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Andrikiene: SEAM to North Macedonia in same format as missions to Serbia, Croatia and Poland

Laima Andrikiene, Head of Mission, ODIHR Special Election Assessment Mission (SEAM) to North Macedonia in an interview with MIA stresses that ODIHR and the Mission to North Macedonia are committed to fulfilling its mandate of monitoring these important elections despite the challenges.

Skopje, 12 July 2020 (MIA) – Laima Andrikiene, Head of Mission, ODIHR Special Election Assessment Mission (SEAM) to North Macedonia in an interview with MIA stresses that ODIHR and the Mission to North Macedonia are committed to fulfilling its mandate of monitoring these important elections despite the challenges.

“The applied format allows for comprehensive observation of the electoral process, which we see as process way beyond the election day, and I want to re-assure you, that the ODIHR and its Special Election Assessment Mission to North Macedonia are committed to fulfilling its mandate of monitoring these important elections despite the challenges,” she tells MIA.

The recent ODIHR election observation, she adds, deployed to observe presidential elections in Poland or parliamentary elections in Serbia have the same format, i.e. Special Election Assessment Missions.

“At the same time I would like to underline that North Macedonia is a sovereign country that has the responsibility to guarantee fair and democratic elections for the benefit of all its citizens,” says Andrikiene.

Read the full interview below:

ODIHR on June 22 kicked off its Special Election Assessment Mission to observe the early parliamentary elections by an invitation of the Macedonian authorities, which are being held amid unprecedented conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What are your impressions from the election process so far? Are there any remarks about how OSCE principles and international standards for democratic election processes are observed?

During last three weeks we had meetings not only with the leaders and/or campaign managers of all bigger political parties, but also of the smaller ones, which did not have their representatives in the parliament, also a number of NGOs involved in election observation, like MOST, CIVIL, and others. The State Election Commission as well as the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Interior as well as other state institutions are our interlocutors during this election campaign.

We had meetings at the Constitutional Court, Ministry of Health, also meetings with the representatives of the Administrative Court, members of the Commission for Infectious Diseases etc. In the course of this week I personally accompanied by other Core Team members visited a number of Municipal Election Commissions, in Gostivar, Vrapciste, Tetovo, Kumanovo, and Ilinden, where we had meetings with presidents, secretaries, and commissions’ members.

ODIHR observation missions are committed to the principle of non-interference and hence we do not issue assessment before the election day, but on 16 July we will issue a statement of preliminary findings and conclusions regarding the electoral process. On the same day we will hold a press conference to present these findings. Our Final Report will be published some 8 weeks after election day, with conclusions and any potential recommendations.

The mission includes a core team of nine international experts. According to official data of the State Election Commission, you have 47 international observers who are accredited for Election Day. Who is included in your team of observers and which aspects of the election process will be monitored?

Our mission is closely and in-depth following all aspects of the electoral process. The Core Team consists of 9 members from 9 OSCE participating states. I myself am from Lithuania, Deputy Head of Mission – from Poland, other members of the Core Team are from the United States, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Spain, Belarus, Hungary, and Kyrgyzstan. Our analysts are covering topics including: election administration, voter registration, political campaign and campaign finance, media coverage of the elections, complaints/appeals and dispute resolution mechanisms, and the overall legal framework for the electoral process.

The mission includes a comprehensive media monitoring element throughout the campaign period, which will enhance and contribute to the assessment of the campaign. For the current format of the Special Election Assessment Mission deployed to North Macedonia we accredited 26 observers, and that includes the international experts and national support staff.

Macedonian authorities have adopted voting protocols in line with the recommendations of the health authorities. Do you have any remarks involving the protocol and is it going to affect the voters’ turnout having in mind the experiences from the parliamentary elections in Serbia and Croatia and the presidential elections in Poland?

We are here to assess the compliance of the electoral process with international commitments and standards as well as with the national legislation. We are very interested in following the measures that are being applied to different stages of electoral process due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we are also closely following the adjustments to the voting day procedure.

At the same time I would like to underline, that we ourselves live and work strictly following their provisions.

There are many circumstances that determine the turnout and every country is different. The parliamentary elections in Serbia and Croatia had the turnout lower than in previous elections, but still high: in Serbia – 48,88 per cent and in Croatia – 46,9 per cent. On the other hand, in Poland the turnout in the first round of presidential elections – 64,51 per cent – was one of the highest in the country’s history of democratic elections.

What kind of activities will you carry out on Election Day considering the limited number of observers and the untraditional type of mission due to the pandemic?

We all live and work in this country in the same environment, our observation activities are also influenced by the COVID pandemic and our mission has to adapt to the current situation. Our mission has to limit its travels to a minimum in order to minimize our epidemiological footprint in this country; our travels on E-Day will be limited also because we are prioritizing safety of the observers and of the citizens of the host country.

Traditionally, OSCE/ODIHR presents preliminary results about the election process a day after the elections and the final election report will be presented in two months’ time. Could the report be disputed in the country as a result of the untraditional character of the mission, since it is a Special Election Assessment Mission?

COVID pandemic creates many challenges to all electoral stakeholders in all countries concerned: the election administration, the electoral contestants and also to election observation activities. Our Special Election Assessment Mission started its work in Skopje on the 22 June, i.e. before the official kick-off of the election campaign, and it is deployed until 23 July.

The recent ODIHR election observation deployed to observe presidential elections in Poland (1st round – 28 June, 2nd round – 12 July) or parliamentary elections in Serbia (28 June) have the same format, i.e. Special Election Assessment Missions.

The applied format allows for comprehensive observation of the electoral process, which we see as process way beyond the election day, and I want to re-assure you, that the ODIHR and its Special Election Assessment Mission to North Macedonia are committed to fulfilling its mandate of monitoring these important elections despite the challenges.

At the same time I would like to underline that North Macedonia is a sovereign country that has the responsibility to guarantee fair and democratic elections for the benefit of all its citizens.

Violeta Gerov

Photos by Frosina Naskovikj

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