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Serbia needs electoral reform to ensure effective minority participation

15 March 2004

Without electoral reform to help ensure minority representation in Serbia’s parliament, minorities will continue to have little say in decisions and the formulation of policies that affect them. A threshold of 5 percent of the vote for each party elected to parliament effectively excludes representatives of minorities from taking seats, as was demonstrated in the 28 December 2003 elections. Despite progressive policies and legislation to protect national minorities in Serbia, critics claim that maintaining this electoral system creates a major barrier to full and effective minority participation.

Pavlina Mihajlenko representing the Centre for Human Rights, an NGO based in Nis in Serbia commented that after the fall of Milosevic’s regime certain changes occurred suggesting a positive future for minorities. Important among these were adoption of the Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities and the formation of Councils of National Minorities based on that Law. In addition, domestic legal solutions have been harmonized in accordance with international standards, she stated. Unfortunately, these positive steps have not benefited from essential change in the electoral legislation of Serbia, which continues to deny minority representation.

Under the current electoral system there are no official representatives of minorities and minority rights interests within the Serbian Parliament, a fact which violates Article 2.3 of the Minorities Declaration, guaranteeing the right of minorities to participate effectively in decisions affecting them. According to the Centre for Human Rights, electoral reform would be a vital step towards a greater politics of tolerance and cooperation, and promote the consideration of issues concerning Serbia’s minorities, who number some one million one hundred thousand members.

The Centre for Human Rights proposed a number of recommendations to the government and the Working Group on Minorities including changes to the Law of election of deputies of Republic of Serbia, to ensure the effective participation of minorities, possibly through the establishment of guaranteed seats for minority representatives. The government was encouraged to speed up the implementation of domestic and international instruments protecting and promoting minority rights and to work in cooperation with the NGO sector in terms of financing, partnership and information exchange, in order to effectively address problems facing minorities.

Notes for editors

Download the full intervention delivered to the UN Working Group on Minorities.

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