Opposition parties, government watchdog group claim Montenegro has thousands of duplicate voter registrations.
By Katica Djurovic for Southeastern European Times -- 12/10/12
With Montenegro preparing to hold parliamentary elections on Sunday, two opposition parties and a government watchdog group contend that the voter registration rolls contain thousands of irregularities. [Reuters]
With parliamentary elections in Montenegro scheduled for Sunday (October 14th), opposition parties and a government watchdog group are speaking out about voter registration irregularities.
MANS, which advocates for government transparency and accountability and is one of the biggest critics of the Montenegrin regime, has raised concerns over the inconsistency between the census and voter register data and duplications in the voter registry.
According to MANS, out of 512,387 voters in the country, there are more than 14,000 duplicate registrations: people with the same name, address, polling place, and in some cases even the same identification number. The group also said there are more than 6,000 deceased people still registered as voters. MANS also claims there may be many Montenegrins who permanently reside abroad, yet remain on the register. Those citizens must return to Montenegro in order to vote.
Opposition parties Demokratski Front (DF) and Socijalisticka Narodna Partija (SNP) have publicly supported MANS' claims.
"Duplicate voters are not the only irregularities in the register. Only in Montenegro you can find that there are 512,000 voters registered in the election register, while the 2011 census showed 474,655 adult citizens in Montenegro," Velizar Kaludjerovic, a representative of SNP, told the Montenegrin magazine Monitor.
While the election registry closed on October 3rd, the dispute started before the final election registers were completed. The Montenegrin government and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which has observers monitoring the election, downplayed the concerns. But MANS said irregularities still exist and create space for manipulating votes.
"The government claims they revised all problematic double votes and that there are no mistakes anymore, but they don’t let us see the final polls," Vanja Calovic, executive director of MANS, told SETimes. "We know there are many places in Montenegro, especially rural areas, where people with the same name and address vote on the same polling place. However, this is not the case."
According to MANS, around 20 people have approached the organisation with documents showing that they were registered to vote in two different places.
"We have a case of girl from north Montenegro who has just turned 18 years old one month ago and without her knowledge was signed in, not at one, but on two polling places," Calovic said. "She didn’t even know she was eligible to vote in these elections since the registration of new voters takes time."
MANS also said there are more than 1,000 people without identification numbers who will be able to vote. Meanwhile, on September 21st, the Montenegrin parliament agreed to extend the validity of expired identification cards to prevent the potential disenfranchisement of approximately 73,000 voters.
MANS said that decision could lead to vote manipulation.
Vuk Vujnovic, spokesperson for the Montenegrin government, said the election registry is transparent and up to date.
"Our polls improve from one election to another," Vujnovic told SETimes. "We inform local communities every week on changing in election polls and we have probably the best regulated polls in the region."
According to the OSCE mission in Montenegro, bickering over voters is part of the election campaign. The disputes take a negative tone, OSCE said, and are focused on mutual attacks instead of plans for the future.
Alice Colombi, a media analyst with OSCE's election mission in Montenegro, said observers are watching closely for any mistakes or irregularities. She added that last year's electoral law changes, which expanded representation of minorities and women, have helped improve democracy.
"We don’t have a proof of any irregularities in registers," Colombi told SETimes. "However, we have raised concerns about potential misuse of administrative resources. Voter list inaccuracies are featured prominently in the media. They are emerging as a campaign issue."
Sunday's elections will be the ninth since the multiparty system was introduced, the third parliamentary elections since Montenegro declared independence, and the first since the country opened EU accession negotiations.
There will be 13 political subjects on the ballot: seven collations, five political parties and one citizens’ group. They will compete for the 81 seats in the parliament.