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NEWS 31 Mar 17

Fraud Fears Grow Ahead of Serbian Election

As the Serbian presidential elections loom, NGOs monitoring the process and the opposition are voicing concerns over potential electoral fraud.

Maja Zivanovic

Election box. Photo: Wikimedia/Rama

Rasa Nedeljkov from Serbian NGO, the Center for Transparency, Research and Accountability, CRTA, stated that the organisation has been receiving reports from both citizens and its own election observers, about alleged pressures on voters to support the ruling Serbian Progressive Party and abuse of public resources for its leader, Aleksandar Vucic’s campaign.

“Different cases are being reported … whether through lists of ‘safe votes’ or by asking public servants or even workers in private companies that cooperate with the state to support party rallies or give financial support to the party,” Nedeljkov told BIRN.

A list of ‘safe votes’ essentially means that a person must provide a party with a list of people he or she recruited to vote for specific candidate.

However, Nedeljkov said that police and prosecutors' offices should investigate the cases before they can be confirmed as definitive “electoral fraud”.

Social media users also shared ‘instructions’ for people, who are pressured to submit evidence they have voted for a specific candidate. The advice said that they could circle the name of the person on a ballot, snap a photo, and then annul the vote, circle the name of the candidate they really wish to vote for and still submit valid ballot.

Other NGOs have also alleged that abuse of state offices and public resources have taken place.

Transparency Serbia, a local branch of global watchdog Transparency International, stated that the mayor of the northern Serbian town of Sombor was a “drastic example” of abuse of official state position for campaign purposes and a breach of a Serbian Law on Anti-corruption Agency.

Dusanka Golubovic, the mayor of Sombor, issued a statement urging people to vote for Vucic.

Opposition candidates Sasa Jankovic, Vuk Jeremic, Sasa Radulovic and Bosko Obradovic all voiced concerns over possible electoral irregularities.

Former ombudsman and presidential candidate Sasa Jankovic told weekly paper NIN on March 30 that “stories about stealing votes are not fantasy” and voiced fears that members of the electoral boards, who are appointed by each party to observe elections, may have been bribed.

“Enough is Enough” leader Sasa Radulovic, who is also a presidential candidate, alleged that a “Bulgarian train” scenario could have taken place. The term refers to a kind of electoral fraud that involves political “handlers” distributing pre-filled ballots in front of polling stations.

In this scenario, voters willing to sell their ballots could then take them into the polling stations and cast their votes. Then, they might take the empty ballots, which they obtained at the polling stations back outside and pass them to the handlers. The handlers could then fill in the ballots and pass them over to the next entrepreneur.

A candidate from the right-wing Dveri party, Bosko Obradovic, said electoral fraud was ongoing even now, citing electoral roll issues, voting in Kosovo and the unequal media treatment of the presidential candidates.

Vucic has denied the various accusations, in turn accusing his opponents of trying to divert public attention away from their own fraud.

“When you have candidate who has invested 10 million euros in the campaign, how will he justify that [he won only] 6 per cent of the votes? ... therefore, from very start they have been talking about [vote] stealing,” Vucic said on March 30, Tanjug news agency reported.

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