ANALYSIS Referendums against refugees – a dirty pre-election campaign
The councils of several municipalities, despite the denials of the Government that there will be no settling of migrants or building of apartments for them, have still brought a decision to hold referendums on the issue of settling migrants, on the same day with the local elections.
Over a year now since the migration wave ended, and Macedonia is facing a referendum wave against refugees settling in the country, while the atmosphere at council sessions around the country is becoming more tense. At a session of the Council of the Municipality of Aerodrom, an incident was barely avoided, where a member of the council from TMRO attacked a SDSM council member.
There was tense atmosphere also while the initiative “Awakening” was gathering signatures from citizens across the country. In the Municipality of Aerodrom, the news crew of TV NOVA was attacked by a member of the initiative. CIVIL strongly condemned the attack on the news team.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says that they will support the referendums in order to show the absurdity of the opposition campaign, and that if there is a referendum that he would vote against.
Gevgelia, Stip, Kavadarci, Bitola, Prilep, Kocani, Negotino, as well as the Skopje municipalities of Gazi Baba, Karpos and Aerodrom have already brought decisions on holding referendums against the construction of migration camps on the same day with the local elections, which are scheduled for October 15.
Concerning the issue of the legality of conducting referendums together with local elections, the opinions of analysts are different, but the thing that everyone agrees on is the fact that the purpose of these referendums is to create a huge emotional reaction among citizens, in order to hide the shortcomings and the lack of a real offer for voters.
“Between the lines, the background of these initiatives for local referendums can be noted, their guidelines and determinations, for holding a referendum on the same day with local elections, without a doubt it is about a political background, political in the sense of achieving certain goals that are contrary to the general state policy”, stated Osman Kadriu for CIVIL Media.
Kadriu adds that if such a background can be determined, then the state bodies competent for implementing elections and their legality should respond “and not only with specific guidelines, but they to also make specific decisions according to their opinion”, calling on the State Election Commission to react and to make a decision that will be in accordance with the legal provisions.
In regards to the question whether there are specific legal obstacles for conducting referendums at the same time with local elections, Kadriu replied: “There are two situations when it comes to such activities, on the one hand, local elections that are a significant political activity, and on the other hand, we have an announcement for some referendums at the local level. I think that a referendum should not be allowed to be held on the same day with local elections. Technically, it is even not feasible. In this case, it is a fact that we have a special state body that should take care of the legality of the elections and ensure lawful implementation of the elections, and that is the State Election Commission, it is responsible and needs to regulate this issue. I am deeply convinced that this is incompatible from the perspective of the legal regulations, from the perspective of the legal regulation of the elections and the electoral processes, as are the local elections in our case”.
According to lawyer Sandra Gavrilovska, a member of CIVIL’s Expert Board, “there is no lawful or legal obstacle for conducting a referendum on the same day the local elections have been scheduled”.
Gavrilovska says that the intention of the decisions made to hold referendums in these municipalities is insidious, against the construction of homes for migrants (which is a made-up/fictional topic for a referendum), and on the very day that the local elections are supposed to be held.
“The hidden goal of these decisions of the local authorities (outgoing), on holding a referendum together with local elections is to ensure success of the referendum, through the turnout, the turnout of citizens for the local elections”, says Gavrilovska.
According to her, holding a referendum at the same time with local elections undoubtedly leaves room and opportunity for manipulations, especially in terms of, the prohibited disposal and use of funds from the budget of municipalities until the end of the elections (including the local ones as well).
Citizens must not allow for them to be manipulated in terms of their voting right, and as to the possible unlawful spending of municipal budget money, someone will probably have to be held responsible’, says Gavrilovska.
Professor Svetomir Shkaric, in a statement for CIVIL Media, says that there is no direct obstacle or legally foreseen prohibition on conducting a referendum on the same day with local elections, because such a practice has not happened until now. He emphasized that a problem may occur in the implementation of the referendum by the Municipal Election Commission.
“The Municipal Election Commission is authorized with the Electoral Code to implement local elections. The State Election Commission appoints the Municipal Election Commission, which appoints electoral bodies, meaning that the bodies for conducting the referendum will be under the competence of the SEC, which then raises the question of whether it is permissible for a municipal commission that is formed by the SEC for local elections, to receive additional tasks at the same”, says Professor Shkaric.
CIVIL Media has tried several times to contact the State Election Commission, for them to make a statement on this issue, but has received no response until now.
Professor Mirjana Najchevska, however, has a different opinion, who says that the local elections and the referendums cannot be held on the same day.
According to Article 65 of the Law on Referendums, the means for conducting of a referendum at the local level are provided from the budget of the municipality, the City of Skopje and the municipalities in the City of Skopje. This article is contrary to Article 8-a, paragraph 1, item1: Budget funds of the Republic of Macedonia, the funds of the budgets of the municipalities and the City of Skopje, public funds and funds of public enterprises and public institutions or legal entities that dispose of state capital shall not be disposable from the day the decision for announcing elections has been made until the end of the elections (presidential, parliamentary or local).
Kadriu’s views are also in that direction. “The Electoral Code is very clear in terms of which activities cannot be undertaken in a certain period of time before the election campaign and during the campaign and such issues are sanctioned with the provisions of the Electoral Code. From this point of view, in addition to the political background of the referendums that are to be held, according to the provisions of the Electoral Code, we see that we have inconsistency of two specific activities with a completely different content, which are planned to be held the same day. We have one activity with a political content, and that is the election campaign, namely, the elections for local authorities, and on the other hand, we have another determination with another content. From this point of view, we have an inconsistency between the laws. In this case, the provisions of the Electoral Code need to be applied, and not the provisions of the law on conducting referendums”, says Kadriu.
At a press conference of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, in occasion of 100 days of work of the new government, Minister Mila Carovska replied to a question from CIVIL Media that “apartments for refugees will neither be built, nor are they being built at the moment anywhere on the entire territory of Macedonia! I have said several time in the media, that is a lie! VMRO-DPMNE are placing false news, with the purpose of manipulating the public before the local elections”.
Carovska was decisive that she and the Government of Republic of Macedonia respect the referendum as a democratic tool and appealed for referendums to be carefully announced, and if they are announced, they cannot be on the day of the elections, precisely because of the provisions contained both in the Law on Elections and also in the Law on Prevention of Corruption, where it is stated that funds that have not been planned in the budget cannot be used in this period, since the electoral procedure is in progress.
If, according to the assessments of legal experts, the implementation of the referendums at the same time with the elections of the local government authorities is contrary to the Electoral Code, then in that case the referendums in Bosilovo and Valandovo should be declared invalid, as they have been organized after the announcement of local elections.
The civil organization Legis, which deals with refugee issues in the country, says that in addition to the manipulative background of these referendums, that the right to vote is also questioned of those voters who have clear positions on refugees, such as Mersiha Smailovic, from Legis, whose photos were abused in VMRO-DPMNE’s black campaign, which is sowing fear and hatred among its citizens.
The referendum should definitely not be held on the same day with the local elections, because many citizens who are clear in their positions will be afraid to go to the polling stations and vote at the local elections, which is also their constitutionally guaranteed right”, stated Smailovic for CIVIL Media.
CIVIL Media went on the streets in Skopje and spoke with citizens about the refugees. In regards to the question whether they are afraid of the refugees they say that “refugees are also people, having fled from torture…”. One of the interlocutors says: “The refugees and the Albanian Platform are just an advertisement of the opposition, it is nonsense, where is the Albanian Platform now?” They are just games of the opposition, for scaring the people before local elections, so that they can cheat and steal!”
CIVIL has warned several times about the legal and political controversies of these referendums. “The referendums are unlawful, but what is more worrying is their extremely dirty political dimension. The organizers are in an obvious connection with the most destructive elements of the Macedonian political scene and have a direct and unmistakable agenda, through xenophobia and Islamophobia, to bring tensions in the relations between the religious and ethnic communities in the country, as has been the case with all the previous election processes they have directed. Basically, Islamophobia and hatred are in general a dirty political trick of the opposition, which is constantly promoting extremism and violence, in order to create fear, which it skillfully abused afterwards. The Prime Minister, government and relevant institutions must not calculate with this dirty campaign and keep silent. A political point they will not lose now, will be a loss for the entire country in the near future” – stated Xhabir Deralla, CIVIL – Center for Freedom.
At the moment, in the transit camp Vinojug near Gevgelia where thousands of migrants used to pass, there are now only 13 refugees from the Middle East, who are waiting to go to Europe or to return home. Despite this situation, the biggest opposition party is sowing fear among the citizens about the danger that Macedonia will be flooded with refugees.