Montenegro takes important step in consolidating conduct of democratic elections, but some key issues remain, ODIHR/OSCE election observers say.
By Katica Djurovic For Southeast European Times -- 18/10/12
An election official marks the finger of a voter before casting a vote during Montenegro's parliamentary elections in Podgorica on Sunday (October 14th). [Reuters]
Montenegro's parliamentary elections on Sunday (October 14th) were closely monitored by the international community, and in spite of concerns from opposition parties and NGOs, election observers said voters went to the polls in a "peaceful and pluralistic" atmosphere.
The election was monitored by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. OSCE has observed elections in Montenegro since 1997.
Roberto Batelli, who led the OSCE short-term mission, said observers assessed the elections for compliance with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections, as well as with national legislation.
"The mission's role is to follow the entire electoral process, including the legal framework and its implementation, campaign activities, the work of the election administration, minority participation and the resolution of election-related disputes," Battelli told SETimes. "As part of its observation, the ODIHR mission conducted comprehensive monitoring of the media."
At a news conference Monday, international observers expressed their satisfaction with the Montenegrin elections.
"The [October 14th] early parliamentary elections took place in a peaceful and pluralistic environment with respect for fundamental rights and further consolidating the conduct of democratic elections in line with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards," Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, head of the OSCE/ODIHR office in Montenegro, said. "We did not see any deviation from the processes that are usual in other EU countries, and in other democratic countries."
Batelli said the only "negative" element observers noted was a lack of transparency in campaign funding.
"In that sense, Montenegro will have to work more," Batelli said.
The OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission opened in Podgorica on September 14th. It included 10 experts in the capital and 12 long-term observers deployed throughout Montenegro.
On Election Day, 63 observers from 24 countries were deployed, including 29 parliamentarians and staff from OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly and 12 from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
During the election campaign, some opposition parties and NGOs raised concerns over thousands of duplicate voter registrations, but observers did not report such problems.
"The accusations of thousands of duplicate voter registrations were not accurate," Batelli said. "That just shows that the Montenegrin public has a lack of confidence in the ruling party. They would be working more on strengthening this confidence and trust."
A coalition of Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists and the Social-Democratic Party won 47.9 percent of the votes and took 39 of 81 seats in the parliament. Democratic Front took 23.8 percent of the vote, followed by the Socialist Party (10.6 percent) and Positive Montenegro (8.9 percent). According to data from the Centre for Monitoring, a Montenegrin NGO that monitors elections, turnout at the polls was 70.3 percent.
Some agree there is lack of trust in Montenegrin authorities and democracy.
Marko Pejovic, 27, of Podrogica said he is not sure about the democratic platform behind the elections.
"Those things that can be easily checked has democratic mantle. In formal way, you can hardly see any irregularities," Pajovic said. "Still, the main problem in Montenegro isn't only the regime, but the public too. Public in Montenegro is afraid for their job. Therefore, they go into paranoia and decide to vote for the thousandth time for the option that they don't like or support."
Suzana Dragovic, 52, said the elections are as democratic as they need to be.
"DPS is in power for 20 years now. They know how to preserve its position and power. It is in their interest to be democratic, but the means they use sometimes are not democratic. Everybody knows about the case of offering the money to voters, couple of years ago."
Montenegrin government spokesperson Andjela Celebic told SETimes that feedback from the OSCE/ODIHR mission confirmed the country's democratic capacity.
"We witnessed Montenegro's profound engagement in the democratic process," Celebic said. "Regularity of the elections has become an indisputable fact which proves maturity of our society. Now, we have to use the momentum and take Montenegro towards the further development."