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news 18 Oct 16

Losers and Activists File Charges about Montenegro Election

The special prosecution for organized crime will probe allegations that Montenegrin ruling party committed electoral fraud, but the international observers said polls were ‘generally free’.

Dusica Tomovic
 The vote pits PM Milo Djukanovic's long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists against a cluster of pro-Russian and pro-Serbian opposition groups that staunchly oppose the country's NATO bid. Photo: Beta/AP/Darko Vojinovic.

The Montenegrin Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on Monday that hundreds of criminal complaints had been filed alleging electoral fraud and vote-buying in Sunday’s general election, although international observers said the polls were held in a competitive environment and that fundamental freedoms were generally respected.

The prosecution said it had received 114 criminal charges of “violation of freedom of choice in voting”, after Montenegrin opposition parties and several watchdogs claimed on Monday that the election was marred by irregularities.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic’s long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, won most votes in Sunday’s ballot, but did not win without enough seats to form a government on its own.

Both the four opposition groups, with a total of 39 or 40 seats in parliament, and the DPS will now have to try form a coalition with several small ethnic parties represented in the 81-seat chamber.

During a tense voting day on Sunday, the anti-corruption watchdog, the Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector, MANS, filed criminal charges against several people it suspected of buying ID cards. It said some of them offered people money or other benefits in exchange for votes, and it charged several persons with exerting pressure on voters.

Other watchdogs, the Centre for Monitoring and Research, CEMI, and the Center for Democratic Transition, CDT, also reported irregularities at dozens of polling stations.

They said party activists were seen recording voters outside some polling stations.

CDT also reported that at the polling station in the western town of Niksic, voting was stopped due to allegations of "vote buying".

However, on Monday, the OSCE/ODHIR monitoring mission said the elections were held in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected in a campaign characterized by a lack of distinct domestic policy alternatives and marred by personal attacks. While pluralistic, the media lacked editorial independence, it said.

“There have been significant improvements in the legal framework based on prior recommendations, and our hope is that efforts in this direction will continue,” said Roman Jakic, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR long-term election observation mission, declining to address reported irregularities.

Ahead of the vote, the portal Bosnjaci.net published an alleged list of Montenegrin voters in the diaspora who it said were called by the ruling DPS and offered free flights and 250 euros in exchange for votes. Several people from the list confirmed to local media that they were called and promised payments.

The same media outlet also released a letter of a Montenegrin national from Luxembourg, offering voters from the diaspora organized travel to Montenegro in order to vote for the DPS.

The pro-Russian opposition Democratic Front on Sunday also posted several videos it said contained evidence that Montenegrins living abroad were offered money and free transport to come and vote for Djukanovic.

One of the recordings released by the opposition which alleged that Montenegrins living abroad were offered money and free transport

Some opposition parties and anti-government media over the weekend published lists of Montenegrin students in the region who were allegedly promised transport and 30 euros to come to vote.

The opposition party Civic Movement URA, part of the Key coalition, said one of its officials, Aleksandar Srdanovic, was attacked by two people in his hometown of Pljevlja in northern Montenegro while trying to record DPS activists offering money to voters.

The politician claims that he “photographed the process of buying fake documents” in a nearby cafe.

Another opposition party, the Democrats, filed a motion to the Special Prosecution, urging it to probe reports that on Sunday morning, the ferry from the Italian port of Bari sailed into the Montenegrin port of Bar with over 200 Roma. The party said the free trip was organized by the ruling DPS to get the Roma to come to vote for the ruling party.

Prime Minister and DPS chief Milo Djukanovic said it was untrue that the DPS paid anyone to visit Montenegro to vote in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

“These are pure insinuations of our political opponents ...Those people who wanted to vote came at their own expense,” Djukanovic said a few days prior the elections.

On the eve of the election, the Supreme State Prosecutor, Ivica Stankovic, asked the special prosecutor's office to check all claims published in the media that the DPS was “pressuring and blackmailing voters from the diaspora” to come and vote.

The prosecution in Montenegro has already conducted several investigations into alleged abuses of state funds and abuse of office in the election concerning the DPS, which Djukanovic has led since 1991.

Complaints mounted following the so-called "Tape Recording Affair", which broke in February 2013, after a local daily newspaper, Dan, published transcripts of leaked tapes of ruling party sessions.

In the leaks, party officials appeared to promise jobs and loans to supporters and election donors.

The latest EU report on Montenegro expressed regret that the judicial follow-up to the “Audio Recording  Affair” remained incomplete and hoped this and other affairs would be soon brought to court.

The investigation failed to shed light on who ordered the buying of the ID cards, the EU report said.

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