Serbia: The high cost of an electoral battle discourages political pluralism

Serbia: The high cost of an electoral battle discourages political pluralism

With the elections in Serbia just around the corner, the main opposition’s clear intention of boycotting the election process, and the threshold for entry to the Parliament now at 3% from 5%, political movements have started considering entering the electoral battle, having more chances to become the surprise and join the National Assembly.

A Blic newspaper survey studies the costs for a political formation interested in participating in the elections.

According to Blic’s research, setting up a political party in Serbia requires only 50,000 euros, while maintaining a local committee costs up to 30,000 euros a year. And that’s only a small fraction of the money needed, because if the establishment of a party involves jumping over to the polls, then the cost is at least another 50,000 euros.

To create a party, it is necessary among other things to collect 10,000 citizens’ signatures, while 1,000 signatures are needed to establish a national minority party. Validation of the signatures by a notary is an average of 3 euros per signature, which means that this will cost the party at least 30,000 euros. For the certification, 2.7 euros per application must be initially be paid, while the registration of a political party requires 138 euros. Right from the beginning of the calculations, it becomes clear that reducing or eliminating part of the costs would also have direct outcomes regarding political pluralism in Serbia.

Dveri has stated that it has spent up to 50,000 euros to certify the signatures. On the other hand, there are more imaginative political formations, such as the “Zdrava Srbija” party, which has been collecting signatures for a year, but has saved certification costs by giving only 7,250 euros. The reason is that they collect signatures in small municipalities where there are no notaries, and therefore the certification is carried out by the courts or municipal authorities, which on average costs about 0.6 euros per signature.

A self-governing politician from Novi Sad who ran in the latest municipal elections but who did not want his name to be disclosed, as Blic reports, noted that the cheapest campaign cost about 50,000 euros, almost as much as an apartment. “We only had posters, not billboards. We advertised on local sites and on the local newspaper shortly before the elections. The rest was through actions and meetings with citizens. Therefore, we were nowhere near national television stations, popular national newspapers and billboards that would have taken us to heaven”.

At present, according to Blic’s survey, there are 123 parties included in the political parties register in Serbia, of which 115 are active, while about 68 are minority parties. In practice, however, more than half of the registered parties are inactive. On the other hand, many minority parties are merely fictitious and the real reason they were set up was as a means for abusing the laws and facilitating the establishment of minority parties and mobility in the Assembly. Due to the costly founding of a party, today they prefer to buy a party rather than having it founded by law. In this way the register of political parties also serves as a kind of advertisement for buying and selling. Since 2009, 26 parties have changed their name.

“A local organization in Serbia’s big cities costs about 3,000 euros per month. Most of the money goes to bills, rent and the secretariat salary. This amount does not include mobilization”, the Novi Sad governor noted.

Therefore, on average just one local organization costs on average around € 30,000, with no activity and with only one employee.

But it is the political promotion that costs the most. To cover the costs of the election campaign, the state allocates 0.07% of its tax revenue from the budget. In parliamentary elections, 20% of the money earmarked for campaign spending is distributed equally to all constituents who said they would use public resources. The remaining 80% of the budget is earmarked for those who have won parliamentary seats, depending on the number of seats they have won. If the party does not win at least 1% in the elections, it must return the money to the state budget. In the last parliamentary elections in 2016 almost 5 million euros were allocated from the state budget for the election campaign.

“For a serious campaign that would include field work, public events and advertising, the amount you would need to spend is around one million euros. If you want to have a very moderate campaign, like most parties except SNS and SPS, you could make it happen for a couple of hundreds of thousands of euros, but that meant losing the most expensive advertising in the media”, Cesida CEO Bojan Klacar told Blic.

The party must guarantee the use of public funds in the campaign and, according to Mr. Klacar, most parties base their election campaign on that money because there are not enough donations, legal contributions and contributions from party members. In 2012 alone, more than 60% of the money was directed to political parties on election day. SNS has the most expensive campaign at the moment; DS use to have it, and I know they had both G17 + and LDP in their time. Vuk Jeremic also had a costly campaign in the last presidential election. /ibna