The European Parliament (EP) members' drafted document on election conditions in Serbia to which N1 had access to suggested equal access to media for all participants, balanced reporting and the integrity of the entire process as the main issues the authorities and opposition should agree on, but two main opposition parties said they were not satisfied.
In the first reaction to the EP draft, the Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP) leader Dragan Djilas said his organisation would not sign the document.
“The document we’ve received is not acceptable to Serbia’s people because it doesn’t offer clear mechanisms for the respect of law which must be implemented to ensure free elections. That’s why the SSP won’t sign the draft,” Djilas said.
A People’s Party’s deputy leader Miroslav Aleksic described the document as ‘generalised,’ but said it could be a basis for discussion.
He told the Belgrade independent Beta news agency his party did not have many expectations from the EP draft but that the final decision on further steps would be made at the party’s Presidency meeting on September 10.
The document drafted by MEPs, who mediated the negotiations between the Government and the opposition, also includes a supervisory body to control public broadcasters’ work and the development of rules for reporting during the election campaign.
The MEPs also emphasise that, providing political will, an agreement on election conditions can be reached within the inter-party dialogue and that they are ready to help achieve a deal.
However, they insist the outcome of the process depends on the participants in the dialogue.
Regarding Serbia’s media, the MEPs say they should report on the political programs of all parties in an adequate manner.
They also ask the media to publish their tariffs for political advertising before the start of the campaign. At the same time, the public broadcasters are required to provide media visibility and representation to all political options under identical conditions.
The MEPs say the media are obliged to provide balanced reporting and presentation of both opposition and the government views to ensure their diversity for the citizens to be fully and adequately informed.
To achieve equal media representation, the MEPs propose adopting new binding regulations for public broadcasters and establishing a temporary supervisory body consisting of the existing Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) members and representatives suggested by the dialogue participants.
That body should be tasked with drafting a book of rules and controlling its implementation.
Furthermore, the draft says the functionary campaign and using state resources for party purposes should be considered an abuse of office.
As far as private broadcasters are concerned, the MEP propose drafting a special rulebook regulating their reporting during the election campaign.
It is also said that professional and independent media without national coverage should be allowed to broadcast on national frequencies.
The draft suggested it was necessary to give the opposition enough time to present their political views in news programmes, especially about those regarding the work of the Government.
The second part of the draft deals with the election process. It suggests it is necessary to respect the secrecy of the ballot, improve the work of polling stations and increase the transparency of voter lists.
In the meantime, Aleksandar Sapic, an opposition leader-turned ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SN) official, said he expected the forthcoming election campaign to be “most negative ever.”
He added there would be individuals “ready for everything” to avoid being “erased from the political scene forever.”
Sapic said SNS “won’t allow individuals to divide Serb people for their personal, particular interests.”
“There will be those who will seek conflicts which we don’t want. We have to prove that life doesn’t start or end after these elections, whoever will lead the country,” Sapic told the pro-government Studio B TV.
It also requires greater transparency in campaign financing and the establishment of clear election rules.
The draft suggests that the representatives of political parties which boycotted the 2020 vote should be included in the work of the Republic Election Commission (RIK).
It also requires the state to provide effective mechanisms to prevent pressure on voters and enable a thorough investigation of any reported case, especially about pressure on employees in state-owned companies.
It is also proposed to reduce the limit for financial donations to parties, as well as to establish a limit on campaign expenses.
As N1 has learned, the draft document has been forwarded to the representatives of the opposition who participated in the dialogue, and the deadline for comments and statements of the opposition is September 12.
This draft should be discussed at the next round of inter-party dialogue, on September 17 and 18. The deadline for reaching an agreement on election conditions is at least six months before the elections scheduled for April 3 2022.
The document emphasised it referred only to the upcoming election campaign and was not meant to solve the electoral and political system problems.
However, it adds, there is a possibility of a special dialogue after the 2022 elections.
Boban Stojanovic, a political analyst, told Beta news agency that such an EP’s draft was expected and offered a sound basis for reaching solutions for regular elections.
However, he noticed that the draft lacked the issue of separating the Belgrade ballot from the presidential and general vote, as the opposition had requested since some studies suggested it had the chance of winning the elections in the capital.