set of media regulations adopted recently.
Maja Milikic, Deputy Head of Mission stated: “With public media biased towards the government and a number of mainstream private media partial towards some segments of the opposition, there is a clear polarization in Serbian media. In addition, media are prone to political and economic pressures due to a lack of ownership transparency and financing, with the quality of news decreased by tabloidization, propaganda and influenced reporting.”
Disclaimer: ENEMO’s international observation mission for the 03 April, 2022 Presidential and Early Parliamentary Elections in Serbia is financially supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, NED. The content of the document is the sole responsibility of ENEMO and does not necessarily represent the position of the donors.