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In the election campaign, blurred line between state and the party - a sharp and valuable report by ODIHR

The observation mission of the ODIHR already in the preliminary Report highlighted not only the shortcomings of legal solutions but also numerous severe violations of the law during the campaign and election day, among which are problems for which Transparency Serbia has been proposing concrete solutions for years.

The International Election Observation Mission report states that cases of buying votes, taking photos of ballots and influencing voters on who to vote for – which are criminal acts – have been observed. Although evidence of vote-buying mechanisms was presented even before the election, the prosecution did not react and instead shifted the responsibility to the election commissions.

The passivity of investigative bodies resulted in violations of the law on such a scale that criminal acts were not hidden even from international observers who visited individual polling stations. They observed, among others, at least nine cases of vote-buying, 22 voters taking photos of their ballots, and 20 attempts to influence voters on who to vote for.

In addition to numerous issues that Serbia should have solved based on the earlier recommendations of the ODIHR, the Report now mentions new problems. One of them is the possibility for voters to change their place of residence in order to vote in local elections in several places when elections are not held everywhere at the same time.

Regarding campaign financing and misuse of public resources, ODIHR's findings are broadly consistent with what TS has been pointed out and stands for. These are the introduction of limits on campaign expenses in order to reduce the inequality of participants in elections and the regulation of "third-party" spending as a mechanism for circumventing campaign finance rules.

ODIHR states that they were informed about the massive pre-election distribution of money to citizens, especially vulnerable groups with low incomes. TS has pointed out for years that such "legalised" buying of votes should be prohibited by law, as has been done in several countries in the region, which have faced similar practices. The Report emphasises that the current president dominated the campaign, marked by strong polarisation, aggressive rhetoric, discrediting of personalities, verbal violence, and inflammatory speech. According to ODIHR's assessment, fundamental freedoms in the campaign were violated by bias in the media, pressure on public sector employees and abuse of public resources. The attitude towards the public sector and public resources made "the border between the state and the party unclear".

It is recalled that the "key issues" from the previous election cycles - the abuse of public office and state resources and the separation of public office from activities during the campaign, i.e. "official campaign" –remain unresolved. TS advocates that these problems be solved by explicit legal prohibitions aimed at officials instead of partial solutions that refer to individual media and which, in practice, are easily circumvented.

Control of compliance with the rules that still exist for public officials was, in TS's opinion, inadequate, and ODIHR also pointed out shortcomings in this area in its Report. Thus, it is stated that "the lack of public intervention by the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption regarding misuse of public offices reduced the dissuasive effect of its sanctions. "