Parties mainly collected signatures for the presidential elections illegally, Radulović flees from surveillance for months

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) received information from the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information (AZLP) related to the conducted supervision of candidates for the last presidential elections. These supervisions were initiated by the CCE due to doubts about the legality of the collection of support signatures required to confirm the presidential candidacy by the State Election Commission (SEC).

CCE initiated these supervisions directly after the confirmation of candidacies for the presidential elections in March 2023. Despite that timely initiative, the supervisions were not successfully conducted for all seven candidates, not even after almost five months from the first round of elections.

Namely, the AZLP states that it was not possible to carry out the surveillance of the presidential candidate Jovan Radulović, to the public better known as Jodžir. Radulović did not submit a written statement on the circumstances regarding the manner and procedure of data processing, simultaneously refusing to answer the phone calls of the AZLP controller. The collection of support signatures by the candidate Radulović was in the public focus before the election, and given that they were collected through social networks, and that a large number of citizens subsequently reported the misuse of personal data by this candidate, appropriate procedures were initiated before the Prosecution. According to the report on campaign expenses, submitted to the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (ASK), Radulović received 25,379 euros from the budget for campaign purposes, of which he spent only 485 euros. This information, along with the fact that there is an obvious avoidance of supervision, must additionally motivate the competent authorities to determine whether the signatures were collected illegally and whether Radulović illegally acquired the conditions for confirming the candidacy, as well as the subsequent property gain.

Certain irregularities, whose removal was ordered, were noted by other candidates as well.

Namely, Democratic Montenegro (DCG), whose candidate was Aleksa Bečić, did not have a formed Protection Plan for special categories of personal data, neither had the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), whose candidate was Milo Đukanović. In addition, DPS did not have the Rules on the Protection of Personal Data, the Act on the Appointment of Persons Responsible for Data Protection, as well as records of the collection of personal data. The Social Democratic Party (SDP), whose candidate was Draginja Vuksanović Stanković, did not have Internal rules on the protection of personal data, a Protection Plan and records of the collection of personal data, while the Europe Now Movement (PES), whose candidate is the current President of Montenegro, Jakov Milatović, a Personal data protection plan and Personal data collection records were missing.

The only political entities where the irregularities were not established are New Serbian Democracy (NSD), whose candidate was Andrija Mandić, as well as United Montenegro (UCG), whose candidate was Goran Danilović. However, it is surprising that AZLP did not find by problematic that one of these subjects possessed copies of forms with given support signatures, which in the context of the Personal Data Protection Act would represent excessive processing of personal data, and which in this case are particularly sensitive.

Bearing in mind the observed irregularities, and the fact that there is an obstruction of authorities in the implementation of supervision, the CCE expects the prosecution to fully investigate all the cases of reported misuse of personal data by political entities and individuals who participated in these elections, and in which the findings of the AZLP can be useful.

At the same time, the CCE reminds of the need to change the normative framework that governs the procedure for collecting support signatures, which is the exclusive competence of the SEC, but also of the need to reform the electoral legislation, which must be a priority of the new parliamentary convocation, precisely to prevent these and similar abuses that traditionally accompany election procedures in Montenegro.

The initiative to check the legality of collecting signatures for the presidential elections is part of the programme of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE), supported through the Core grant regional project SMART Balkan – Civil society for a connected Western Balkans, which is implemented by the Centre for the Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD), the Centre for Research and of Public Policy (CRPM) and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM) and is financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway. The content of the text is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CPCD, CRPM, IDM and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.

Damir Suljević, Programme associate