Politicians are routinely misusing public resources and offering electoral sweeteners to voters ahead of the March 24 polls, leading NGOs say.In its preliminary report on the campaign for the March 24 local election, Civil, a Skopje-based NGO, highlighted numerous violations of the campaign rules.
Alleged abuses range from promises of state jobs in exchange for votes, threats that people will lose their jobs, blackmailing voters with offers of welfare and scholarships, and bribing voters with food packages.
“Our monitors report that in some cases parties are offering 25 kilos of flour to socially vulnerable people in exchange for votes,” the head of Civil, Xhabir Deralla, said on Tuesday.
Ahead of the first round of the elections on Sunday, the NGO said that many voters fear identity theft and worry about the secrecy of their ballots.
“Civil servants across the country are practically not working as they are busy engaged in their party HQs,” Deralla added.
“Children are also being massively misused… engaged by parties in spreading propaganda on the internet… and generating a tremendous amount of hate speech,” Deralla continued.
Saso Ordanoski, from the NGO Transparency Macedonia, also warned of the danger of election bribery.
“We have witnessed pensions rises, lowering of heating bills, lower prices for medicine, government benefits for self-employment, ground-breaking ceremonies… this is a classic example of corruption in politics,” he maintained.
Darko Aleksov, head of MOST, the NGO that deploys most local election monitors, said a clearer distinction between public office and party activities is needed.
“The fact that ministers attend events to promote candidates during their working hours or use their working hours for party meetings speaks enough about whether there is a separation between the state and the parties,” Aleksov said.
He noted that Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski, Culture Minister Elizabeta Kanceska-Milevska and Transport Minister Mile Janakieski attended a promotion of the ruling VMRO DPMNE party’s mayoral candidate for Skopje, Koce Trajanovski, where they together promised to build a new multi-purpose concert hall.
Gerth Arens, head of the OSCE/ODIHR election monitoring mission to Macedonia, cautioned that abuses need to be proven before they are taken as facts.
“We constantly receive reports that range from various misuses of state administrative resources for political campaign purposes, to cases of pressuring people to cast their vote for a certain party – but they will be mentioned in our report only if they can be proven,” he told the newspaper Utrinski Vensik.
Macdonia’s State anti-Corruption Committee has yet to comment on any of the abuses raised by the NGOs.
On March 24, voters will choose mayors and local councillors for 80 municipalities and for the capital, Skopje. More than 1,740,000 people are eligible to cast ballots, according to the list of voters.