Montenegro: Presidential runoff well run despite harsh rhetoric, international observers say

Montenegro: Presidential runoff well run despite harsh rhetoric, international observers say

The second round of Montenegro’s presidential election was competitive and as in the first round candidates were able to campaign freely with fundamental freedoms respected, but the tone was increasingly negative and the gaps in the legal framework became ever more apparent, international observers said in a statement today.

The joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the European Parliament (EP), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) found that while the legal framework is adequate for democratic elections, regulation is lacking on almost all aspects of the second round. This included the election administration, voter registration, the campaign and campaign finance, and the media, all of which led to considerable legal uncertainty. At the same time, the election administration addressed some legal deficiencies and added important safeguards that increased the integrity of the process as a whole.

“There was a genuine political debate in Montenegro ahead of yesterday’s runoff, and both candidates had the opportunity to reach out to voters,” said Tamás Meszerics, head of the ODIHR election observation mission. “But to strengthen the democratic process going forward, the country urgently needs to work on its legal framework to close loopholes and ensure transparency and accountability.”

Overall, the runoff was well managed. However, observers noted that many of the first-round results remained unpublished, leading to a lack of transparency, and there was no opportunity to effectively challenge the results ahead of the second round. In addition and despite the procedural shortcomings identified on election day in the first round, no further training for relevant election staff was organized. Disturbingly, serious threats were received by a citizen observer organization ahead of the runoff. Election day itself was generally calm and the voting process well managed.

“The general peaceful atmosphere we have observed during election day on this second round of the presidential elections reconfirms our positive impression of the Montenegrin citizens’ attachment to democracy,” said Georgios Kyrtsos, head of the EP delegation. “Members of the Polling Boards showed commitment and good cooperation amongst themselves, helping voters along the voting process. This resulted in a smooth voting process in every polling station we observed.”

While the campaign ahead of the presidential runoff took place in a generally calm atmosphere, a more negative tone took hold, with the candidates seeking to discredit each other in their campaign messaging. Voters had additional opportunities to learn about the candidates, including through a televised debate.

“By voting in this presidential election in such a relaxed atmosphere, Montenegrins have proved that their country has reached a high level of democratic culture and they deserve congratulations,” said Joe O’Reilly, head of the PACE delegation. “It is now crucial that Montenegro continue on its path of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, without outside negative interference. It is also essential that the Montenegrin state institutions collaborate in good faith, in order to facilitate the functioning of the political and legislative structure of the country. We hope that both this presidential election and the coming parliamentary ones will make this possible.”

While both candidates had equal access to the public media, it was noted that both local public broadcasters as well as private media were biased in their coverage. In general, the polarization of the media landscape continued along political lines ahead of the runoff, and media outlets remained highly vulnerable to internal and external influence from corporate and political interests.

The international election observation to the second round of the presidential election in Montenegro totalled 38 observers from 27 countries, made up of 28 ODIHR experts and long-term observers, 3 from PACE, and 7 from the EP.


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