The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will not have a monitoring role in Sunday’s extraordinary mayoral election in Drenas, despite a request made by foreign embassies. A deadline to apply for election observation accreditation had been extended from Tuesday (Nov. 29) until today by the Central Election Commission (CEC) in order to allow international observers to apply, but the OSCE has not sought such a role.
UK Ambassador Ruairi O’Connell wrote a private letter to the CEC at the beginning of the week on behalf of the Quint embassies — the U.S., UK, Germany, France and Italy — requesting that the OSCE be given a special ‘monitoring’ role in the election, with similar (although slightly less) competencies to official ‘observers.’ However, no formal application for the OSCE to observe the election has been made because missions on the ground do not have it in their mandates to conduct formal observations.
Senad Sabovic, OSCE’s spokesperson, told K2.0 that while the OSCE has carried out various roles related to elections in Kosovo in the past, including organizing elections in the post-war period and facilitation post-independence, it has not previously carried out formal observations. “We have never done the standard observation in the classical sense in Kosovo,” he said.
When the OSCE does carry out this function, Sabovic explained that this is done through their central Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), but that this mechanism was not appropriate for Sunday’s vote. “Generally ODIHR doesn’t observe local elections,” he said. “It’s very rare, if ever, that ODIHR would observe local elections, especially one ad hoc local election in one municipality — that’s too small for ODIHR to observe.”
The Quint embassies had therefore requested a bespoke role for the OSCE with O’Connell’s letter stating, “Our motivation is that in a period of high political tensions, it is important for Kosovo and for the region that elections are accepted by all as free and fair, and that OSCE monitoring would held ensure that.”
After the UK ambassador’s letter was leaked in the media, he gave a TV interview on Thursday (Dec. 1) further clarifying the request. “It is true that historically, a few years ago, there were concerns in this part of Kosovo, and not only in this part, in other municipalities as well, because we cannot claim that it was only regarding Drenas,” he said. “But there were concerns and I think due to this reason it [monitoring] is very much needed. I would not say publicly and point only to Drenas. … I think the request was based on good will, in order to have a process where citizens can have trust in the results. I think it is important and completely in the interest of each party in Kosovo.”
However, while according to Sabovic the OSCE has received no formal communication from the CEC rejecting the request for it to play a monitoring role, it has become clear through informal conversations and reports in the media that the specific request has not been accepted. “This concept of ‘monitoring,’ they cannot identify it anywhere in the system and they [the CEC] said, if you want to do anything similar, it’s called ‘observation,’ and for that you have procedures,” said Sabovic. “Observation is slightly wider and observation has particular provisions in the law and in Kosovo law general elections and the CEC rules and so forth, and they have particular provisions for accreditation; the powers of the observers are a bit wider than those of what we proposed.”
A vaguely worded press release from CEC on Thursday (Dec. 1) said that following the Quint request, it would extend the application for accreditation of international observers to Dec. 3. “Whereas, related to the specific request, CEC in accordance with legislation in force, informs that there were no obstacles in this process, although extraordinary, to implement and complete it successfully.”
Sunday’s election will still have a range of observers, with more than 800 individuals from over 70 political parties, NGOs, media and embassies receiving accreditation from the CEC. However, the OSCE is widely seen as the international actor in Kosovo with the most comprehensive experience when it comes to elections. “We would have more manpower, we would have a wider presence than for example the diplomatic watch that the embassies are organizing, so that will be a lighter coverage,” said Sabovic.
In preparation for covering Sunday’s vote, the OSCE had trained a team of more than 50 monitors, who have now been stood down. “We requested to set up a team that would cover most of the operations, be present in the polling station and monitor the conduct of the process, with the purpose of collecting this information and presenting it in a report to the CEC,” said Sabovic.
The mayoral election in Drenas comes after previous mayor Nexhat Demaku had a conviction for war crimes upheld by the Court of Appeal on October 24 in the so-called ‘Drenica II’ case. He was sentenced to three years in prison last May by the Basic Court of Mitrovica, along with his brother, Fadil Demaku, while seven others have also been found guilty and given prison sentences in the same case. Demaku resigned his position as mayor the day after the Court of Appeal ruling, with tomorrow’s extraordinary election announced on Nov. 2.
52,596 citizens have the right to vote for the new Mayor of Drenas. There will be 28 voting centers with 72 voting booths. The running candidates are: Elmi Tachi, AKR; Isa Xhemajlaj, NISMA; Bedri Nika, LDK; Ramiz Lladrovci, PDK; Vehbi Berisha, Fjala; Xhavit Drenori, independent; and Rrahim Elshani, independent.
The CEC were not available for comment today.
Feature image: OSCE Mission in Kosovo.