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New elections and unresolved old problems

Transparency - Serbia (official chapter of Transparency International-TI), indicates that after the announcement of call for parliamentary elections, still numerous problems, that we pointed out to before and after the elections in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2014, remain unresolved. We believe some problems might be met again in this year’s elections.

There is still no improvement of the Law on Financing of Political Activities, Law on the Anticorruption Agency or Criminal Code although it was supposed to be done on the basis of Anticorruption Strategy from 2013. Due to that we will still have unlimited election campaign expenditures (contrary to the recommendations of the Council of Europe), insufficiently precise rules on credits and debts of political parties, and finally data on sources of financing won’t be available during the campaign. There are still no deadlines for the control performed by the Agency, nor clearly defined duties for verification by the other state organs.

Rules on campaign financing were changed one year ago, but according to TS not in compliance with the strategic acts. One of the changes envisages less budget allocation for the campaign, therefore this year’s budget allocation will be 580 million of RSD (2014: approximately 800 million). However, amendments to the Law allowed that budget assets received for the other purpose (regular work) can be used for the campaign. That additionally alienated large parliamentarian parties of other participants of the election race in their possibilities of presentation before the voters. 

Numerous charges for purchasing of votes and abuse of public resources, from previous election cycles, remained without court epilogue. According to available data, only one indictment was initiated for purchasing of votes (in Novi Sad 2012), and that trial is not over yet. Our organization urges the public prosecution to announce what has been done on investigating the charges from previous election cycles, to inform the citizens on how they could report potential abuses of the upcoming elections and encourage them to do so.

We emphasize that it is still not too late to establish Supervising Committee of the National Assembly, in compliance with the articles 99. and 100. of the Law on the Election of Deputies, that will monitor election activities and indicate to potential irregularities in proceedings of political parties and perform other activities stipulated by the Law. Obligation of establishing of such committee hasn’t been respected in the past 15 years. That body could react in controversial situations that are out of Anticorruption Agency’s or Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media, or Republic Election Commission jurisdiction. In 2014, TS submitted the initiative to national branch of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) in the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia for establishing of national board, but GOPAC hasn’t reacted.

Having in mind that now it is probably too late for amending the election regulation, Transparency - Serbia urges for changing of practice that was recorded on all recent elections, that we empirically proved in 2012 and 2014 - using of public functions for additional promotion of the members of the Government, directors of public enterprises and mayors through their alleged “regular activities”. “Life” shouldn’t “freeze” in the election period, but there is neither legal obligation nor real need that each paved kilometre, painted facade or foundation, be officially opened by the current officials. If it is unrealistic to expect that politicians will renounce themselves of free advertising in the news program, or that the editors and journalists would be courageous enough not to broadcast it, we think that Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media should react. For example, obligatory instruction that could request from the media to broadcast such information without actually broadcasting the speech of the public official.

We list this as well: Serbia enters this election cycle in a situation when implementation of the media laws is inconsistent. Privatization of certain part of regional and local media is disputable, as well as implementation of some of the tenders for support to media programs. All that, according to our estimation, can endanger objectivity of the reporting before the local elections. We remind also that rules on state and political advertising in media are not precise enough, although in the meantime series of laws that could help improve this situation were amended.

Besides, we think that the Anticorruption Agency should promote the outcome of its controls from previous election cycles, but also data on how the initiated misdemeanour procedures were ended. By our opinion, Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media should perform checks of respecting the rules on equal financial and technical conditions of party advertising.

Transparency – Serbia finally invites political parties, coalitions and citizens’ groups that will participate upcoming elections, to clearly define their anticorruption programmes, and other election promises. These promises and programmes should be followed by explanation – how will it all be financed. Fiscal Council should declare on financial sustainability of these programs. We invite the media to compare and analyse what parties offer, and not to just broadcast promises whose foundation is impossible to verify. 

Transparency – Serbia

Belgrade, 21 January 2016