Joint Opinion of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR on Amending the Electoral Code, the Code of Offenses, and the Code of Audiovisual Media Service

Joint Opinion of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR on Amending the Electoral Code, the Code of Offenses, and the Code of Audiovisual Media Service
19 August 2020 | 09:16

The Ministry of Justice received the urgent joint opinion of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR aiming to amend the Electoral Code, the Code of Offenses, and the Code of Audiovisual Media Service. According to the joint opinion of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR, electoral reform should be built on clear and comprehensive legislation that meets international standards. At the same time, the amended law should be adopted by a broad consensus after extensive public debate. The two international institutions also mentioned that the new amendments should be adopted well in advance of the process, allowing sufficient time for stakeholders to become familiar with the new provisions and make preparations required for compliance.

The Parliament voted in the first reading the amendments to the Electoral Code. However, the new draft amendments to the Electoral Code sparked criticism from the opposition parties and the Western Partners. 

Siegfried Mureșan, Member of the European Parliament, criticized the amendments, mentioning that the new bill will prohibit the civil society organizations to monitor the elections, or issue public statements about irregularities detected during the campaign.

On August 19, the Ministry of Justice received the urgent joint opinion of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR on the draft law no. 263 aiming to amend the Electoral Code, the Code of Offenses, and the Code of Audiovisual Media Services.

According to the joint opinion of the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR, a successful electoral reform should be built on clear and comprehensive legislation that meets international obligations and standards and addresses prior recommendations, the adoption of legislation by broad consensus after extensive public consultations with all relevant stakeholders, and the political commitment to fully implement the electoral legislation in good faith.

“The ODIHR and the Venice Commission welcome the Republic of Moldova’s efforts to amend its electoral legal and institutional framework, to bring it into compliance with relevant OSCE commitments, Council of Europe and other international human rights instruments as well as good practices. 

The draft includes some improvements and addresses several prior recommendations given by the ODIHR, PACE, and the Venice Commission. Positive steps include clearer definitions of the term electoral campaign and explanations regarding the timeline for campaigning in the second round, additional provisions aimed at preventing the misuse of administrative resources, expanding the range of sanctions that could be applied for violations of campaign rules, the wide definition of the persons entitled to submit complaints or appeals as well of the appealable acts, and reasonably short deadlines, in particular for complaints and appeals,” the joint opinion of the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission mentions.

The Opinion states that the principle of the stability of electoral law must be respected. For any substantial changes to apply to the upcoming local and presidential elections of September and November 2020, they need to be adopted well in advance of the process, allowing sufficient time for stakeholders to become familiar with the new provisions and make preparations required for compliance.

The opinion mentions that “No legislative changes should be applied to the electoral processes already underway. For the upcoming presidential election, in line with international good practice, those proposed changes that are technical and do not affect fundamental elements of the election law could be applied, if they enter into force prior to the beginning of the electoral process for this election.”

The OSCE, ODIHR and the Venice Commission made the following key recommendations for the respective draft law:

• Restrictions on freedom of expression – the paragraph related to hate speech and incitement to discrimination should be reworded and interpreted in accordance with constitutional and international human rights law.

• An effective enforcement mechanism to prevent the misuse of administrative resources.

• Observers’ access to all stages of the electoral process.

• Sanctions should respect the principles of proportionality and equality, in particular those related to election observers and the media. The sanctions should be subject to effective judicial review.

The Venice Commission concluded that the term election campaign has to be defined clearly. Moreover, the time allocated for the election campaign in the second round has to be well defined. 

The Commission also recommends introducing additional provisions aimed at preventing the misuse of administrative resources, increasing the number of sanctions that could be applied for violating the rules of the campaign, introducing a better definition for the deadline for complaints and appeals. 

In July, the Parliament voted in the first reading the amendments to the Electoral Code. However, the new draft amendments to the Electoral Code sparked criticism from the opposition parties and the Western Partners. 

Siegfried Mureșan, Member of the European Parliament, criticized the amendments, mentioning that the new bill will prohibit the civil society organizations to monitor the elections, or issue public statements about irregularities detected during the campaign.

On July 9, 2020, the Parliament voted in the first reading the draft law, amending the Electoral Code, the Code of Offenses, and the Audiovisual Media Services Code. The project sparked debates in the parliament. The opposition accused the deputies, who wrote the initiative, that they would’ve introduced several elements that will compromise the new draft amendments to the law.

According to the new draft amendments to the law, the Electoral Code will prohibit the use of hate speech and discriminatory discourse in the electoral campaign. Moreover, the Code of Offenses will include sanctions for violations of the amended Electoral Code.  

The involvement of the religious denominations in the election campaign will be also sanctioned. Moreover, the organized transportation of voters to polling stations (if this is intended to cause them to vote for a particular candidate), the involvement of non-profit, charitable and trade union organizations in the election campaign, an incorrect reflection of the campaign by the media institutions will also be sanctioned according to the Code of Offenses.

The draft also grants the disabled voter the right to apply the facsimile instead of a signature and also grants observers full access to voter lists by signing a confidentiality statement. 

According to the draft, the voting time will be reduced. Another proposal provides for the establishment of voting hours from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. compared to 07.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. (now).  

The draft also proposes to establish rules on the content and method of election advertising, the appeal procedure, as well as sanctions for initiative groups, electoral contestants, election officials, media institutions.

AUTHOR MAIL

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