November 6, 2021
The head of the State Election Commission (SEC) in his statements and self-assessing keeps insisting that everything was in order with the election process and that the institution carried out an excellent election process. That is not true, or at least – not entirely true. The least that can be said is that the election administration was not prepared on many grounds.
Regardless of the general assessment of being a free and democratic election process (ODIHR and CIVIL), a large number of remarks were made by both organizations, primarily, in regards to the exceptionally big pressure under which the Macedonian citizens found themselves during the election campaign and on Election Day, in the first and second round. No less serious are the problems caused by the election administration from several aspects. More information and analyses on the topic of the SEC will probably follow, but today let’s briefly focus on part of the problems.
There is only one opportunity to successfully introduce something new in a process. The SEC missed that chance. The unsuccessful introduction of the biometric voter identification devices will be remembered (BVID or popularly known as fingerprint devices).
The fingerprint devices were not working, not because the very devices were bad, but because the system was far from prepared. It would have been good for them to be procured now, and to be introduced in some future elections. This way, the failure to put them into full function left a dark mark on the entire process.
It concerns thousands of cases where people could not be identified through the new technology due to many reasons. The damage that this misfortunate circumstance has caused cannot be assessed. The example of one polling station in Kisela Voda has been repeated several times, where out of 70 voters in a row, only 19 didn’t have a problem with the devices. That is far from a good outcome from the introduction of this technological innovation.
The most expensive elections in history, not counting the black money
Should it also be mentioned that these, historywise, are the most expensive elections carried out on the territory of this country. It concerns 11 million euros – just for the devices (!) – which will be paid by the Macedonian citizens. The calculations for the official expenses for the 2021 local elections are yet to come out.
The black money is another story that is also yet to be unravelled. (Black money in the Macedonian political circus).
Without guarantees before the elections, with excellent assessments for themselves after the elections
The head of the SEC, Aleksandar Dashtevski, before also president of the State Commission for Protection against Discrimination, at a press conference on October 4, less than two weeks before the elections, said that the local elections would be well conducted, but that he could not guarantee how the technical part would go with the application of the identification terminals, as this was something that is happening for the first time and there was no pilot application.
How’s that? They will be successfully implemented, but doesn’t guarantee that they will be successfully implemented. Only for him to persistently insist with the excellent assessment for himself after the elections that the process was successfully implemented and that the fingerprint devices ensured respect for the principle of “one person one vote”.
Everything for Mickoski’s caprice
Indeed, success may not be guaranteed, but responsibility and transparency have to be guaranteed. Someone needs to be held responsible for this overly expensive, and just as much hasty operation – morally, politically and legally.
The timeline of conducting the election process and the amendments to the Electoral Code will easily place Mickoski and his party under the critical reflector. Everything for Mickoski’s caprice, but in vain. The fingerprint devices were a condition to have the elections and to unblock the parliament.
The condition for introducing the new technology was fulfilled, but the Parliament didn’t manage to unblock. On the contrary. And there is no responsibility on the horizon.
Too many “coincidences”
All the inconsistencies of the Electoral Code and many other weaknesses related to the manner in which the election administration functioned at the lower levels are inevitably added to this. For example, the election boards are a particular alarming story. The Electoral Code underwent changes just one month before the voting, contrary to all standards and recommendations of the ODIHR and of domestic experts and relevant organizations in this area (MOST, CIVIL and others).
The very attempt of the SEC to remove the seal of the ballots from the Guidelines for valid and invalid ballots is indicative in itself. The SEC voted to have the seal removed from the ballots, and then expressly terminated the changes in an important secondary act five, that is, four days before the very voting in the second round. There were “accidental” or “misfortunate” set of circumstances too many times, for all of that to be a coincidence.
“Poor people pay double”
All of that together contributed to (documented) cases of violation to the right to vote, a fundamental human right, across the entire country. This is a bigger problem than can be precisely determined. Some voters gave up from voting also because of many other irregularities they faced at the polling stations. There has to be responsibility also for these serious omissions, in addition to the hasty application of the “fingerprint devices”. But whether there will be, time will tell.
If it’s like in the past, it will all come down to the practice of making maximum compromises with the opposition, no matter how nationalist, anti-Western and anti-democratic structure it may be, so that it is cooperative. And when it remains on the course contrary to the national interests – no big deal – again new concessions and compromises. In the presence of a shattered public, fully clientalized until yesterday, disintegrated by the strong hybrid attacks from the inside and outside.
But that is why when one such an opposition comes to power, as it came to the local and rushed to the central level, responsibility as a notion, will be forgotten for a very long time (read: forever).
And what about money and democracy? Citizens have money, and as for democracy, it seems it’s not that urgent to them. Or, as said in an old popular saying, “poor people pay double”. And suffer double.
PS. This article is a contribution to CIVIL’s broader analysis on the election process, in the preparation of which several authors took part, and is part of the usual post-election procedure that the organization conducts after every election process. The text does not have the intention to polemicize or to problematize the election outcome of the local elections, but to outline the need for consistency in assessing the quality of the implementation of the process.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska