The NGO Infocentre, the Macedonian Centre for European Training (MCET), the Media Development Centre (MDC) and “September 8” movement, and with financial support of the USAID Civil Society Project, implemented by the Foundation Open Society Macedonia (FOSM), implemented the survey “What Kind of Population Census and Voter Registry Does the Republic of Macedonia Need?”.
This survey refers to the existing models of population census (traditional, registers-based and combined) and their applicability, initiated by Prime Minister’s announcements that the state will conduct an “electronic census”; the eventual connections between the population census and the process of updating and consolidation of the Voter Registry; and the possible methods for efficient update and consolidation of the Voter Registry.
The survey was based on desk-analysis and interviews with experts, opinion makers and politicians. This document was prepared by Bojan Maričik, M.A., Ljupčo Petkovski, M.A., Biljana Bejkova and Hristena Antovska Jovančeva.
Almost all experts and politicians interviewed for this study pointed out at the connections between the conduct of a regular population census and the updated and credible Voter Registry, and put emphasis on political aspects of the connection between the census and the Voter Registry, in the existing context of the political crisis in Macedonia. Most of them, however, agree that those are two legally and methodologically completely separate processes that don’t need to be completely related.
Although they believe that the ideal option for consolidation of the Voter Registry is to first collect the data in a regular traditional population census, our collocutors do recognize the actual situation, that is, the fact that it is impossible to conduct a census before the early Parliamentary Elections, which is why they note the need to review all available options to consolidate the Voter Registry.
Experts and politicians believe that the best model for consolidation of the Voter Registry would include mandatory active registration for all citizens, as well as full update of the Voter Registry with door-to-door checks.
The interviewees emphasized the verification of identity of voters on ballot day as an important element that complements the consolidation of the Voter Registry, having in mind that voting using other people’s identity was frequently witnessed in past election cycles.
One thing emphasized by majority of interviewees was that the Voter Registry should be an instrument trusted by all political actors and citizens, and that they will be sure that nobody will be able to abuse it for the benefit of a single political party.In any case, the search for systemic solution that will function beyond April 2016 remains open.
The experts and politicians agree that the State Election Commission (SEC) should have the authority and competences for updating and maintenance of the Voter Registry. In fact, SEC should have sole competence over all activities related to the creation and updating of the Voter Registry, and all activities related to the electoral process.
At the same time, SEC needs to be independent institution, fully free from any political or party influence and pressure, and it needs to have its human and technical capacities improved and increased.
GONG representative’s recommendations to ensure fair and democratic elections and quality consolidation of the voter registry in Macedonia are: transparency of insight into the voter registry, easy accessibility to the voter registry and control by the public and mixed commissions (associations, academia, journalists, etc.) and strengthening of independent institutions with authority to act in the interest of citizens and the law, as opposed to the expectations and interests of political parties.
On the matter of consolidation of the Voter Registry, GONG recommends the creation of a unified database with information on the citizens that generates all the data. The other interviewees also advocate the creation of such central register of citizens.
Because the current government failed to conduct the census in 2011, majority of interviewees don’t believe that the coalition partners can overcome the existing problems or that they have the credibility to organize and conduct a population census.It means that the census will have to be conducted by another government that will be composed and take power after the April 2016 elections.
At the same time, most interviewees believe that the preparation and conduct of a population census needs to be one of the priorities of the future government.The main challenge regarding the census for the new government would be to transform the census from a political issue into a technical and statistical operation on national level.
It will have to create the political consensus and will to conduct a census, which implies that political issues need to be resolved to allow the Statistical Office to conduct the operation independently and properly.
All interviewees, experts and politicians, agreed that the Prime Minister’s idea of an “electronic census” was suspicious, not elaborated sufficiently and without grounds in reality both from technical and political point of view. The lack of technical preparation of the institutions to conduct the so-called electronic census is a serious problem, and there is the even greater problem of the absence of political will on the behalf of the prime minister to have a precise and credible population census that will present the real situation.
The experts and politicians agree that a relevant and credible population census requires political will; that without traditional field census in Macedonia there will only be a perception that a job has been done while census results won’t reflect the reality and will be disputed by many actors.
There are certain conditions that need to exist and requirements that need to be met for a country to be able to conduct partially or completely registers-based census.The experience of the Nordic countries indicates that administrative registers need to meet a series of conditions and requirements to be used for statistical purposes, a process of harmonisation that can’t be completed overnight.
The state also needs to create adequate institutional and legal framework for use of registers. Protection of personal data is of great importance, knowing that this is an extremely sensitive issue related to the issue of protection of privacy of citizens.
Although the idea to conduct a census as a combination of electronic linking of registers and door-to-door census taking might sound attractive and even easily applicable, knowing that it is already implemented in some countries in the world, at this time, there are no conditions for conduct of such a census in Macedonia.
In a situation of serious political and systemic crisis, no solution can be implemented unilaterally, but it would require an elementary consensus and proper public debate that will involve all stakeholders.
The statements by DUI’s representatives clearly indicate that in the ruling coalition there is no consensus on the census and the modalities of its implementation. For that reason, the Prime Minister’s statement that the state was seriously preparing for a census can be interpreted only as a form of political marketing, and not as a serious statement of intent.
There are no conditions in Macedonia for conduct of registers-based census. At this moment, it is crucial to conduct a relevant and credible census in accordance with all international standards, through tradition in-the-field census.
In a parallel process, the preparations to create and link the registers may proceed and then, following the Norwegian example, a simulation registers-based census should be conducted eventually, over the same period during which a traditional census is conducted. The results of the simulation will prove the veracity and the relevance of the registers and their links.
That is the only approach that would allow for the start and implementation of a serious process of creation and improvement of registers in the country which, in the long run, would lead to a situation in which Macedonia would be able to conduct only registers-based censuses.