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Macedonians Attempt to Exorcise the Phantom Voters Haunting Their Country

Photo by "We Deserve Better". CC-BY.

Photo by “We Deserve Better”. CC-BY.

Dozens of people stuck in the restroom, dozens more at a dinner table for four, 20 people sitting on a sofa. These scenes were part of a protest performance called “Macedonia provides housing” organized by the citizen initiative “We deserve better” in Skopje on February 15.

Its purpose was to bring to life how the government allegedly committed fraud to ensure the ruling right-wing VMRO-DPMNE won in elections of recent years. According to the current interior minister, his predecessor issued thousands of identity cards to ethnic Macedonians from neighboring Albania who then voted for VMRO-DPMNE. Many of those phantom voters were issued IDs listing the same address in the center of Skopje, and as a result up to 50 people were registered in a flat of 40 square meters.

The participants of the protest performance — called “Macedonia provides housing”, a parody of the government's campaign “Macedonia provides employment” — didn't hold back their criticism. They said the alleged electoral misdeeds insult the people's common sense and “trample on the feelings and dignity of the ethnic Macedonian's from Albania.”

For the citizen initiative “We deserve better,” this is just one more argument for not allowing early elections in Macedonia to be held until the Voters’ Registry is thoroughly cross-checked and cleaned up and all the necessary reforms are completed to ensure fair and free elections.

Photo by "We Deserve Better". CC-BY.

Photo by “We Deserve Better”. CC-BY.

At the end of the performance, the 50 residents of the flat “all together, hand in hand, went to vote”.

The “We deserve better” initiative prepared a short video juxtaposing footage of the performance with leaked recordings in which former Minister of Interior Gordana Jankuloska herself says how the election results were forged.

Buried evidence resurfaces

While the opposition, independent media and domestic election observers, such as NGO Civil, offered evidence of this type of fraud during the 2014 elections, the ruling party-controlled judiciary did not act upon the complaints. International observers did not push the matter further.

Further proof of electoral fraud was disclosed with the “political bombs” that the opposition published in early 2015. The leader of the opposition, Zoran Zaev, publicly revealed a select portion of the more than one million illegally wiretapped conversations of over 20,000 people in Macedonia.

In one of the leaked conversations, which were recorded by the Secret Service under the control of the then-prime minister's cousin, the then Minister of Interior Jankuloska talks to another member of the ruling party about manufacturing ID cards for phantom voters. Local VMRO-DPMNE officials had to supply addresses to “house” the fake voters:

ГЈ: Тие им се испечатени, луѓево си ги имаат. Има една ризична работа, ама таа ја знаевме ние и затоа инсистиравме да дадат повеќе адреси Комитетиве. Како што знаеш, имаме по 50 души у стан од 40 квадрати. Е сега, тоа е.

Jankuloska: They [ID cards] are printed, people already have them. There’s one tricky thing, but we knew about it and that’s why I insisted the committees give us more addresses. As you know, we have 50 people in an apartment of only 40 square meters. It is what it is.

The newly formed Special Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation, code-named Titanic, into the matter, looking into the claims of criminal conspiracy, electoral violations, violations of the freedom to vote, bribery and destruction of election materials against Jankuloska and former Minister of Transport and Communications Mile Janakieski, among others.

Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva said at the press conference announcing the investigation:

– Правдата ќе победи и покрај тешкотиите и заканите кои доаѓаат од одредни политички партии и конструираните кривични пријави против мене и моите соработници. Ме охрабрува поддршката од меѓународната заедница, а поддршка добивам и од правната струка. Ќе отворам постапки за 10 кривични предмети од областа на изборите, човековите права и слободи – рече Јанева на почетокот на прес-конференцијата.

Justice will prevail despite the difficulties and threats from certain political parties and constructed criminal charges against me and my associates. It has been encouraging to know the International Community support me, and the support also from the legal practice. We will be opening 10 criminal cases concerning elections, and human rights violations.

Citizen ‘ghostbusters’ get to work

On March 3, the State Election Commission (SEC) published a new version of the web app that enables users to confirm their status in the Voters’ Registry. The application had been shut down for several weeks, due to security issues.

After the SEC reopened the application, citizens are able to check not only if they are within the registry, but to search according to name and address. Many immediately started identifying phantom voters that were listed as living at their own addresses or addresses of their friends. Some also discovered “dead souls” — relatives and acquaintances who had passed away years ago but still exist in the registry.

According to the Voters’ Registry, 66 persons live in one apartment on Maxim Gorki street, number 1/2 [in Skopje]

On Twitter, these civic efforts coalesced around the hashtag “All from the List” (#СеПоСписок), which in Macedonian is part of a phrase that's also associated with cursing.

While some raised privacy issues with the Voters’ Registry being open like this, for many the public interest in discovering criminal activity outweighed the risks. Citizens browsing through the lists used screenshots to document their findings.

Get to know your neighbors — a new campaign by the citizens of Macedonia.

Now you see why the institutions can't cross-reference the data. To solve all contradictions we need an effort at the level of a census.

These citizen actions received coverage by independent media and positive feedback by citizens.

In one evening, the concerned citizens from “All from the List” provided insight into how the people decided during the last 10 years.

While the SEC encourages citizens to report any irregularities found in the Voters’ Registry, they do not provide an online mechanism for doing so yet. Citizens need to “submit proof” in person at the SEC offices. An easy-to-use online reporting option is crucial if the government wants to capitalize on the volunteer efforts of citizens combing the lists.

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