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Monitoring proves the necessity to improve the regulations

Monitoring of city elections in Belgrade, which was conducted by Transparency Serbia, related to the official's campaign, its reflection in the media, financing from budget, advertising in the media and work of state bodies, proves the necessity of improvement the regulations and greater activities of state bodies in the control of the election's and campaing's conduction.

Misuse of public office in the campaign by city officials, party's engagement of the President of Serbia, whose name was worn on the electorial list of his party and the dominant presence of this list in the media primarly thanks to the activities of Aleksandar Vucic as President of the country are the main characteristics of campaing for the election of councilors in the City Assembly of Belgrade.

This Aleksandar Vucic's list or its representatives appeared 294 times on the cover pages of daily newspapers in positive context,  94 more than all other lists combined. Among the members of Government the most active in "public officials campaigning" was the Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, followied by Ministers Šarčević and Vulin. Key city officials, mayor Mali and city manager Vesic, increased activity by 50% compared to non-election period. Despite the  undoubted political significance for the entire country, the elections were only the third most important on the Belgrade-based  daily newspapers' front pages (behind the theme of Kosovo, primarily for of the murder of Oliver Ivanovic, and the themes murder of singer Jelena Marjanovic), with 49 mentions (12,4%) on the cover pages.

We noticed several breaking of regulations in the campaign, as well as great number of activities of public officials that are not illegal, but are exploiting public office in order to enable the further promote of the party or the party list. None of these phenomena has not been examined by the competent authority (Public Prosecutor's Office, Anti-Corruption Agency, Regulatory body for electronic media) or at least the public had not been informed about it. The elections have shown that some rules are illogical because they allow to appear electoral lists with intentionally similar names to other lists, or to include as holders persons who are not candidates for councilors and potential mayoral, or head of the list to be the person who at the time of surrender existed only in fiction.

24 electoral lists participated in the elections, 14 having under 1% of the votes, and four of them have received fewer votes than they had to collect signatures for the submission of candidatures. For seven lists did not vote even all of their controllers at the voting stations, who are paid from the budget. This data can be a reason for questioning the validity of the collected documents for participation in the election, but also a reason to reconsider the current system of payment of controllers. For these purposes, one million euros from the budget. was spent Half of the money (over 58 million RSD) was paid to the representatives of the electoral lists who had no chance to cross the electoral threshold (even “natural threshold, which is valid for a minority list). Even 22,3 million was paid for representatives of the parties even though they already had their members at the polling station on the basis of representation in the permanent composition of Polling Station Committee (SPP, DP, SPS). On the basis of representation in the previous part of the City Assembly, the list around SNS had 3,9 times more of controllers then other lists.

Election campaign was shorter, with less paid travels of meetingers and fewer budged funding, so it was cheaper compared with national elections campaigns. However, even now for TV advertising was spent about 2 million of euros, and in print over 300.000. On the other side, the participants had very low budget from the city budget (less than 3.000 euros per electoral list), which put in highly privileged position the government representatives, to whom are available to he other channels, beside paid advertisements, to announce itself to the citizens. From the budget of the City of Belgrade for financing of this year's campaign was allocated 37.430.444 dinars (317.173 euros), which is per 7% lower as it should be according to the law. Maximum contribution from physical persons was 957.860 dinars, and from companies ten times more.

To cover the cost of the campaign, based on electorial success, SPP can expect 147.000 Euros, the list headed by Djilas about 60.000 euros, Sapic's list 25.000 and coalition SPS-JS 20.000 Euros. Thanks to the amendments to the Law on financing political activities from 2014, parties which have “surplus” money from budgetary grants for the financing of regular work, based on large number of members of parliament in the Republic Assembly, may wihout limitation, reroute that money to the election campaign, not only the republican elections, but for local elections also. 

About 70% of campaign expences on TV stations and 77% in print goes for the SPP list, second-ranked are Djilas's list for TV advertising (14,7%) and SPS-US for print (10,2%). This was one more election on which the citizens did not have access to the data on income and expenditures of the campaign while it lasts, because financial reports would be submitted only one month after the announcement of the final results.

Electorial programmes were, by tradition, mostly undeveloped and in some cases seriously interfered with the jurisdiction of the national authorities or the (science) fiction. This is a good reminder of the proposal which Transparency-Serbia made five years ago: that at the beginning of campaing, each participant in the election must submit and publish not just  list of candidates, but also a program for which it stands. That every promise be accompanied by explanation of the sources of financing. And then, that someone (most relevant independent state body – Fiscal Council) give that opinion on finance basis of that program.

The monitoring findings confirm the need for essential changes in Serbia regulations relating to the election campaign and its financing, advertising and the work of state bodies. In addition  to the recommendations made in this regard Transparency-Serbia since 2004. and recommendations  of other civil society organisations, Serbia has at its disposal recommendations of relevant international organisations, above all the ODIHR, which does not act.

In addition, the state of Serbia did not fulfill any obligation undertaken by the National Strategy for Combating corruption, which was adopted by the National Assembly in 2013, as well as the Action Plan for the negotiations with the European Union on Chapter 23, which was adopted on conclusion of the Government from April 2016. Namely, despite the fact that the deadlines passed, the first 2014, and then the 2016, the Law on financing political activities was not improved, neither the Law on Anti-Corruption Agency improved in part related to the activities of public officers in the campaign. Since in Serbia almost every second year held elections, and enter “Election year” is an excuse for the fact that the rules do not change, Transparency-Serbia considers that process of improving regulations has to start immediately.

Official's campaign

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic had fewer promotional activities that in out-of-electorial period. This period is characterized by a number of his other activities, especially meetings with officials, where one can see that the number of exceed three times the number of similar activities that had the previous President of Serbia. These events had significantly media publicity. Beside this, Vucic was active as party's official, and that is what previous President of Serbia (Tomislav Nikolic) almost never did.

Observed officials[1]  had during four weeks totally 339 activities, from which 193 promotional. It is 72% more then the number of promotional activities (112) in observed  non-election period in 2017 (August/September).

Among the members of the Government, a significant increase in number of promotional activities compared with non-election period have Ana Brnabic (433%) and Mladen Sarcevic (157%). A large number of promotional activities had Aleksandar Vulin (21 for four weeks), but not recorded extreme growth compared with non-election period (75%), due to the fact that Vulin is in permanent campaign from 2014.

Belgrade mayor Siniša Mali and city maanger Goran Vesić  have about 50% higher number of promotional activities than in non-election period, and most activities in observed sample in absolute numbers  (30 Mali, 24 Vesić) .

TS observed seevral suspected violation of laws (The Law on Anti-Corruption Agency, Law on Election of Deputies, the Law on the Foundations of the Education System, the Ordinance on the obligations of providers of media services during the election campaign, the Law on Public Enterprises, Law on financing political activities). The TS has requested more than one competent authority to disclose whether they have acted in relation to individual cases within their  jurisdiction.

Media monitoring of the official's campaign – electronic media

Officials had so many activities, that even supportive media fail to report on all of them within their evening news. Almost without any exception, media reported on activities of Aleksandar Vucic. It also stands for almost all activities of all city officials in the news of Studio B. 

Reports on activities of the President of Serbia and also the President of the SPP, whose name carries a list gathered around Progressives, Aleksandar Vucic lasted for nearly 3.000 seconds in the news of five monitored TV stations in two days of the campaign - 20th and 28th of February. If you add 2.500 seconds on the activities of the Government members from parties from the list “Aleksandar Vucic”, the actions of city officials from SPP and reports on the list “Aleksandar Vucic” in electorial blocs or within the news, the sum is 10.940 seconds, which is four times more than the time all other lists (23 of them, including Socialists and their officials) got together - 2,790

On Friday, March 2nd Vucic, the republic and city officials from SPP had 1,853 seconds in the news, the Socialists 353, while the others, those who are not officials, were not on screens, due to electorial silent.

Media monitoring of the official's campaign – cover pages of daily newspapers

List Aleksandar Vucic was by far the most common on the front pages of daily newspapers in Belgrade, with 294 appearances in positive context, which is 94 more than the other lists together. For dominance is most deserving  Aleksandar Vucic, who, as the head of state and as president of the party, was on front pages 195 times. Out of these 171 in a positive context, nine neutral and 15  negative.

Second-ranked per number of cover pages was the list headed by Dragan Djilas, but out of 128 articles, 76 was in negative tone, 70 of those in the tabloids.

Daily newspapers – the main topics on the front pages

Transparency Serbia has done an analysis of the main topics on the front pages of the press during the seven weeks of the electorial campaign. The elections were only third theme in frequency behind Kosovo and Jelena Marjanovic.

Kosovo was the main theme of the 68 out of total of 397 of cover pages in observed period, and the reason is the murder of Oliver Ivanovic, with 43 of the 68 cover pages dedicated to Kosovo, and further 15 was provided by Aleksandar Vucic and his visit to the province.

Second topic at the frequency was the investigation related to 2016 murder of singer Jelena Marjanovic – 49 front pages, or 12,4%. Elections was only in third place with 47 cover pages.

The essential features of the electorial process

These elections were also accompanied by numerous allegations regarding the accuracy of the electoral roll or targeted changes in the electorial body. Authorities and the opposition did not agree on the data, but it remains to be seen whether things are clear in any future proceedings on the basis of criminal charges. In terms of the realisation of active voting rights, Belgrade has got 5-6 competitors from the ranks of real, as self-appointed minority parties that will fight for the census of 0.91% of the vote (instead of 5% which is valid for all others). Otherwise, only one national minority has in Belgrade more than 0,6% members. The regulations in this respect nothing has changed.

This time there was no detected a single case of mass falsification of signatures for the participations on elections. However, there are the circumstances that cast doubt as to the validity of the documents necessary for participation in the elections, and above all is the fact that four electorial lists collected less votes than it was neccessary to collect for verfication of signatures in support of the candidacy. At the very least, this fact creates the need to take additional control of election documents.

The elections have shown that some rules are illogical because they allow to appear some electorial lists with intentionally similar names to other lists, that lists' holders include persons who are not candidates for councilors or potential mayoral, or that head of list is the person who at the time of submission even existed only in fiction.

It seems that things are worse when it comes to collectiong of “sure votes” and “interviewing” voters live, with parties using some official evidences, or having data bases with mobile phone numbers. Presumably, neither could be acquired without violating the privacy of personal data.

The political significance of this citizens' proclamatin has by far surpassed one local election. This was visible at every step, beginning with the “heavy artillery” that the authorities engaged in through a deliberately designed functionary campaign, as well as messages that at first glance have nothing to do with the elections until the decision of the opposition leaders to engage directly in these electins not through local committees.

Special feature of this campaign is the fact that the strongest party nominated in the fore many people known outside of the politics world and that some of them, as the most normal thing, said they would not sit in the pews councilor. It is equally interesting that the opposition highlighted list of their candidates for mayor (indirectly elected by the councilors), while the ruling party left their voters without that information.

Electorial programmes, by tradition, were mostly undeveloped and in some cases seriously interfered with the jurisdiction of the republic authorities or in (science) fiction. This is a good reminder of the proposal which Transparency-Serbia made five years ago: that for the beginning each participant in the elections must submit and publish not just a list of candidates, but also the programme for which that stands for. That every promise be accompanied by an explanation of the source of financing. And then, that someone (most relevant state body- the Fiscal Council) give its opinion on the financial justification of that programme.

According to many aspects the campaign was smaller in scope than the previous. There were fewer big gathering with citizens, media advertisments, billboards, posters. In addition, all these activities were carried out only in the final 2-3 weeks of the campaign. The reasons for such behavior are primarily financially, even when it comes to the largest part of the opposition, and probably it is a marketing appraisal, when it comes to the main party of the governement. Financing of the election  campaign was not among the most noteworthy topics, except through the accusations of the authorities that behind one list are “tycoons” and apparently excessive valuation of the campaign of an opposition candidate (allegedly 10 million euros, which, for example, all the lists together reported  expenses for presidental elections 2017)

Data on revenues and expenditures of the campaign will not be known for a long time. Namely, the deadlines which participants on the elections have for submitting financial reports to the Anti-Corruption Agency is 30 days after the end of the elections. Before tht they have an obligation to publish (on their website) only Annexes, the value of which exceeds the average salary in Serbia. This legal solution is illogical, and Serbia mid-2016 received a recommendations to provide public dana while the campaign lasts, but did nothing to change the law. Otherwise, the Law on financing of political activities, which regulates this matter should be changed in 2014, in line with national anti-corruption strategy. In the meantime, the deadlines and the Action Plan for Chapter 23 negotiations with the EU have expired. Taken into consideration that the elections will maybe repeted on some polling stations, that would mean a furhter delay of reporting of the source of revenue and the cost structure of the campaign.

From the budget of the City of Belgrade for financing of this year's election campaign was allocated a total of 37.430.444 dinars (317.173 euros). On the other hand, according to the parameters of Article 20 st. 1 of the Law on financing political activities (0,07% of tax revenue) it should be allocated 40.078.449 dinars  (339.611 euros) or about 7% more what is currently planned by actual Decision on the Budget of the City. That is how much the participants on the elections will be damaged. It is interesting  that so far there were no visible reaction to this nipping, which is not negligible. This can be good illustration of (no) significance of these budgetary grants for serious presentation of electorial lists and announced mayoral candidates. Part of this money is divided equally to all participants in the campaign to pass the election guarantee.

Based on the success of the election, the number of seats won – parties, coalitions and groups of citizens will get even per 272.221 dinars (2.307 euros) for each mandate, but also in this case the initial financing will have to provide other sources. This means that the list of which exceeds census and win 6 mandats in Belgrade's Assembly on both grounds profit  1.945.249 dinars (16.483 euros) in compensation costs to finance their campaign.

The only good consequence of the current legislation on campaign financing from the city budget is that the election campaign is a bit cheaper. But, it further emphasizes the advantage of electorial  lists that have access to other public resources and greater support in the media compared with political competition. Namely, the amendments to the Law on financing political activities by the end of 2014, that are not made in accordance with the anti-corruption strategy, significantly increased discrepancy among (large) parliamentary parties and all others, especially non-parliamentary opposition.

Thanks to these changes, parties which remain “surplus” money from the budgetary grants for the financing of regular work, based on a large number of members of parliament in the Republic Assembly may, without limitation, that money channeled to the election campaign, not only for republican elections, but also for elections in some local governement. As a result 'taxpayers' money is spent contrary to its initial purpose, and thereby endagers the equality of participants in the elections. Another unsolved problem with even more serious consequences is the “official's campaign”, ie the activities of republican or city officials who are supposed to perform as part of their additional work, and in fact would not have been managed in such a way or in that scope if there weren't local elections.

The institutions were passive. National Assembly was not in session, even when under the Constitution should, in the first two days of March. The Supervisory Board has not formed since 2000, so not for this (only local) elections could not help where other institutions fail.

Anti-Corruption Agency listed with the information that will monitor advertising in the media, as well as in terms of the maximum value of the contributions. However, it did not react in any of the cases of suspected violation of rules on campaign financing or rules on the separation of public and political office. The agency has not withdrawn its earlier controversial opinions (regarding the use of official vehicles). Moreover, just before the election campaign, the person who was a member of a political pary was appointed director of the Agency, which raises the possibility that the Agency could carry out its control function, given the powers of the director and the absence of a deputy.

The regulatory body for electronic media reacted, but selectively.  In  neither case Regulator has not said anything that would concern the examination of the violation of the rules, even in cases of obvious violation of the law (eg. the appearance of the candidates in entertainment programmes). On its website there is no information on the consideration of any charges against electronic media. The only visible thus REM dealt with is deciding of the conformity of the three pre-election video with certain provisions of the Law on Advertising (comparative advertising, using the identity of another persons without approval).

Once again, public prosecutors did not come out with a call to citizens to report a criminal offense, such as suspected vote-buying, illegal financing and misuse of public resources. As a result, Serbia again has made no progress in the investigation possibly committed criminal acts of this kind. 

Monitoring proves the necessity of improvement the regulations and greater activities of state bodies