Peterle: Pressure on candidates&voters in Kosovo restrains campaign activities of entities competing with the Srpska Lista

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We are aware of pressure exerted on candidates and political entities and have been meeting with candidates and political entities concerned. The EU EOM has received credible reports about politically motivated dismissals of public workers. Pressure on candidates and voters in Kosovo Serb majority communities has restrained campaign activities of entities competing with the Srpska Lista and its candidates. The Final Report for the June Election states that the elections were competitive and generally peaceful, but that the electoral process was negatively influenced by an insufficient response to violence and intimidation in places where Kosovo Serbs live. Within the Kosovo Serb community, the campaign environment was marred by a deep pattern of intimidation, and instances of violence from within the Kosovo Serb community against candidates and voters, as well as insufficient response from law enforcement agencies. This included pressure on individual candidates to withdraw and recurrent violent incidents specifically targeting political parties and candidates challenging the dominance of Srpska Lista. We will continue to closely monitor reports of pressure on candidates and voters in all 38 municipalities, including in Kosovo Serb majority communities. EU election observation missions yet do not interfere in the organisation of the election itself. Instead, they collect and analyse factual information concerning the election process and provide an independent expert assessment which is made public. This is an excerpt from the answers exclusively provided by Alojz Peterle, the Chief Observer of the EU EOM Municipal and Mayoral Elections Kosovo 2017 to KoSSev. The interview was conducted through emails. Peterle has emphasised that any intimidation of candidates and their families is unacceptable. The right to stand as a candidate and to campaign freely are one of the key prerequisites for genuine democratic elections. What the EU EOM has witnessed during the campaign and  on Election Day, Mr. Peterle will present in a preliminary statement at a press conference in Pristina within 48 hours of election day on 22 October.

What is the nature of your first reports from the field , primarily from the areas inhabited by the Kosovo Serb population. Are there any pressures reported and if so of what kind?

We are aware of pressure exerted on candidates and political entities and have been meeting with candidates and political entities concerned. We are also aware that pressure on candidates and voters in Kosovo Serb majority communities has restrained campaign activities of entities competing with the Srpska Lista and its candidates. The EU EOM has received credible reports about politically motivated dismissals of public workers, which we are seriously looking into. All political actors should demonstrate their commitment to democractic principles by firmly rejecting all forms of intimidation, violence and pressure. I would add my voice to public comments by the EUSR/Head of EU Office and to the statement by the Quint (embassies of France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and the United States) from 21 September strongly condemning anyone who tries to influence the election process or the choice of voters through intimidation, threats and pressure.

In the event that your Mission confirms the existence of continuous pressure and violence over candidates and part of the population, above all, the families and sympathizers of these parties, do you think that the elections can be conducted in a fair and free manner in this kind of atmosphere?

Any intimidation of candidates and their families is unacceptable. The right to stand as a candidate and to campaign freely are one of the key prerequisites for genuine democratic elections. All political actors should demonstrate their commitment to democratic principles by firmly rejecting all forms of intimidation, violence and pressure.

Are candidates from Serb lists available to your Mission for meetings, and if so which ones? Are there some, who are avoiding a conversation with the Mission and who are they?

What I can tell you is that the Mission met with candidates from all political parties across the entire political spectum including those in non-majority communities.

Are you familiar with the work of the CEC in detail, that is, have you followed the trail of irregularities registered so far, including for the past election?

The CEC is a permanent body (Kosovo institution) composed of 11 members. CEC sessions are open to observers, the public and the media. The Mission monitors these sessions on regular basis. The main activities of the Secretariat of the CEC (CECS) include registration and certification of political parties, voter information, voter service, and all operational work related to the election process. The Mission further observes the work of the Elections Complaints and Appeals Panel (ECAP) responsible for adjudicating election-related complaints. The forthcoming elections will be also supported in the North by the OSCE which will provide technical assistance to the polling staff there. We would like to point out that the CEC adopted an Action Plan based on the EU EOM Interim Recommendations, which addressed certain shortcomings identified by the previous EU EOM and identified related improvements which could be implemented prior to the October 2017 local elections and which did not require changes in the legal framework. It remains to be seen how many of those recommendations will be implemented during the current election process.

Have the irregularities you indicated in your final report for the legislative elections, including intimidation and violent acts, been removed for this election? Have preventative measures been undertaken? Have proceedings been initiated?

On 12 September 2017, I returned to present the Final Report. The Final Report states that the elections were competitive and generally peaceful, but that the electoral process was negatively influenced by an insufficient response to violence and intimidation in places where Kosovo Serbs live. Within the Kosovo Serb community, the campaign environment was marred by a deep pattern of intimidation, and instances of violence from within the Kosovo Serb community against candidates and voters, as well as insufficient response from law enforcement agencies. This included pressure on individual candidates to withdraw and recurrent violent incidents specifically targeting political parties and candidates challenging the dominance of Srpska Lista. We will continue to closely monitor reports of pressure on candidates and voters in all 38 municipalities, including in Kosovo Serb majority communities. EU election observation missions do not interfere in the organisation of the election itself. Instead, they collect and analyse factual information concerning the election process and provide an independent expert assessment which is made public.

How important is this Mission you are heading as Chief Observer for the electoral process in Kosovo, that is, for Serb-populated areas and the negative reports arriving from there?

The EU EOM assesses the whole electoral process against international and European standards for democratic elections as well as the laws of Kosovo. In addition to the Core Team of eight experts we have 20 long-term observers deployed to the field since 19 September covering all 38 municipalities across Kosovo, who will be joined by 77 short-term observers on election day.

The European Union expresses the full and convinced determination to continue supporting Kosovo on its European path. These are the third municipal elections since 2008. The purpose of EU election observation missions (EOMs) is to assist in holding elections of a high standard. In this context, the EU EOM conducts a comprehensive analysis of the electoral process and provides an impartial and informed assessment of the elections to strengthen the confidence of voters to participate freely. We also cooperate with the EUSR/EU Office staff on the ground and the EUSR/EU Office will have an important role to play in working on the follow-up to the EU EOM's recommendations. This EU Election Observation Mission, which in addition to the Core Team of eight experts has deployed also 20 long-term observers covering all 38 municipalities in Kosovo, will continue to follow all aspects of the election process, paying particular attention to these issues. In order to ensure that voters and candidates may freely express their opinion, we will pay great attention to this electoral aspect during these local elections. Members of our Core Team have also been visiting Kosovo Serb majority communities on a regular basis. I will present a preliminary statement at a press conference within Pristina 48 hours of election day. This statement will outline the EU EOM’s initial findings and conclusions. I would like to invite you to attend this press conference.

We shall report on it. Thank you for answering to KoSSev

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