The experience of the organizations that have been monitoring elections for several years back say: In order to implement such a complex process of election monitoring, which includes engaging and training hundreds of people, at least a few months are needed. Is it possible to conduct recruitment and training of election observers and monitor elections with such short deadlines of recruitment calls such as the ones AKSIOS 2017 has?
At this year’s local elections, the public again heard about the organization “Aksios 2017”, which this time is active not only with election observers, but also with publishing disputed pre-election surveys. Very little is known about “Aksios 2017”. The organization does not have its own website, nor any published public information, they have no public events, nor can one read more about the organization and its activities, managers, researchers or employees anywhere.
According to the scarce information available through documents from the SEC and the election archive of the Institute for Democracy, Societas Civilis, the first election monitoring of AKSIOS 2017 is during the presidential elections, when this organization was accredited for election observation with 329 election observers. But, other than this information, there is no other data on how the organization recruited its observers, if there had been a public call and selection of candidates and when that happened.
The Editorial Office of CIVIL Media sought information on this organization also in the Central Registry. From 3 organizations that use the name “AKSIOS” in their title, 2 are organizations that are relatively well-known to the public and have to do with art and archeology.
The third organization, which bears the full title “Association of Citizens for Development and Promotion of Tourism, Sustainable Development and Human Rights AKSIOS 2017”, and short title “AKSIOS 2017 Skopje” is the only one that could be the same organization as the one which is active as an elections observer, but as of recently, also publisher of pre-election surveys.
According to the information of the Central Registry, the seat of this organization is in the settlement Hipodrom, in the Skopje municipality Gazi Baba, while “Development and promotion of tourism, Promotion and protection of cultural heritage, Encouraging cross-border cooperation, Sustainable development, Environmental Protection, Promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms ” are listed as goals of the organization. A pretty heterogonous portfolio and fields of action, but nothing can be read about the activities of this organization in these fields on the internet or in the media.
The person listed as an owner of the organization is Gjoko Stojchevski, and the authorized person is Dimitar Peovski, with an address identical to that of the organization. But, no public information can be found on either one of these two names, nor on the activities in the mentioned fields of action.
The Editorial Office of CIVIL Media sent questions to this organization regarding the election observation and the conducting of pre-election surveys to the email address indicated in the document from the Central Registry.
AKSIOS recruits 800 observers less than two weeks before elections?
This organization was accredited by SEC (74th session of SEC, July 7 2020) also for monitoring the Early Parliamentary Elections in 2020.
Unlike other observation organizations, whose process of recruiting and selecting candidates for observers lasts even up to several months, for the Early Parliamentary elections last year “Aksios 2017” published and sent to the media, a public call for observers for the parliamentary elections on July 3, 2020, just 12 days before the elections were held.
According to the announcement from the organization itself that was published by MIA and other media on October 3, 2021, AKSIOS 2017, monitored last year’s election with 800 observers.
The call for observers for AKSIOS 2017 reads:
“Interested citizens that wish to apply for accredited observers and volunteers, can apply no later than July 7, 2020, until 10.00, on the following email address: [email protected], by sending information – name, surname, address of residence according to ID card, date of birth and contact number. The candidates for observers – volunteers should be Macedonian citizens, be 18 years of age on the day of application, have experience in monitoring in previous elections processes and be ready to carry out their tasks as observers in an unbiased manner.”
The first public publications of the organization also date from this period. “Aksios 2017” formed its Facebook page on June 20, 2020, just 25 days before the Early Parliamentary Elections. In this period, a total of 7 posts are published, most of which concern the voter turnout on election day – July 15, one post is a call for observers before the elections, and one is the statement announcing the organization’s participation as an election observer.
To this day, there is no information for the organization neither on its Facebook page, except the email address [email protected], used also for the call for observers for the Early Parliamentary Elections in 2020. Is it possible to conduct recruitment and training of election observers and monitor elections with such short deadlines of the recruitment calls such as the ones AKSIOS 2017 has?
Experience of organizations that have been monitoring elections for years back says something completely differently. Conducting a process as complex as this one that implies engagement and training of hundreds of people requires at least a few months.
„ “Usually the process lasts 2-3 months, depending on the elections (if they are with one or two rounds) and other factors. What needs to be noted is that preparations begin before the very announcement of the elections, and the request for accreditation for monitoring is submitted immediately after the announcement of the elections. All of this is done in order for there to be enough time for training of all observers, and also to follow the entire process from start to finish, completely. The call for observers for election day closes a few weeks before the very voting, so that there is enough time for their training until election day” explains Zlatko Dimitriovski from the Civil Association MOST, which has many years of experience in election monitoring in this country.
Dimitriovski, pointed out that MOST first trains its regional coordinators, or the so called long-term observers who follow the political context and campaign and who in their regions/municipalities, recruit short-term observers who are deployed on election day. “The training for short-term observers is conducted by the regional coordinators in cooperation with the central office and at this training, observers learn about the entire voting process, their rights and obligations, as well as all the other necessary aspects that might be of use to them in their work” says Dimitriovski from MOST.
Transparency and accountability of the monitoring organizations in regards to the activities and financing is especially important for the public.
“Of course, regular and precise information on the findings, as well as delivering transparent information for the supporters of the project” said Dimitriovski for CIVIL Media.
MOST usually publishes one periodic report the day before elections, which contains the findings for the political context and possible part of the election campaign (depending on the day of the publishing of the report). During the election day itself, MOST holds a few press-conferences at which it informs the public about the situation at polling stations and possible challenges noticed during the voting.
“After election day, MOST gives a preliminary statement on the elections, which, as the name itself says, contains a preliminary assessment of how the elections were conducted, not only on election day, but during the entire process, from the very announcement of the elections, and it incorporates all its aspects” highlighted Dimitriovski.
A month or two after the elections, MOST publishes its final report, which contains all of the findings for the entire process, statistics received from the reports from the polling stations, as well as recommendations for improvement of the process.
“In this entire process of informing the public, it needs to be pointed out that organizations that monitor elections must present only correct and verified information, as, by the way, the Code for election monitoring from the SEC itself says, which the organizations that monitor elections are obligated to comply to”, indicates Dimitriovski from MOST.
However, what can be noticed in this research is that the organization AKSIOS 2017 does not conduct, nor meets most of these standards in regards to the organization of the monitoring and transparency before the public.
The Editorial Office of CIVIL Media tried to contact AKSIOS 2017 through the e-mail address given in their call for observers, which is the only publicly available contact with them. We did not receive an answer to our questions until the time this text was closed.
“Civil” monitoring with party observers and pressures on other civil observers
On election day, July 15, 2020, in one of the daily reports from CIVIL’s monitoring, published at 1.00 pm, an incident was registered with an observer of AKSIOS 2017, who, by the way, was a president of a local party branch in Sv.Nikole.
“An observer of AKSIOS 2017 registered in two different polling stations in Sveti Nikole, known as President of Municipal Committee of a political party in Sveti Nikole. He, in one of the polling stations, started to chase away present observers of CIVIL and two other organizations, with the words that “they are party-affiliated and should not be here” The atmosphere became tense. While that took place, the President of the Election Board was out for a cigarette. When he came back he talked to him and said there was no need for the incident to be on the records” states the report of CIVIL’s observer.
Between the elections in 2020 and 2021, only two public posts: support for MK football representation and an Easter greeting
What’s interesting is that AKSIOS as an organization, if judged by what is published on its Facebook page, the only place where its posts can be found, between the Parliamentary Elections in July 2020 and up until September 2021, has only two posts. One of which is a post supporting the Macedonian Football Representation during the European Championship, and one Easter greeting.
After this period of almost no activity except for these two posts, ahead of the Local Elections, on September 16, 2021, a month before them being held, on the Facebook page “Izlezi da glasas” (Go out to vote), a call from the organization for volunteer observers has been published.
On October 1, 2021, 3 days before the start of the campaign, and 17 days before the elections are held, an announcement to the media was sent saying that Aksios 2017 will be observing the local elections.
According to the State Elections Commission, so far it has accredited 512 of the announced 800 observers for the Local Elections that will be held on Sunday October 17.
(CONTINUES, in the next part: Not only observers, but also pollsters)
Translation: N. Cvetkovska
This post is also available in: Macedonian