The Center for Democratic Transition (CDT) calls on the State Election Commission (SEC) to provide us with unrestricted insight into all segments of the election process, including the candidacy process, urgently and in accordance with the law and internationally accepted standards of observing elections.
Specifically, last week the CDT, as authorised observers, requested the SEC to allow insight into signatures based on which candidacies for the presidency were confirmed. The SEC did not respond positively to our request but instead announced that it would seek the opinion of the Agency for the Protection of Personal Data and Free Access to Information. By doing so, the Commission acted contrary to its own behaviour during previous election cycles, when we were allowed to perform such insight and consequently discovered massive misuse of citizens’ data and counterfeiting of their signatures. That is why we are afraid that this reconsideration by the SEC, i.e. their concern for compliance with regulations on the protection of personal data, is really an attempt to prevent the discovery of similar phenomena this time as well. We are additionally surprised that the SEC does not prioritise compliance with the Law on the Election of Councillors and Members of Parliament since they are the only ones responsible for its implementation.
In this manner, the SEC prevents us from performing the tasks of election observers in a timely manner. However, we emphasised that the aim of our request is not to gain insight into the citizens’ personal data of citizens, but rather to assess the credibility of the documentation based on which the candidacies were confirmed. This approach of theirs becomes even more comical in light of the fact that we, as observers, have the right to access the voter list and the entire data in it.
The official authorisation to observe the elections, granted by the SEC, guarantees that we can monitor the elections and the work of the authorities in charge of the election process. Verifying signatures of support and confirmation of candidacies is an essential part of the election administration’s work. By denying the insight into signatures, the SEC prevents observers from performing the essence of their work.
In addition to national legislation and as a member of international organisations, Montenegro is obliged to respect the ratified international agreements and standards of these organisations. The right to observe elections is guaranteed by the OSCE’s Copenhagen Document and elaborated in numerous documents of both OSCE and the Council of Europe.
The obligations of OSCE member states related to democratic elections clearly envisage that observers must be provided with adequate access to all election procedures. Verifying the authenticity of signatures supporting a candidacy must be reasonable and applied in a non-discriminatory manner. That process must also be transparent, including openness to monitoring by representatives of political parties/candidates and election observers.
The Code of Good Practices of the Venice Commission also specifies that observers should be given the broadest possible opportunity to participate in the exercise of observing the elections and that observation should not be limited to election day itself. It should include the period of candidate registration and, if necessary, voter registration and the election campaign period. The Code also states that the law must be unambiguous as to which premises observers are not allowed to visit to avoid undue disturbing of their activities. Our Law on the Election of Councillors and Members of Parliament does not know any restrictions related to observers, so resorting to seeking restrictions in other laws is an example of abuse and violation of rights.
In conclusion, we demand that the SEC, as befits a professional institution, respond in writing to the request for insight into the signatures since we intend to defend our rights before the competent domestic and international institutions.
Executive Director of the CDT