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News 13 Jun 13

Report Slams Erosion of Democracy in Macedonia Polls

The March-April local elections saw the serious further erosion of democratic principles and procedures in Macedonia, CIVIL, an NGO, said in its report.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Ballot box | Photo by: MIA

In the report published on Thursday, CIVIL pinpoints serious problems in the recent Macedonian local elections.

“The politicization of institutions is far-reaching and omnipresent and undermines the overall level of democracy and rule of law,” the NGO says.

The Macedonian judiciary is “increasingly politicized and subordinated to the will of party leaders in power,” it adds.

Most journalists and media are under "strong political control”, and there are well-founded allegations that police and the security services have been “turned into servants of holders of political power”.

The NGO claims that the public administration is “under direct control [of the government] and required to carry out a continuous and aggressive propaganda, completing the picture of a highly controlled society”.

In such conditions, CIVIL says that the local elections in March and early April were far from free and democratic.

The NGO recorded widespread violations of the campaign rules, ranging from misuse of public administration and funds, threats of dismissals or visits from the financial police, cutting off social and health assistance, payment for votes and even misuse of children.

It says promises of employment in the public administration and dismissals of “disobedient” workers intensified in the weeks before the elections.

“Minors were used indiscriminately during the campaign”, it adds, either for disseminating propaganda leaflets or for attendance and help at party rallies.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

It notes that public administration personnel were obliged to attend ruling VMRO DPMNE party rallies during working hours or provide replacements.

“Otherwise they would face dismissal”, CIVIL claims.

The NGO also notes the “massive and frequent” engagement of senior state officials in pre-election promotional and foundation-laying ceremonies and the use of government investments as a campaign tool.

It says that while “shady funds” in the financing of political parties is nothing new, it was noteworthy that this time the ruling VMRO DPMNE party spent more than all other parties put together.

The NGO also notes the increased intensity of proxy voting, family voting, intimidation of electoral staff and the unauthorized presence of political party staffers in and around polling stations.

“The signal is clear: you are not alone, we follow you, we control you, do not misbehave,” the NGO says.

CIVIL also notes manipulation of the actual voting process in the local elections.

The ethnic Macedonian “inhabitants of villages in the municipality of Pustec, in Albania, were hired en masse to vote in the Skopje municipality of Centre," it says.

"The reason was that the opposition was very likely to win the municipality and threatened to stop the government's flagship project, the re-modeling of the city centre known as ‘Skopje 2014’”.

It says that Pustec residents "were given fake Skopje addresses and ID cards” and were escorted to designated polling stations.

This could “only be carried out by the authorities in charge of personal identification documents, i.e. the Ministry of Interior,” CIVIL says.

However, CIVIL says that this “astonishingly well prepared operation” probably had the opposite effect, mobilizing undecided voters in Centar in favour of the opposition.

On the positive side, the watchdog noted that the incidence of physical or armed violence in the election was “rather sporadic”.

In the local elections in late March and early April, the centre-right VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski sealed another victory over its main rivals, the Social Democrats, SDSM, led by the now resigned Branko Crvenkovski.

It was the seventh election in a row won by Gruevski and his party since 2006.

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