Friday, 11 March 2022

Election Campaign Supervisory Board on Functionary Campaign

At its sitting held on 10 March 2022, the Election Campaign Supervisory Board adopted measures to ensure candidate equality in the presentation of their programmes and decided to go public with its position on the phenomenon present on the political scene in Serbia for a long time now and commonly known as the "functionary campaign".

Namely, the Law on Prevention of Corruption prohibits the misuse of public resources, public gatherings and meetings that a given public official has in the capacity of a public official, i.e. their use not for a real, legitimate purpose, but for the promotion of political parties or political entities. The Anti-Corruption Agency ensures compliance with the said regulation, i.e. bans said abuse.

However, the Election Campaign Supervisory Board, within the framework of general supervision over the actions of political parties, submitters of proclaimed electoral lists, candidates for MPs and public media services during election activities, has the right and duty to point out irregularities in the conduct of participants in the election process contained in Article 50 of the Law on Prevention of Corruption. The Supervisory Board’s obligation to prevent abuse of the "functionary campaign" goes beyond what is provided by the said article and the relevant provisions of other applicable regulations and ranges within all that can be called the obligation to respect equality of candidates and electoral lists and equality in informing about them, their activities and programmes.

Participants in elections, i.e. political parties and other entities, submitters of electoral lists, as well as candidates, have the right to equal treatment in general in the election process and election campaign, including treatment by public media services.

The citizens of the Republic of Serbia, both outside and during election campaigns, have the right to be thoroughly and fully informed about the work of state bodies and, within them, state officials. This means that respecting this constitutional guarantee entails the appearance in public information channels, public media services included, within the presentation of state activities, in the pre-election campaign period, in the capacity of public officials of public officials who are members of political parties and other organisations participating in elections or who personally participate in the elections as candidates or holders of electoral lists. Of course, with the appearance of public officials in the media, it is necessary to respect the rules of Article 50 of the Law on Prevention of Corruption, and above all to make it clear that they appear as public officials and that these appearances are not misused for immediate pre-election promotion of political parties or other political entities. But restricting this information for the sake of an illusion of equality of the participants in the election procedure would be contrary to the stated constitutional guarantee of the citizens’ right to information.

On the other hand, the constitutionally guaranteed electoral right, above all active, can be fully realised only if the citizens are fully informed about the activities of the submitters of electoral lists not only in the election campaign, but also about the activities of members of a given political party or other organisations or individuals as executives or members of the parliamentary or extra-parliamentary opposition. The expectations of voters from a particular political party, other organisation or individual they may or may not opt for can best be formed and shaped by the engagement of those parties, organisations and individuals in the exercise of power or in opposition activities.

Finally, it is the Supervisory Board’s position that voters should not be underestimated nor their ability to, in compliance with these requirements, take an affirmative or critical attitude towards previous activities and based on those activities and programmes of submitters of electoral lists and candidates who had the opportunity to participate in exercising power (as well as according to the opposition activities of the submitters of electoral lists and candidates) and form their expectations and choice who they will vote for based on that.

Finally, bearing in mind all of the above, the Supervisory Board considers it necessary to publicly invite public media services and other media in the Republic of Serbia to, when reporting on candidates' election activities, use terms and expressions that accurately and unambiguously separate their public function from their party position and position of candidate in the elections.

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