European Western Balkans

Op-ed: Personalization of Electoral Campaign in Kosovo – the Missing Equality

Kosovo Assembly; Photo: Kosovo Assembly

This month Kosovo will have new extraordinary parliamentary elections, after the current government could not reach its full term. Elections will be conducted using the same list PR electoral system, which contains strong incentives for personalization of electoral campaigns. According to the electoral system, voters can cast up to five votes for candidates within the party list, and the list of elected candidates of one party is based on the number of received preferential votes of each candidate.

In this op-ed, we will try to answer three questions. The first question that could be posed is: for who candidates run, for party or for themselves?

Despite the fact that there is a clear personalization of campaigns, a significant number of candidates point out that they give a slight advantage to campaigning in favor of the party, rather than in their own favor. On the scale from 0 to 10, where zero (0) means to attract as much attention as a candidate, while 10 means to attract as much attention to the party, the average value for which the respondents/candidates for MPs on elections 2014 opted is 7.1. We can conclude that they give priority to the interests of the party’s campaign while conducting their own campaigns.

The second question is: who is paying for the campaign of individual candidates, the party or themselves?

According to the findings of CCS for Kosovo, during the implementation of the personal campaign, each candidate for MP hired an average of 30 persons, of whom one in ten was paid, while the rest were volunteers. Also, 8.9% of the candidates hired professionals for the purposes of their own campaign. According to parliamentary candidates, the financing of their own campaign was covered in 18.7% on average by the party, while the private funds of candidates made 64.9%, and donations of third parties made 16.4%.

Regarding the participation in the financing of pre-election campaign, 38.9% of candidates gave their contribution. According to the CCS, the average value of contributions is EUR 2272, i.e. for MPs candidates from the opposition parties the amount is somewhat higher (EUR 2347), while for the candidate of the ruling parties the amount was EUR 2083.

The last question is: is anyone controlling campaign finances?

According to the amendments to the Law on financing of political parties from 2013, there are no budgetary subsidiaries for financing individual campaigns of MP candidates. The same Law stipulates that all parties and candidates should do all the payments and donations to/from a unique account of the party. However, it is impossible to check whether the Law is respected. Namely, the amendments of the Law on financing of political parties from 2013 stipulate that the control of financial performance is done by commercial auditors selected by the Parliamentary Committee for the Oversight of Public Finances. However, the responsible parliamentary committee has never selected auditors to conduct control of party’s financial reports. Consequently, the control has never been conducted since the last legal changes (2013).

The surveyed MP candidates have shared the data with CCS on how their campaigns are financed. The funds invested in the campaign of individual candidate amount to 4105 €, while the campaign of the ruling coalition candidate costs approximately 5866 €, and 3396 € on average of the opposition. It should be noted that 16,6% of MP candidates/respondents stated that they personally invested more than 2000 € in their own campaign, which represents the direct violation of the Law on financing of political parties, adopted in 2010. Furthermore, some candidates invested over 15000 €, or 25000 € in their own campaign. Unfortunately, since the last legislative amendments (2013), and the relocation of control from the Central Electoral Commission to the Parliament of Kosovo, no control has been performed.

It is evident that there are misuses in the financing of political parties and candidates, which puts the candidates themselves in an unequal position. Some are in a favorable position due to the fact that they invest a large amount of personal funds, others because the party provides great investments for them, and some thanks to the investments of third parties. Consequently, a great field of corruption is created. The system of control has proven to be inefficient. Current situation is limiting further democratization of the society and strengthens influence of leadership and un-legal donors.

These elections are another lost opportunity to make electoral conditions fair for all candidates. It is expected that the same political elite, party leadership will keep their dominant position, limiting party democracy, and limiting impact of preferential voting on composition of the parliament due to un-legal and unfair candidate campaign financing.

Zlatko Vujović is the President of the Montenegrin think-tank Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI) and Secretary General of ENEMO, European Network of Elections Monitoring Organizations. Vujović is currently pursuing a PhD at the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb.

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