With bad assessments of the EC, without a president and necessary reforms, the SEC waits for new elections

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) points out that the European Commission’s Report on Montenegro for 2021 recognizes that the State Election Commission (SEC) was not up to the task during the reporting period, which included parliamentary and local elections in seven Montenegrin municipalities. The CCE reminds that this institution is waiting unprepared for the scheduled local elections in three municipalities, bearing in mind that does not have a president for five months.

The European Commission, citing a report by the OSCE/ODIHR, notes that the 2020 parliamentary elections were generally transparent and efficient, but that the SEC did not adequately fulfill its regulatory role. The EC also notes that important issues, such as the procedure for verification of supporting signatures for candidate registration, criteria for registration of the lists with national minority status, and the tabulation of results, remain to be addressed.

The report also notes that the right to complain is limited to cases of violations of the voting rights of voters themselves, which does not provide the full right to an effective remedy, hence, it is recommended to extend the right of voters to file complaints concerning all aspects of the election process.

Furthermore, the report states that the Parliament established the Committee for a comprehensive electoral reform in December 2020, with a mandate to propose legislative reforms by June 2021 at the latest, subsequently extended to the end of 2021, because the opposition leaving of the Committee made it practically dysfunctional. The Committee was tasked to propose numerous laws of importance for the election process, but also measures to strengthen the professionalism and transparency of the SEC.

In the previous period, the CCE pointed out several controversial decisions that the SEC adopted and later implemented. The public was also presented with the lack of information on the contents of the sessions, at which such decisions were made, because interested parties could be informed only through short minutes from the sessions. Therefore, the CCE emphasized the need to achieve transparency through the opening of sessions for the public and the media. This would also lead to a greater degree of personal responsibility among SEC members, who are not yet subject to a code of conduct in order to ensure their impartiality, which was one of the recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR missions.

The Call for the new president of the SEC was publicised a long time ago, the public was informed about the names of the candidates in mid-July, and at the end of July with all those candidates who complied with the MP’s invitation to present themselves directly. The CCE considers it important that the Parliament completes the process of electing a new SEC president as soon as possible and, thus, ensures the functioning of that body in its full composition, both due to the scheduled local elections for 5 December this year, and due to increasingly certain early elections.

CCE notes that, in the appointment of the new president of the SEC, the opinion of the OSCE Mission in Montenegro should be acknowledged and a person with extensive experience in the area of election and election administration, able to implement the EC recommendation, should be selected. In that manner, the previous negative practice of functioning of this institution would be ended, as it was often an instrument in achieving political aims. Therefore, the new president must be a credible professional person, willing to demonstrate a proactive approach and to genuinely contribute to the more quality election process.

Damir Suljević, Programme associate