Raša Nedeljkov, CRTA Program Director: Standing by Democracy, preparing for the Election Day

We are impartial toward political players, but in a wider picture we have our side- we are standing by democracy. That is to say we truly believe that elections are not a mere technical operation. The free and fair elections are the very essence of democracy.

As the elections are approaching, with ever growing frequency we in Crta are being asked if we are going to call citizens to go to the polls or to boycott. That question keeps coming from the professional media, from the social media users, from the people we meet in person… It shows the widespread lack of understanding for the mission we have as the election observers’ organization and the level of impartiality we have to exercise. In general, impartiality seems to be the hardest word these days in Serbia. The word, actually the principal or the value it denotes can get you in a lot of trouble.

Regarding the elections, it’s like the countless shades of grey are melting into a sharp black-and-white picture, into a single dilemma – elections or boycott? Like there’s no more time to question the quality of the electoral process, the substantial issues that are defining whether voters will be enabled to express their free will and make decisions on the grounds of relevant information and knowledge about diversified political offers.

Right now, it is pretty much late for significant improvements in the process that is critical for democracy, but even seven months ago, when the inter-party dialogue on the electoral conditions was beginning, one could also sense the weak faith amongst the participants that much could (or should) really be done for the sake of the free and fair elections. Not to mention how difficult it was for Crta in the previous years to grab any of the local stakeholders’ attention for its efforts aimed on raising the standards of the election process.

What has been conducted in relation to improving the elections in the last months could be described as too many changes, but too little hope. Although Serbia for the first time legally defined a public resource and election campaign, set up the deadlines for the Anti-Corruption Agency to act upon complaints during campaign period, or initiated steps towards verifying the Voter Registry, this could not hide the fact that the Government rejected, inverted the content or underperformed in implementation of many substantial measures.

The good practice not to change electoral laws in the election year, recommended by the Venice Commission, and also endorsed by all participants in the 2019 dialogue was breached. More changes were made within the electoral system in a few weeks than in the previous 20 years. Moreover, it was all done without proper debate and careful consideration of the impact those changes would have. The last minute state interventions within the electoral system design and representation rules only seem to be aimed on blurring the fact that the seats in the parliament will still be won under dubious electoral conditions.

To stress once again, it is not up to us to do the get-out-to-vote or the boycott campaign. CRTA is not going to do that. But we surely are meticulously observing everything that is relevant for the quality of the elections and we will not restrain from saying our judgement on how democratic, fair and free they are.

One more thing on impartiality – yes, we are impartial toward political players, but in a wider picture we have our side. We are standing by democracy. The elections, as we see them, are not just a mere technical operation that can be done, even in order to preserve status quo. The elections cannot be a cheap price to pay to put on a label of democracy. The free and fair elections are the very essence of democracy.

At the moment, we feel that, locally and globally, democracy trembles with fear as the key message of Crta’s ongoing campaign puts it. Weakening institutions, eroding media freedoms, fading social dialogue, growing instability in the region, rising extremisms… Those are big sources of fears.

We are calling citizens to join us in overcoming the fears and defending the essential democratic values. Because, on the opposite to democracy, we see only more fears.

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