Local elections - the basis for democracy
Ovo je verzija na engleskom jeziku inicijative koja je dio kampanje za usvajanje Zakona o lokalnim izborima.
This is an English version of the initiative which is a part of a campaign for the adoption of the Law on local elections.
Meaninglessness of local self-governments must end – Law on Local elections must be adopted.
Prepared by: NGO Center for Civil Liberties’ (CLC) Research Team
What are the principles that constitute legitimacy of local decision makers? Do we need a Law on Local elections? Are we having the necessary social dialogue about different organization and role that local self-governments should have, open lists, individual candidatures, direct election of the mayor/president of the municipality? There are numerous open questions, as well as a true need for opening a social dialogue on these topics, or a public debate.
Obstruction of legal regulation in the field of establishing the specific conditions and the way in which the local elections should be held has been going on for decades. There are many causes for this situation and they should be widely discussed.
We won’t be late, but only if the solution comes through the enablement of citizen participation in the decision making processes of strategic value, which is a trait that local elections should have.
Are Constitutional norms and the European Charter of Local Self-Government being implemented in practice? Is the established practice of electing a council member a true guardian of citizens’ sovereignty and their right to elect and be elected? A big question mark lies ahead of us.
It is necessary for citizens to exercise their right to choose on the basis of complete and accurate information about important social issues, as well as programs for their resolution and improvement. Citizens need to have the possibility to freely elect their representative, which would do his/her best, in their opinion, to protect and secure public interest, or contribute to a higher quality of life.
The continued degradation and meaninglessness of the local elections have had negative consequences on the development of local self-governments. An unbearable level of politization has even reached a stage where It has become completely normal for the Prime minister, or the President of the country to lead an election campaign at the local level. Main messages being sent to the public are often associated with “protecting” of different views of national tendencies, policies and perceptions, even in the smallest units of local self-governments. The message is clear, you have nothing or almost no say within your local community, where if we add the factor of unproductive employment into the picture, which is especially intense during an election period, the result is really worrying. Local Self-Government is becoming its own enemy for the sustainability of its very own system.
The right to a local self-governance is guaranteed by the Constitution of Montenegro. However, for over a decade now, the central government has been taking over jurisdictions from local authorities, unconstitutionally. At the moment, the central government decides upon all natural and newly created resources, as well as all human needs, that is, the rights and obligations of citizens without the essential social control. The causes for the all present corruption should be looked for in there.
Ending the meaninglessness of local self-governments and opening of the path for their development must begin with the initiative for the adoption of the Law on Local Elections.
While working on a model, which should serve as basis for a public debate about possible solutions, and by using the existing legal solutions and models, we have added certain ideas and opened some dilemmas. We will present that segment here for the sake of rationality, but also to directly strike the essence of the problem.
We want to emphasize Article 3 of the Model Law, where we used the already existing model of the legal norm that states that 30 councilors are elected for local Parliaments of each municipality (as well as local Parliament of the Capital city and the former Royal Capital), as well as another Councilor for every 5000 voters.
This statement is a standard in the existing system, but it is not sustainable, in our opinion, if we want open lists and essential decentralization, concerning both the central and local governing level. We need to consider activation of the political system that would take into consideration the specific nature of local self-governments, one of them being the size of the municipality.
To conclude - this question remains open and demands special social debate and analysis.
Article 4 of the Model Law states that the Councilor is elected within the constituency based on the electoral list of a political party (party list), a coalition (coalition’s list), a group of voters (electoral list of a group of voters), or an individual candidature. Board mandates are distributed proportionally according to the number of votes obtained.
This is where the institute of an electoral constituency from which a Councilor is elected is introduced, what opens up the issue of defining of an electoral constituency. The closest solution appears to be that the existing local communities should be electoral constituencies.
Furthermore, Article 6 of the Law Model defines that an electoral campaign of a political subject, in terms of this law, represents a set of activities of a political subject in the period from the day of calling the elections until the day of the announcement of final results of those elections.
A political subject in this case must be precisely defined, especially if individual candidacies are to be introduced.
So far, the solution is that Councilors are elected from a municipality as a single constituency.
This solution can be changed and modified in different ways. With the introduction of preferential voting and individual candidacies, we emphasize once again that consideration could be given to a solution where local communities in each municipality constitute electoral constituencies.
The character and position of election administration has always been attracting attention to itself. Therefore, a legal norm states that:
Municipal electoral commission has five members.
Municipal electoral commission is appointed by The State Electoral Commission, after the public contest has been held. Mandate of the municipal electoral commission is five years.
A possible legal standardization needs to be taken into consideration here, where municipal electoral commission could be appointed by the local parliament, while the supervision can be conducted by the State Electoral Commission, which would act as a second instance body.
These are some of the most pressing unanswered questions, and for the sake of a more complete picture, we will also provide some useful information that can be useful during the creating of new solutions and defining of arguments.
A preferential vote – voter has the right to choose a specific candidate by name, regardless of the candidate’s position on the electoral list.
Open lists are a variation of a proportionate electoral system in which voters, other than the possibility of voting for a specific list, have the right to also choose a specific candidate on that list, which is the opposite of the “closed” lists system, where voters only vote for a specific list, while the order of candidates is pre-determined by the party/coalition.
Individual candidature is at the same time the biggest challenge. As such, this institute opposes political parties, it challenges them, opens up a wide debate, especially in the area of the level of its legitimacy. However, if we presume that a local self-government is to be divided into multiple electoral constituencies, an individual candidate could gain a mandate in two ways – either by winning in a single constituency, or by obtaining enough votes to reach the census.
It’s interesting to point out a problem, which is to be found within the Law on local self-governments itself, where it is stated that the Mayor / President of a municipality is legally obliged to terminate his/her mandate when he/she reaches the conditions for a retirement.We need to make a distinction between a political and a professional function, because a political function can be conducted professionally. We believe that this legal norm is unconstitutional, and with the eventual implementation of a direct voting system for a mayor, it also becomes untenable.
In the end, we want to emphasize the need for legal standardization of holding local elections in all municipalities of Montenegro on the same day. We believe that this is the only rational solution that also supports the affirmation of a local democracy system.