Montenegro: Non inclusive process and legal shortcomings negatively affected presidential election

Montenegro: Non inclusive process and legal shortcomings negatively affected presidential election

Montenegro’s presidential election was competitive, with candidates able to campaign freely and fundamental freedoms for all citizens respected, but the candidate registration was not inclusive and longstanding shortcomings in the legal framework and campaign finance regulations remained unaddressed, international observers said in a statement today.

The joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), and the European Parliament (EP) found that while the legal framework forms an adequate basis for democratic elections, numerous gaps and ambiguities in areas from election legislation to campaign finances undermine its effectiveness and demonstrate the need for comprehensive reform.

“It was good to see a competitive election take place in a peaceful atmosphere,” said Tamás Meszerics, head of the ODIHR election observation mission. “But still there are numerous loopholes and ambiguities in the law. This allows the authorities to make arbitrary decisions and contestants to circumvent the rules. These are issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

The election took place against the background of an ongoing institutional crisis and a political impasse, leading to the announcement of early parliamentary elections just three days before the presidential vote. While the election administration managed the electoral preparations efficiently and generally met legal deadlines, most members of the State Election Commission voted along political lines on key decisions including candidate eligibility, undermining public trust. The lack of a functioning Constitutional Court in the run-up to the election left a number of key issues without judicial review.

“Whatever the outcome of the election is, the newly elected president will have to work loyally together with the parliament to ensure that all state institutions function smoothly,” said Joe O’Reilly, head of the PACE delegation. “The political decision makers need to undertake a series of reforms, beginning with the electoral law. It is also vital to ensure the functionality of the Constitutional Court, which is the electoral authority of final appeal.”

In requesting citizenship and residence information for some potential candidates and denying registration on this basis, the election administration was discriminatory and went beyond legal procedures. At the same time, the law requiring at least two years of permanent residence in Montenegro before election day to be allowed to vote is missing clear criteria, while recent legal changes allow for arbitrary decisions that could disenfranchise eligible voters.

While the tone of the campaign in the run-up to the election was mostly neutral, some inflammatory speech was observed, and there were isolated incidents of violence and harassment as well as concerns over the potential use of state resources. The only woman candidate is under police protection and received threats over social networks during the campaign. Overall, women remain underrepresented political life. While there were some cases of disturbance around polling stations and the secrecy of the vote was not always protected, election day was calm and procedures were largely followed.

“The civic spirit of Montenegrin voters has clearly emerged during these elections. Everywhere we observed on election day we were welcomed with warmth,” said Tonino Picula, head of the EP delegation. “Polling station workers managed the process well in an overall calm atmosphere. This behaviour is an example that shows the way forward for the elected representatives of citizens, away from divisions and towards a common understanding of a better future for the country and for the socioeconomic wellbeing of all citizens.”

There is a diverse media scene in Montenegro. However, political polarisation and the limited advertising market make media outlets vulnerable to internal and external influence from both business and political interests. The public broadcaster’s main channel provided almost no news coverage, making an informed choice more difficult for voters. While private TV channels provided extensive coverage ahead of the election, three out of the four private channels monitored by the observation mission displayed clear bias in their coverage. There were also widespread concerns over the potential impact of foreign TV programing on the campaign.

The international election observation to the first round of the presidential election in Montenegro totalled 187 observers from 41 countries, made up of 149 ODIHR experts, long-term, and short-term observers, 24 from PACE, and 14 from the EP.

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