Vote buying / Vote selling (Western Balkans)
|Vote buying / Vote selling 🇦🇱 🇧🇦 🇽🇰 🇲🇪 🇲🇰 🇷🇸|
|Location: Western Balkans|
|Definition: Practices of induced vote-mobilisation|
|Keywords: Albania – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Kosovo – Montenegro – North Macedonia – Serbia – Balkans – Yugoslavia – Europe – Clientelism – Patronage – Political party – Vote buying – Vote selling – Vote exchange – Elections – Relational patronage – Governance – Money – Cash – Payment|
|Clusters: Co-optation – Informal governance – Patron-client networks – INFORM|
|Author: Jovan Bliznakovski|
|Affiliation: University of Milan, Italy and Institute for Democracy ʻSocietas Civilisʼ Skopje, North Macedonia|
By Jovan Bliznakovski, University of Milan, Italy and Institute for Democracy ʻSocietas Civilisʼ Skopje, North Macedonia
|Vote buying and vote selling are among the most prominent of practices of political clientelism worldwide – the exchange of votes for particularistic benefits (see also voto di scambio). In the languages of the Western Balkans, the practices are termed kupovina glasova / prodaja glasova (in Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian and Montenegrin), blerja e votive / shitja e votave (in Albanian) and купување гласови / продавање гласови (in Macedonian). The practices of vote buying and selling have been present across the region since the introduction of the formal multiparty democracy at the beginning of the 1990s. Today, these practices are widely known and recognized in Western Balkan countries as a form of ‘corruption’ and less frequently as ‘clientelism.’ Colloquially, the local terms for vote buying and selling signify an exchange of one’s right to vote in the elections for a benefit (typically cash, but also food, clothes, house appliances, or minor administrative favours), given, sponsored, or assisted by a political party. Both terms, vote buying and vote selling, point to the same give-and-take practice: the former from the perspective of the patron (a political party), the latter from the perspective of the client (a citizen).|
The exchange of electoral votes for material benefits is illegal everywhere in the region, and both cash and non-cash transactions represent a basis for prosecution. The criminal codes of Albania (Art. 328, CCRA 1995) and Kosovo (Art. 215, CCRK 2012) stipulate sanctions of imprisonment between one and five years for those who participate in vote buying and selling. The provisions in criminal codes of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Art. 151, CCBH 2003), Montenegro (Art. 186, CCRM 2003) and Serbia (Art. 156, CCRS 2005) go up to three years in prison for vote buying and selling. In North Macedonia (Art. 162, CCNM 1996), the criminal code stipulates punishment for vote buying and selling of up to one year in prison or a fine when benefits of minor material value are distributed, and a minimum of five years when benefits are substantial.
Despite being an illegal practice, vote buying and selling is widespread in Western Balkans. A significant part of respondents in the 2017 representative survey in six Western Balkans countries (N=6040) reported having been approached with vote buying offers in the past (Bliznakovski et al. 2017: 9). Over one fifth of respondents acknowledged exposure to vote-buying in Montenegro (22.5 percent) and Albania (20.6 percent), followed by 15.4 percent of respondents in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 12.5 percent in Kosovo, 8.4 percent in Serbia and 7.4 percent in North Macedonia. When compared with surveys from other countries where vote buying is considered to be widespread – 5 percent in Brazil in 2002, 7 percent in Argentina in 2001-2002 and 15 percent in Mexico in 2000 (Hagopian 2007: 594) – the Western Balkan's average of 14 percent suggests significant presence of the practice in the region. Vote buying is frequently monitored by external election missions conducted in the region. After monitoring the 2017 parliamentary elections in Albania and the 2018 presidential elections in Montenegro, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE-ODIHR) has recommended that preventing vote buying should be a priority for improving the electoral process (OSCE-ODIHR 2017a; 2018a). OSCE-ODIHR noted the presence of the practice in all countries where it conducted monitoring (all but Kosovo) (OSCE-ODIHR 2017b; 2017c; 2018b).
What is the going price of a vote across the region today? A vote seller's testimony, which helped sentence the mayor of Kavadarci in North Macedonia to two months in prison for buying votes during the 2016 parliamentary elections, cited fees of 16 euros per vote (Saliu 2017). Wiretap recordings related to the 2017 Albanian parliamentary elections documented a request, made to the Minister of the Interior and the member of the ruling Socialist Party, of 160 euros for 4 votes (Tiede 2019). 150 citizens in the city of Cazin in Bosnia and Herzegovina went on a public protest after they failed to receive the promised 50-euro compensation for selling their vote in the 2010 general elections (Karabegović 2010). The data we collected through semi-structured interviews conducted as part of the INFORM research project suggest that the price of an electoral vote in mid-2010s was between 16 to 50 euros in Albania; 15 to 50 euros in Bosnia and Herzegovina; from 8 euros upwards in North Macedonia; and from 50 euros in Montenegro. Vote buying and selling do not always involve cash transactions, but can entail the exchange of various goods and services such as food, clothes, house appliances, and minor administrative favours.
Political parties in the Western Balkans region employ three main techniques to verify whether the vote-sellers keep their end of the bargain. Photographing ballots with mobile phones inside the voting booth is the most used one. Parties also instruct vote sellers to mark their ballots with specific symbols or coloured pens, where legal provision does not disqualify such ballots. The third widespread technique of monitoring employed in the region is carousel voting, also referred to as the ‘Bulgarian train’. In carousel voting, political party agents hand out pre-filled ballots to the vote sellers who deposit them in the voting booth, while handing the empty ones received from the polling station to party agents as proof.
The practices of vote buying and vote selling represent only a fraction of exchanges associated with political clientelism in the Western Balkans. The one-off nature of the vote-for-benefit exchange where a benefit tends to be ‘petty’ and offered ad hoc during election campaigns distinguishes it from relational clientelism, a type of political clientelism which denotes long-term linking between patrons and clients (Nichter 2014, 2018). Vote buying and vote selling practices are typically reviewed in the literature as examples of electoral clientelism, but political clientelism in the Western Balkans tends to be relational and reaches far beyond activities that support elections directly. Relational clients offer extended services to political parties beyond voting in elections, such as assistance in political mobilization activities and in the functioning of party organizations, and typically extract grander benefits than the vote selling ones such as access to employment, scholarships, subsidies and public procurement contacts (see also partija). Relational clientelism thus involves a continuous exchange of benefits and services between parties and clients – in the academic literature also referred to as patronage (Stokes et al. 2013: 7).
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CCRK. 2012. ‘Criminal Code of the Republic of Kosovo’, Code no. 04/L-082, 20 April
CCRM. 2003. ‘Criminal Code of the Republic of Montenegro’, Official Gazette no. 70/2003
CCRS. 2005. ‘Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia’, Official Gazette no. 85/2005
Hagopian, Frances. 2007. ‘Parties and voters in emerging democracies’, in Boix, Carles, and Susan Carol Stokes (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press: 582-603
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Nichter, Simeon. 2018. Votes for Survival: Relational Clientelism in Latin America. Cambridge University Press Nova TV. 2014. ‘Vo Strumica eden glas se prodava za 500 denari’, Nova TV, 27 April, https://novatv.mk/vo-strumica-eden-glas-se-prodava-za-500-denari/
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Saliu, Furkan. 2017. ‘Gradonachalnikot na Kavadarci kupuval glasovi za 1000 denari’, 21TV, 18 August, https://tv21.tv/mk/gradonachalnikot-na-kavadartsi-kupuva/
Stokes, Susan Carol, Thad Dunning, Marcelo Nazareno, and Valeria Brusco. 2013. Brokers, Voters, and Clientelism: The Puzzle of Distributive Politics. Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics. New York, N.Y: Cambridge University Press
Tiede, Peter. 2019. ‘Abhör-Bänder belegen: Regierung manipulierte Wahl’, Bild, 17 June, https://www.bild.de/politik/ausland/politik-ausland/wahl-manipulation-in-albanien-abhoer-baender-belegen-regierung-manipulierte-wahl-62666642.bild.html