ODIHR Presents Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions

Candidates could campaign freely and fundamental freedoms were widely respected in North Macedonia’s local elections, but numerous gaps in the law and legislative changes close to election day undermined legal stability and the largest parliamentary parties enjoy systemic advantages in the distribution of public resources for campaigning, according to international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). According to Tana de Zulueta, who heads ODIHR’s Election Observation Mission (EOM), though it was good to see a large number of candidates freely campaigning throughout the country, it was apparent from ODIHR’s observation that the biggest parties have used the law to carve out a predominance in the political field. “This clearly skews the system to their advantage,” she stressed on Monday. The fingerprint system problems were among the issues pointed out in the press-release, issued on Monday. “Biometric voter identification was introduced in North Macedonia for the first time in these elections, and while the step was generally welcomed as a fraud-prevention measure, the timeline for its nationwide implementation lacked any pilot project or comprehensive testing. On election day itself, frequent problems with the biometric identification devices were noted. The opening and voting process was positively assessed across the country, but there were issues such as group voting, as well as procedural errors during the counting and tabulation. Amendments to election legislation had broad political support but were adopted only a month before the election with no public debate or consultation, which is not in line with international good practice. The election administration met most legal deadlines and made efforts to adapt to several late amendments. However, its capacity and ability to carry out its work independently was strained by a lack of permanent staff and vacancies in key positions. Despite an active and generally peaceful election campaign, issue-based debates were overshadowed by increasingly negative rhetoric, which particularly targeted women candidates. Gender equality and women’s rights were largely absent from party campaigns, in which women also remained under-represented. Observers also noted isolated cases of candidate intimidation, as well as allegations of pressure on candidates to withdraw and vote-buying,” it was pointed out, inter alia. The Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions is available at the following link: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/501307.