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Serbia: Referendum Fraud and Other Issues

All ballot stations across Serbia closed in the evening of Sunday, October 29, as people voted for or against the constitution draft proposed by all political parties represented in the parliament. Radical party officials were saying: adoption of the new constitution is important because it states that Kosovo and Metohia are indivisible part of the country. The democrats argued: the new set of basic laws cuts any relation with the dark Slobodan Milosevic’s past.

For the first time in Serbian history, the poll lasted two days. All forms of advertising were used to stimulate citizens to vote. Those favoring the boycott of the referendum were neglected and underrepresented in the mainstream media. The pressure was pumping up. The first day of voting was marked by the relatively low turnout of 17.8 percent. Political leaders struggled to get 50 percent by calling all the citizens again and again over the TV. As the hours passed, they even announced that Albanian leader Agim Ceku was preparing fireworks and celebration which would take place if the referendum fails. At the end, 53.3 percent of legitimate voters showed up to vote.

However, there are doubts about these turnout figures – because of the numerous irregularities reported.

One activist of the Liberal Democratic Party filmed a scam:

She introduced herself as Crnjanski Vera, but she had no ID to confirm it at the election spot. She was allowed to vote despite that, which is against the basic democratic principles. Then the real Crnjanski Vera appeared, just minutes later, showing her ID. Members of the election commission were confused.

The dialogue you hear in this video is translated from Serbian here:

The activist: I am sorry for not bringing the documents. I was in a hurry to get here and vote. I am really Crnjanski Vera. Thank you for letting me vote without the papers.

Fifteen minutes later, the real Vera Crnjanski comes in.

Vera: I haven’t received my voting invitation.
Member of voting board (in further text MVB): It doesn’t matter. It’s just important you have got a personal ID. How’s your name again?
Vera: Crnjanski Vera.
MVB: Not Vukosava, Vera.
Vera: I am her mom.
MVB: It has been voted. Your daughter must have been here.
Vera: No, she hasn’t been here.
MVB: There you go. Crnjanski Vera signed here.
Vera: I am sorry but please take a look. Am I Crnjanski Vera? What does it mean? Please explain to me.
MVB: What about your daughter?
Vera: My daughter is Vukosava.
MVB: Has she been here?
Vera: No.

The activist comes back. She says:

Good evening, I am sorry to interrupt. I think you allowed me to vote just fifteen minutes ago, instead of this lady, without any credentials.

MVB: I haven’t been here.
The activist: You haven’t but the other members of the election board were here at that time. I didn’t have any ID. I said I was Crnjanski Vera. She was born in 1948. It means you didn’t look at the ID number. I don’t believe I look like I am 58 years old. You sprayed my…
MVB: I haven’t been here.
The activist: Yes, you were agitating in front; telling me what Agim Ceku said. It means one person can vote two or three times. I know what I wrote on the ballot paper. You sprayed my left forefinger and you should have marked the right one. You didn’t check the right finger with that lamp; which means I can go and vote somewhere else as well or I might have already voted before. Which finger glows? So it means I can use this forefinger to vote again.

Many are disappointed not so much by the content but by the context of the constitution vote. Just a year ago, when some opposition parties proposed elections to be held, the government said it was not time to disturb and destabilize the country when the significant question of Kosovo and Metohia‘s future status was being negotiated. But now, just a few months before the completion of Martti Ahtisaari‘s official proposal for the final status, all those “political factors” want an election to secure four more years in power before the issue is resolved. Only the Serbian Radical Party opposes, probably hoping to get more votes after the unwrapping of the Kosovo issue.

Milic and Milic blog followed the voting process minute by minute. In a post titled Impotency and the Province, he writes (SRP):

[…] Movies were made about people of this very country who marched on the streets in protest against the numerous election scams during the extremely cold wintertime just a few years ago. At the end, this Serbia torched the parliament building just to make the government admit the real ballot results. Numerous seminars and lectures were conducted in other countries in transition process [about how OTPOR and the citizens did it].

Do you guys remember a scene from Sex and the City, when Carry, fed up with all the critiques of the competence of her taste, turns to her Vogue editor and says: “But shoes? I do know shoes.” [Not so long ago], a reformed Serbia knew how to face the vote theft. Today, except for the activists of four [non-parliament] parties and a few NGOs, there is a pretty impotent and provincial (I don’t care as long as I don’t suffer) spirit. Doesn’t matter that they try to present themselves as [people of the world].

What happened during those six years [since October 5, 2000] to make the referendum robbing off topic, let alone the moving stone of the new wave that would carry on with the true democratization. Do they want to legitimize the stealing for “our thing” with the key difference that “our people” did the theft […]? What is our thing, this time? […] You can steal the vote you didn’t give by breaking one of the fundamental principles of democracy – one man, one vote – and letting more people vote ‘yes.’ […][Before everything that ensued during the two election days], 242 representatives of the people voted for [the constitution draft] they didn't read. If that could pass, [how can we say they are the voices of the people?] On the other hand, our thing is, I suppose, the new founding set of laws. To make the question clear, Serbia wouldn’t be the only European country without the constitution as [Vojislav] Kostunica fretted during the weekend [to peruse the people to go out and vote]. The old Slobodan Milosevic set of basic laws would stay in power, which is in many aspects better than the new one. […]

[…] [From vague statements made by the EU officials we can conclude:] if you are well off, it's OK with us, too, until your thing destabilizes the region, [at which point we would begin to care] […] They didn’t say without a reason that they would need some time to make a statement on the content of our [constitution], because the EU needs some time for that, contrary to our voters. In the short period of time, they have noticed some serious mistakes, which include: the position of judicial system, multilateral relations, obligations and decentralization.

[…]

In the fake modern Serbia video clips are exchanged on a daily basis. The content in most cases is porno pictures and VIP sex clips boosted by tabloid coverage. Referendum fraud video didn’t even trigger some notable interest of editors of the so-called independent media. […]

Author of this blog is frustrated because Serbian online voices are disregarded by the mainstream media. He cites one example, which illustrates the impact that the U.S. blogging community has on political decision-making process:

“Also in 2002, many blogs focused on comments by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Senator Lott, at a party honoring U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, praised Senator Thurmond by suggesting that the United States would have been better off had Thurmond been elected president. Lott's critics saw these comments as a tacit approval of racial segregation, a policy advocated by Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign. This view was reinforced by documents and recorded interviews dug up by bloggers. (See Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.) Though Lott's comments were made at a public event attended by the media, no major media organizations reported on his controversial comments until after blogs broke the story. Blogging helped to create a political crisis that forced Lott to step down as majority leader. The impact of this story gave greater credibility to blogs as a medium of news dissemination. Though often seen as partisan gossips, bloggers sometimes lead the way in bringing key information to public light, with mainstream media having to follow their lead. “

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