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Conditions for elections, president in the campaign, media – what is not being mentioned

By commenting the decision of several opposition parties to boycott the elections, Prime-Minister, Ana Brnabić, besides the thesis legitimately used in political battle between authorities and opposition, stated also couple of thesis or missed to mention several facts that deserve a comment in regards to rule of law and democracy in Serbia.

Thereby, related to implementation of ODIHR recommendations, it is stated that Government works with this expert body of OSCE ever since 2016 in promotion of electoral conditions and electoral atmosphere. It is also stressed that Government sent comments to Law on Central Register of the Population, mentioned trainings implemented by the REC and states that list of voters has been updated. However, answer does not mention that ODIHR requested improvement of the regulations on election campaign financing and separation from party function. While related to changes of regulations on campaign financing nothing has been done in the past five years, not only on the basis of ODIHR recommendations, but also based on planning documents adopted by the Government in 2013 and 2016, chance to improve the rules on separation of functions is missedin May this year when the Law on Preventing Corruption was adopted, that was developed ever since 2015. 

By commenting one of the requests of the opposition–that President Aleksandar Vučić should not participate – she rightfully criticizes those parties that used to rule, that they haven’t implemented the same principle when president was their member. However, argument loses its strength when we consider the fact that SNS got the opportunity to rule in 2012, among other things, thankfully to the promise that they will change that practice. 

Results of monitoring of the officials’ campaign implemented by Transparency Serbia in continuity show that Tomislav Nikolić mostly restrained from the activities that would provide support from the presidential function to party to whose proposal he was elected, which was a rare example of good practice in the past few years. 

Inexistent legal framework, after Nikolić’s presidency, allowed the President to perform party function. Regardless of that, laws, even now, do not allow for the presidential or any other public function to be used for the promotion of political subject. Therefore, there are no legal obstacles for Aleksandar Vučić to speak during the campaign in party rallies or to be the first in the list on the elections where he is not even the candidate, but there is also no proper reason to increase media presence during the election period through promotional activities in the role of state official, that do not represent performing of presidential obligations.

For example, president of the state will certainly at any time during the campaign meet with foreign ambassadors, participate in international rallies and award a medal on the occasion of state holiday, but  has no legal obligation based on which him alone would be visiting health centers, construction sites, agriculture land or open factories. 

Related to situation in media, in this interview as well, well known report of the Anticorruption Council of the Government of Serbia was mentioned in 2011, which described several methods of accomplishing political influence to media. However, the same Council by the end of 2015 dealt with similar topic „report on potential influence of public sector institutions to media through paying of services of advertising and marketing“ , and draft new Media Strategy shows that channels for influencing still exist. Resolving of matter of state advertising is just one of many matters related to media and elections that remains unresolved.

Related to improvement of work of the National Assembly, where ruling majority indeed stopped implementing measures for obstruction of the debate by submitting of pointless amendments and announced doubling the time for discussion on budget, it remains to be seen, in which level it will sustain once the opposition starts participating regularly in full scope in the work of Parliament and when budget debate is placed on the agenda. In order for such debate to have full meaning, Government should finally start submitting and Assembly to discuss final budget accounts from previous years. Absence of such documents still significantly lover the rank of Serbia in international Open Budget Index