FH: Serbia’s opposition election boycott reflects fundamental problems

NEWS 15.02.2019 13:09
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Source: freedomhouse.org

The opposition boycott of elections is always a controversial issue, but it mostly points at structural issues in the country, Zeljka Caki, Freedom House (FH) director of the researches in Europe and Euro-Asia told the Radio Free Europe (RFE) on Friday, adding Serbia's President had a great deal of power in his hands.

She added the boycott would be a result of the current election rules, i.e., curtailed possibility for the opposition to come to power in elections.

“On the other hand,” Caki said, “the protests in Serbia show that many people are dissatisfied with the situation in the society and that they are willing to say that.”

She added that the fact the protests were continuing for weeks proved people’s wish for changes.

A part of Serbia’s opposition started boycotting republic’s and local parliaments in a response to the requests by the #1 in 5 million public demonstrations across Serbia.

Commenting on official Belgrade reaction to the latest FH report which downgraded Serbia from Free to Partly Free country, Caki told RFE her organisation was comprehensive in preparing reports.

We are trying to eliminate any political bias with anonymous estimates done by the intellectuals in our organisation,” Caki said, adding the reports respected strict rules and methodology.

“The FH report especially dealt with last year’s local elections in Serbia, vote in Belgrade and the election of the city’s Mayor,” Caki said.

She detailed the FH objections as those related to bias media reports and the ruling party abuse of public resources in pressuring the voters, adding all the remarks came from both local and international election monitors.

“There were cases of buying votes and other irregularities like parallel voters’ lists, a larger number of ballot papers and the confusion created ahead of the elections by registering new parties with names similar to those of the opposition,” Caki said.

She said that noted irregularities were the most severe problem in last year’s election which was “held in even worse conditions than the previous ones.”

Regarding the increasing number of attacks and threats to journalists, Caki said the investigations should be independent of any political influence.

“Violence against journalists are often unsanctioned, the trials go on for too long, or the perpetrators receive mild punishment compared to the gravity of the crime,” she said.

Commenting on the FH conclusion that President Aleksandar Vucic exceeded his constitutional jurisdiction, Caki reminded that the presidential role in Serbia was mostly ceremonial, unlike the authority of the Prime Minister.

“The current President Vucic has a great deal of power in his hands. That kind of personalisation and concentration (of power) is destructive for democracy, diminishing the responsibility and transparency,” she said.

Caki mentioned the example from the presidential campaign in 2017 when Vucic held the position of Prime Minister till the end of the process.

“That blurred the line between his official position and campaign activity,” she added.

As another problem, Caki pointed out the early elections or “threats of the early vote,” which had become a political practice.

“That is a problem because the elections should be regular and should not be used by the regime to cement the power,” she said, adding “all those examples show the increased power centralisation.”