The new president of the SEC should be qualified by expert references, not by the support of only one political structure

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) draws the attention of the interested public to the ongoing public call for the president of the State Election Commission of Montenegro (SEC), which is the opportunity for this institution to finally move along the path to necessary institutional healing.

CCE reminds that this Call occurred after the dismissal of the former president of the SEC, Aleksa Ivanovic, because the SEC he headed, on 28December 2020, refused to verify the mandate of the MP Suada Zoronjić, to replace Filipa Adžić, former MP of the Civic Movement United Reform Action (GP URA).

In the past period, the SEC has been in the public focus solely in the context of irrational spending of taxpayers` money, misuse of power, as well as overall unprofessional and non-transparent acting. Election of candidates with professional references referring to the election process, free from party calculations, is the only manner to re-establish human resources, after the continuous appointment of candidates who essentially were the preferences of the ruling structures. Therefore, CCE expresses hope that election among a larger number of candidates will be possible, which was not the case before, and that MPs will demonstrate responsibility in electing a candidate for this position who has the relevant knowledge, experience and credibility to perform this important function.

The legal norm that a candidate for the position of SEC president cannot be a member of the governing body of a political party has been played out very often by electing candidates close to the parliamentary majority. Continuance of such practice would lead to further damage of already fragile trust in the electoral process. This is even more important if we keep in mind the public commitment of all parliamentary entities to identify electoral reform as one of the priorities of multi-level dialogue.

OSCE observation mission reports stated that „measures to enable impartiality and professionalism of the election administration should be taken, especially for solving the possible conflict of interests and avoidance of political tension “. Also, it is noted that the SEC is facing a lack of strong governance, as well as a lack of management. Observations of the most relevant international organization in the electoral field confirm the need to change the current negative practice of electing the SEC president, whose key reference is party affiliation or political closeness with the current parliamentary majority, as well as the importance of the new SEC President having broader and more diverse parliamentary support to strengthen the SEC’s impartiality, given that this body has largely subordinated its work to various political influences that have resulted in numerous controversial decisions.

Due to some illegal decisions before the parliamentary elections last year, CCE submitted several criminal charges, some of which Special State Prosecutors` Office (SSPO) rejected without convincing argumentation, despite the indisputable evidence, noting that in these cases were no doubt of committing a criminal offense that is prosecuted ex officio. Thus, the criminal complaint related to the lease of premises in the Hilton hotel was recently rejected, for which as much as 70,000 euros were allocated for only 49 days of lease from the budget last year, while the possibility of using any of the state-owned premises or more affordable offer in some other hotels were not taken into consideration. Although there was a legal obligation, the right tender procedure was not conducted, nor the contract on the lease of business premises which the SEC signed with the hotel was certified by the authorized body, which was requirement for its validity. It would be interesting to determine what motivated prosecutors to reject these criminal charges.

CCE considers that focus of the new president must be directed towards terminating the current illegal practices, but also to strengthening the system of collective managing of this body and making decisions about important issues. Also, transparency of work should be accomplished through sessions open to the public and the media, as this would establish a greater degree of personal responsibility among SEC members, who are not yet subject to a Code of conduct by which their impartiality will be ensured, and which is one of the recommendations of OSCE/ODIHR missions. Efforts must be made also in proactivity in publishing relevant documents, particularly material from the session, but also in drawing up minutes, that have so far been very short and poor, so it was not possible to have insight into the decision-making process.

CCE expects that political entities will prove that they are ready for the change of political culture which will mean breaking the perception of the SEC as pray of the party. A necessary prerequisite for changing this negative practice is the appointment of the president of the SEC in accordance with the spirit of the regulation which intention is the genuine independence and distance of the first man of the institution from the interests of political subjects. Such election should be accompanied by measurable criteria during the selection of candidates or exclusively by achieved professional results related to the electoral system.

Damir Suljević, Programme associate