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Voting turnout in Western Balkan countries in the last 10 years

Voter turnout as a percentage of the voting-age population in the Western Balkans (WB6) was 54% in the last ten years election[1]. In last ten years, though turnout was lower compared to other recent Albanian elections, it was the second lowest among the WB6 countries for which voting age population is available. Only Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia had higher turnout rates, above the half of the voting age population. The other countries in the West Balkans are below the 50% of participation.

If we check the tendency of turnout during the last ten years period, it looks that Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo show the decrease of turnout rate. Meanwhile, in Montenegro, Serbia and North Macedonia the turnout rate is in increase tendency.

In Albania[2] after a turnout above 50% of participation in 2013, when the left wing have signed their victory, four years later is seen a decrease of turnout with 7% less. Elections are generally held in low public trust, which is very clear based on turnout rate, as a low ratio between the registered voters and they that showed up to vote. Parliamentary elections in Albania are conducted mainly based on the Electoral Code and the Law “On Political Parties”. The 2017 Election results saw Socialist Party win an absolute majority, taking 74 seats in 140-seat parliament, and opposition with 66 seats. The Socialist Party formed the new government without the need of a coalition. One of last most problematic political situation, plaguing the work of the parliament is the boycott by the opposition. After the voting of majority laws in function of Justice reform (Vetting) Albania is undergoing an unprecedented political move with the decision of opposition, early this year (2019) about leaving the parliamentary seats and going against the government through intensive and harsh protests. Albania has going on a big concern yet about the electoral registries, although the problem it’s been addressed and is going to be a better situation than last electoral process. Some of the most important elements of good governance which are transparency, accountability and public consultation are still at their first steps of implementation and consolidation. Transparency and public consultation are also main pillars of the local governance legal framework. The cooperation between local and central government institutions and civil society leaves spaces for improvement. CSOs and National Council of Civic Society (non active) try to participate regularly in the consultation processes; however, they need support to create the necessary technical capacities to be able to provide meaningful contribution in as many technical sectors as possible.

In Montenegro[2], is registered a trustfully increase of citizen participation in the electoral process. During electoral process on of the main concerns is about media influence, which is considered to be highly polarized within the election campaign, with clear pro-government and pro opposition position. Another big concern is about significant problems with electoral registries. But, should be highlighted that this problem is everywhere in WB6. In Montenegro, the party system has been developed along the ethnic divide, with the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPS) mainly representing Montenegrins and the main opposition parties representing Serbs in Montenegro. The regional problem of boycott is very “popular” also in Montenegro. The transparency of campaign funding remains a problem, but as said above this is a problem for all regional countries of WB6. According to research by Centre for Democratic Transition (CDT), the Montenegrin parliament has a score of 85% when it comes to openness, which is significantly above the 63% average for the Western Balkans, making it the most open parliament in the region. The score demonstrates the level of transparency, openness and accountability of parliaments in the region. Montenegro has a solid legal framework for the public participation in the decision-making process. Nevertheless, the implementation of the regulations covering public consultations is facing difficulties and the influence of civil society organizations remains limited.

The legislative framework for the citizens’ participation in policy-making implies state authorities’ obligation to conduct a public debate for all laws except for those in the area of security and defense and the annual budget. The most significant problems concern the non-compliance of all four steps that the state authorities are obliged to conduct, as well as rejecting the interested parties’ suggestions without a valid explanation. As a result, the most commonly accepted comments and amendments are technical. Anyhow, this situation is a disease also in neighboring countries with Montenegro.

The dominance of ethnic parties represents the most key feature of the political systems in the Western Balkans. Many states remain internally and externally contested. Because these states are not consolidated and remain internally and externally contested, politics remains focused on interethnic issues and is seen as a zero-sum game.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, although looks that turnout has a slightly decrease, it looks that is not a sharp one on the trust of citizen which still believe, in the electoral process. The Bosnian party system remains dominated by nationalist parties exclusively representing Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. These nationalist parties are often more focused on the benefits for themselves and the clan they support than they think about the citizens they are supposed to represent.Bosnia and Herzegovina is a multilateral state that slowly but steadily builds its own institutions and overcomes the interethnic differences associated with the political system in the former Yugoslavia. The difference between problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the problems in some other WB6 countries, such as the economy or government order protection from the external nationalist factors, is that the political elites often have a very clear interest in not solving them, but instead of that they want to live with the problems unsolved for more than two decades. Establishing an efficient and independent judiciary and enabling a fair playing field for the government and opposition might be in the interest of the citizens, but is often directly against the interests of the political elites and governing political parties.

In Kosovo, according to the turnout in the first voting year as an independent state in 2010, a degree of participation below 50% of the voting age population in the electoral process is seen, indicating the problems of the political parties with which the citizens trust in them.

In Kosovo tensions remain high in the north, where local Serbs use all the types of actions to avoid any representatives of the Kosovo government, security services and the international community to enter the region. The Serbs in Northern Kosovo demand their re-integration into Serbia and do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. They are supported by Serbia, which also rejects Kosovo’s independence. In Kosovo, as in every WB6 countries is the concern of imperfect legislation, and also the dysfunctionality of the key institutions and often disrespect of the political elites against basic democratic institutions and values. There is, a need for both legal and institutional reforms and for building up a democratic society with a universally accepted democratic political culture. If we would look at the two Albanian countries (Albania and Kosovo), which are engaged in different levels policy making about accession negotiations we would see large differences between a highly polarized Kosovo and a more stable governance regime in Albania with a weak opposition. Both, however, share similar problems regarding the legitimacy of elections and financing of the media, and both of these areas seem be witnessing a status quo.

In North Macedonia, with an increased participation rate in the electoral process is a sign of the trust of citizens in new political tendency, although in the referendum process in 2018 it was the lowest participation rate ever in the post-communist era in this country. The last electoral campaign, although competitive, took place in an environment characterized by public mistrust in institutions and the political establishment, with serious allegations of voter coercion. Main concern linked with electoral process is the politicization and the pressure over the public administration. On the other hand, every voter should have the right to freely choose his/her representatives. Furthermore, improvement of voter registration and the Voters List is needed in order to improve the credibility and the trust in the electoral process. Even the last developments regarding to the battle between political forces, what North Macedonian Parliament need to address is increasing of the level of political culture, especially by elected officials, and substituting physical and verbal attacks with substantiated debate channeled towards alleviating the daily problems of the citizens. During the last period, independent bodies which should be in charge of oversight and control of the government in area of rule of law and respect of fundamental rights did not managed to put in practice their mandate.

Serbia has shown a situation of status quo in relationship with the citizen turnout, which is almost with no sharp differences during last ten years electoral process. The National Assembly of Serbia, the highest legislative body in the state consists of 250 members directly elected using the system proportional representation with a single electoral unit. In Serbia, there is a sharp contrast between radical-conservative forces and more moderate parties.

The current composition of the parliament was elected by the extraordinary parliamentary elections in April 2016. The main problems of the electoral process lie in the fact that being in office, the ruling party always poses a concern to give its supporters a very strong edge against their opponents, especially when it comes to media coverage of the campaign, which is not carried out equally for both sides.

Another problem is about the non-functionality at fully capacity of the independent regulatory bodies during the electoral process. On the other hand, cooperation between civil society organizations and governmental institutions, especially those involved in EU accession negotiations, is accompanied by strained relations and far from the spirit promoted by the initiatives of EU institutions.

In this regional context on the electoral process and the relations between political parties, there remains a continuing concern of regional CSOs' cooperation in the WB6 countries, which may require a strategic future move, which could alleviate the limits of the critical mass of voters.

On the other hand, democratic governance in multilateral societies requires a willingness to live together and reach out to its citizens through consensual decisions. However, because of a history of inter-ethnic violence and the results of recent wars in the region, this will not exist. Consequently, in many Western Balkan countries there is a lack of democratic political culture, which is needed for much work by CSOs and across the Balkan political spectrum and with support from the Euro - Asian - American spectrum and beyond.


[2] ODIHR reports on parliamentary elections, 2009-2018

[1] http://www.electionguide.org