Referendum on the dismissal of mayors and hassles for voters outside of Kosovo: complicated registration, postal services not cooperating, short deadlines

Source: Kosovo Online

The procedure prescribed by the Central Election Commission for holding the referendum on the dismissal of mayors in four municipalities in the north, scheduled for April 21, particularly the part concerning postal voting for voters outside of Kosovo, is considered very complex and somewhat controversial by Kosovo Online's interlocutors. Moreover, the given deadlines are difficult to meet.

To even exercise their right to vote, voters located in central Serbia had to first register online or via mail within a seven-day period. This involved downloading forms, providing numerous personal details, and submitting a photo showing them holding their identification document. Given that a large number of voters outside of Kosovo reside in rural areas or collective centers and are often elderly, it raises questions about their technical capabilities and whether they have access to online registration. Consequently, in such cases, registration by mail is the only option available.

The postal service is crucial for the voting process. However, due to the lack of cooperation between Serbia's Postal Service and the postal service in Kosovo, there are concerns about whether these votes, which are supposed to travel through Montenegro or North Macedonia, will arrive within the prescribed deadlines. Previous voting experiences have shown that delays and even rejection of these votes occur in such cases. Furthermore, voters who choose to come in person to the polling stations will be under the scrutiny of cameras installed at the polling places, which may influence their decision not to participate in this referendum at all.

All these circumstances, along with the high threshold required for the dismissal of mayors, namely 50% plus one vote of registered voters, may lead to the ultimate outcome of this endeavor not being successful despite the majority's desire for those elected last April with only 1 or 4 percent of the vote to not remain in office, depending on the municipality.

Milica Andric Rakic, Program Manager at the NGO New Social Initiative, stated that postal voting has proven to be extremely problematic with numerous deficiencies during previous electoral processes.

"The votes arriving by mail are very important considering that many people have left Kosovo in recent months, and postal voting has been the most problematic. After the 2019 scandal involving alleged poisoning of votes from Serbia, in subsequent electoral cycles, the practice was to send votes through the mail in Macedonia and Montenegro due to the lack of cooperation between Serbia's Postal Service and the postal service in Kosovo. Many votes arrived late, after the prescribed legal deadline, and were ultimately not accepted. Therefore, a very small number of votes were accepted in this manner after 2019. This can significantly affect the number of voter turnout and may question the outcome of the vote to recall mayors precisely because such a high level of turnout is required, higher than 50%," said Andric Rakic for Kosovo Online.

By a decision of the Supreme Court of Pristina from 2019, it is important to note that voting from central Serbia via the postal service is not accepted. The Central Election Commission (CIK) only accepts shipments from postal systems with which they have bilateral cooperation, such as Montenegro or North Macedonia. Another issue is the lack of any control over the movement of shipments with registrations of potential voters.

Slobodan Dimitrijevic, who served as the president of the Municipal Election Commission in North Mitrovica for more than ten years, told Kosovo Online that postal votes were neglected in previous electoral processes, delayed unlawfully, and ultimately not included in the final result calculation.

"It wouldn't surprise me if it repeats as in some of the previous processes when votes arrived from Serbia and were retained in a building of the Ministry of Infrastructure, allegedly poisoned with anthrax or something else. Those votes were rejected; for Pristina, those votes didn't exist, so it wouldn't surprise me if these votes don't enter the final results at all," Dimitrijevic recalled.

Political analyst Srdjan Graovac from the Center for Social Stability believes that Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti will do everything to ensure that the vote to remove mayors in the four predominantly Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo fails. Even if Serbs comply with everything he demands, some of which are unrealistic, Kurti, as Graovac claims, will invent something new as a reason for the mayors not to be removed.

Graovac told for Kosovo Online that these illegitimate mayors are part of a strategy of continuous pressure on Serbs and continuous attempts to drive Serbs out of Kosovo.

"In particular, I am referring to the Serbs in northern Kosovo and Metohija, whom Kurti has characterized as a continuous threat because they are united and interconnected. By bringing in long barrels to northern Kosovo, his so-called special forces, or trained terrorists on one hand, and by installing these false mayors on the other hand, Kurti is exerting institutional pressure on Serbs. His aim is precisely what I stated: to drive Serbs away from northern Kosovo. Perhaps not all of them, but to ensure that the remaining portion is completely broken and effectively ceases to operate politically outside the circle that Kurti considers necessary for Serbs, which is the circle of his followers and 'Kurti's Serbs,'" Graovac stated.

He adds that Kurti fundamentally wants to distance Serbs from the Serb List and direct them towards his political parties and organizations.