Presidential election in Serbia: statement of the PACE observer delegation

On the invitation of the Serbian authorities, a multi-party delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), led by Ingebjørg Godskesen (Norway, EC), observed the Presidential election in Serbia on 2 April 2017. The Assembly has observed all presidential and parliamentary elections in Serbia since 2000.

Yesterday, the PACE delegation visited a limited number of polling stations in Belgrade and surrounding areas as well as in Novi Sad, Uzice, Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Valjevo, Pozarevac and Pancevo. The voting day was calm and well organised. The voters could make their choice freely although some procedural shortcomings were observed.

Many presidential candidates and other interlocutors of the PACE observation delegation pointed out the unprecedentedly unequal media coverage of the election campaign in favour of the candidate from the ruling coalition, although the legislation provides for equal media access to all presidential candidates. Moreover, the oversight of media during the campaign, including electronic media, was inefficient.

The Assembly observation delegation noted that the election campaign was in general peaceful. All presidential candidates could campaign freely without significant restrictions. The ruling coalition candidate benefited from his position as Prime Minister during the election campaign, which led to an unequal level-playing field vis-à-vis his competitors. In addition, many interlocutors expressed concern regarding the misuse of administrative resources during the election campaign. The election campaign was focused mainly on economic, social and security issues, on European integration and fighting against corruption.

While the legal framework provides an overall sound basis for the conduct of democratic elections if applied in good faith, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission had previously noted that the legislation would benefit from a comprehensive review to address loopholes and unclear provisions. Most of the Venice Commission’s recommendations have not been addressed, in particular concerning the election dispute resolution process, the need for effective provisions to prevent and sanction the misuse of administrative resources and abuse of office.

Many presidential candidates and other interlocutors expressed their concerns about the disproportionate system of financing of political parties and election campaigns. In this regard, the Assembly’s delegation recalls that the PACE in its different resolutions, as well as the Venice Commission in its opinions, repeatedly recommended to Serbian authorities to lower the levels of public and private funding and to introduce an overall campaign expenditure limit and a party financing limit. In addition, there is a lack of effective legal mechanisms to increase the transparency of political party and election campaigns funding, its oversight and accountability.

The Republic Electoral Commission worked in a transparent and efficient manner, and political contestants had, in general, confidence in its work. The registration of candidates was inclusive and no major concerns have been reported regarding the accuracy of the voter’s lists.

The delegation held meetings with the presidential candidates or their representatives, representatives of the Republic Electoral Commission, the OSCE/ODIHR Assessment Mission, representatives of the international organisations, and representatives of civil society and the media.

The Parliamentary Assembly will adopt the election observation report on 30 May 2017 in Prague during its Standing Committee meeting.