Those running outside of the Srpska Lista were more exposed to pressure during the pre-election campaign for Kosovo’s local elections, Alojz Peterle, the Head of the European Union’s Election Observation Mission, said for „Crno-beli svet“ (CBS) after presenting the preliminary findings of the Mission. He believes that the phenomenon of collective voting, which took place in Serb communities, cannot necessarily be considered pressure, because, according to him, the voters, in the end, are still alone behind the screen.
How would you rate the pre-election campaign and the electoral process in general? Was this process democratic?
– I think it was mostly democratic, positive and without any special problems. Both the nomination and registration of candidates went well. In some Serb areas there were pressures reported by our observers. If something has happened under pressure, then the right of individuals to stand as candidates or be elected takes place in circumstances that do not fully comply with democratic standards. We write about this in our report.
During the presentation of the preliminary findings of the EU Observation Mission, you noted that in the Serb majority areas there were intimidations of candidates, as well as certain pressures. What exactly does it mean, which cases is it related to? What kind of pressure, what type of intimidation?
– People were subjected to pressure not to run, when they were already candidates, some withdrew their candidacies, then they were under pressure whom to vote for, some even lost their jobs. So, these are the things that are included in our report.
If you compare 2013 and 2017, did something change when it comes to local elections in northern Kosovo?
– I think the situation is much better. At that time, it is known, the situation was different, a lot of people did not want to participate in the elections – they were now participating. They also took part in the parliamentary elections and I think that is a good fact. In that sense, we can certainly talk about a better situation.
Let’s go back to the intimidation you mentioned. You said that it was exerted, but not who the actors were. Were they certain political parties, who exactly did you think of?
– I will not speak about names, but it is obvious that this is a battle between different candidates or political subjects, and that those who were running outside of Srpska Lista were more exposed to such pressure.
The question you were asked at the conference was about collective voting. People went to the polls in groups. Your answer was that you cannot consider it a pressure or a kind of intimidation because it can be a cultural thing. On the other hand, the area of the Balkans is not unknown to you. Is there a culture of collective voting in the Balkans?
– I think we could find such a culture of voting in some areas. For example, in Slovenia, I have never seen people doing it in groups. They may come together, like, for example, an entire family, but, ultimately, you are alone with the ballot paper and you round up what you round up. I do not see automatic relations here, that, if voters come in groups, this is necessarily means some kind of pressure. This could be the case, for example, if that group was behind the screen, watching what one of them was doing, or, if there was some kind of pressure, then I would see a problem in that. If that’s something else, then I do not see a problem.
What would be your key recommendation for the majority Serb municipalities when it comes to the next local elections? What lesson should they learn from these elections in 2017?
– I think that the same applies to the whole of Kosovo, to follow the standards and rules that are in the law, as well as international standards. It would be hard if we were to live with a different understanding and different application of the same standards. I see this issue in a wider political context. For now, it is still not clear what the status, the concept, or, finally, the legal solution for Serb municipalities or Serbs in Kosovo will be. There are different assumptions about what might happen or what someone does not want to happen, and maybe because of that there was some kind of homogenization. I think that a citizen, an individual, should be placed at the center, and have a right to choose, to stand as a candidate, and to do so in a relaxed state without any pressure. I hope that development will move in that direction.
Mr. Peterle thank you for the interview!