We wish to inform you that ZAJEDNO , a democratic coalition bloc comprising the Serbian Renewal Movement, the Democratic Party and the Civil Alliance of Serbia, scored a landslike victory in local elections held in Serbia on Sunday, 17 November 1996. This democratic opposition bloc has won the majority of seats in 34 local councils in Serbia. The towns and cities in which the democratic opposition has won convincingly - including Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Uzice, Cacak and Sombor - account for over 60 percent of Serbia's total population.
It is well known that we have managed to win in spite of repression and a media blockade unprecedented in the democratic world. The waknesses of the electoral system, which make it undemocratic, and the illegal methods used to change the electoral results are described in the attachment to this letter.
The irregularities to which we draw your attention not only led to significant changes in the balance of local concils, but also being made to ensure the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) a majority in all these places. This could provoke serious unrest becouse the great majority of Serbia's citizens will feel that they have been cheated. ZAJEDNO intends to defend its electoral victory in Serbia's cities and will use all means given to it by the Electoral Law, the Serbian Constitution and international documents on human rights which oblige Serbia and Yugoslavia to respect the right of all citizens to express their will freely, and to associate, hold meetings and peaceful protests.
The clear intention of the SPS to annul the democratically expressed will of the great majority of Serbia's citizens has provoked public dissatisfaction and extreme tension. It is also clear that citizens are determined to defend their rights and freedom of political expression. On Tuesday, opposition supporters held protest rallies outside the town halls of more than 30 towns in Serbia, demanding that their freely expressed will be respected and na end be put to the falsification of electoral results. The situation id becoming increasingly dramatic nad, unfortunately, there is becoming increasingly extent nad outcome cannnot be predicted. ZAJEDNO is determined to ensure that the justified dissatisfaction of citizens does not result in unrest.
Since you have helped monitor the first round of the elections, albeit with great delay and without any real opportunity to completely understand the electoral procedure and the ways in completely undestand the electoral procedure and the ways in which it has been breached, we hope that you will fulfill this task to the end and take an interest in the second round of elections. These have just been completed and we take this opportunity to inform you of the results and the efforts to change these results. We hope that you will discuss these irregularities with officials of the Serbian goverment, particulary the president of Serbia, who are in a position to ensure respect of the Electoral Law and prevent its violation. A meeting held on Wednesday between the leaders of ZAJEDNO and the Serbian Ministers of Justice, Mr Arandjel Markicevic, produced no results becouse he declared that the electoral process was not under his jurisdiction.
We particularly draw your attention to the fact that the Republican Electoral Commission did not do its job throughout the elections, and effectively declared itself unualified. However, Article 38 of the Law on Territorial Organisation and Local Goverment of Serbia (which we cite here as the Electoral Law) states that all electoral bodies (electoral committees and the electoral cimmissions of the municipalities and towns) must follow the instructions and other procedures laid down by the follow the instructions and other procedures laid down by the Republican Electoral Commission. The latter commision has remainder passive and has not issued any instructions to stop all these irregularities. We believe there is still time for this commission of some other ad hoc body including representatives of the opposition to re-examine and correct these irregulaties. ZAJEDNO is prepared to present all evidence to you and to this commission, including its copies of voting returns from polling stations, to demonstrate that a big electoral fraud has occurred after the polls closed. We would be most grateful if the OSCE could use its influence to ensure the establishment of such a commission and if OSCE officials took part in its work.
The electoral procedure contains the following weaknesses:
1. Registers of voters are not open to all participants in the elections. They are compiled by state officials, and individual citizens are only allowed to see the part of the register which applies to them. Neither citizens nor political parties have been able to check the registers or remove the names of dead personsor persons who have never lived at the stated address.
We particularly stress that this has made it possible for the same person to be registered as a voter in a number of electoraldistricts.
2. All bodies created to monitor the elections (electoral committees and electoral commissions) are composed of three people appointed by the state and one representative of each political party involved in the elections.
Due to the lack of democratic culture, the first three members are representatives of the ruling party instead of the state, and the SPS thus has a majority for all its decisions.
The views of the minority are ignored of all stages of the electoral process, and this has been particulary evident in the treatment of complaints about irregularities.
3. After all previous elections, when the ruling party saw that the results were increasingly unfavourable, it changed electoral laws and particularly laws on territorial organisation. The map of Serbia has been constantly altered in order to secure victory for the ruling party.
4. Laws regulating elections at the federal, republican,provincial, city and municipal level are not consistent. The rules are designed to make it impossible for anyone who is not an expert on electoral procedures to monitor the conduct of elections. This has made it difficult for both foreign and domestic observers to discern irregularities.
5. Control of the media is always tightest after elections, so that at the moment we have a situation in which all televisionstations are directly controlled by the ruling party. There is only one independent radio station, whose broadcasting range is limited and whose broadcasts are continually subject to interference.
Despite these weaknesses of the electoral system, the opposition achieved great success in the local elections. However, an unprecedented fraud took place after the returns from all polling stations had been signed and given to representatives of the parties which received most votes.
1. Although its representatives had signed returns from the polling stations, the SPS later filed hundreds of complaints challenging the results contained in the same returns. Using its majority in the electoral commissions, it secured the annullment of elections in all such situations without further legal arguments or explanations. The most common reason given was that additional ballot papers were found when the votes were recounted 24 hours later in the offices of the electoral commission where the ballots were kept (i.e., in the town halls which are under the direct control of the ruling party).
2. In Nis, where the opposition won a convincing victory, ZAJEDNO obtaining 41 seats against only 21 for the SPS, the city electoral commission gave itself powers to directly alter there sults. Instead of organising a third round of elections where irregularities had allegedly occurred, it simply changed the results and announced that the SPS had won 37 seats and ZAJEDNO only 33.
3. In many electoral districts where it was seen that the result was extremely unfavourable for the ruling party, the copy of the electoral returns intended for the municipal electoral commission dissappeared and the results of the ballot were therefore annulled. Although ZAJEDNO offered its own copies of the returns from these polling stations, the municipal electoral commissions rejected this on the grounds that these were invalid copies and that only the original, missing returns could be used. This is a violation of the Electoral Law, but no criminal charges have been laid against the persons who allegedly lost the original documents because they are all members of the SPS who were appointed to chair the electoral committees. We would like to stress that is a very serious criminal offence.
4. ZAJEDNO lodged complaints in many places where electoral commissions had found, after the votes had been counted, more ballot papers than the number of citizens who had voted, but the electoral commissions rejected all these complaints on the grounds that this did not affect the final result. Even where,in Vlasotince, for example, only one vote separated the candidates of the ruling party and the opposition, the commission argued that the additional ballot papers could not have affected the result and did not annul the elections. The Electoral Law specifically states that elections must be repeated whenever the number of ballot papers found in the ballot boxes is greater than the number of people recorded as having voted.
5. In some instances, SPS representatives refused to sign returns from the polling stations because their candidates had lost. The elections in these places were later annulled, although, under the law, the refusal of a representative of a political party to sign the returns is not sufficient reason for the elections to be annulled.
6. Hundreds of complaints made by the SPS have been accepted by the electoral commissions and the elections will be repeated inall those places. In about 97 percent of all these cases, the ZAJEDNO candidate won.