Europe warns Spain of the “shortcomings” in the postal voting system

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Brussels (CNA).- The Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic and International Human Rights (ODIHR) have criticised Spain for the “shortcomings” of the postal voting system and have urged the Spanish authorities to make some changes. According to their report, based on the observation of the 20-D Spanish Elections, the Spanish authorities “should address the shortcomings of the postal voting system”, especially for those living abroad. The report also warns of the “political pressures” on Spanish public radio and television during the electoral campaign, which diminished “media outlets’ editorial independence and credibility”. According to the report, only 8.57% of the 1.8 million Spanish living abroad registered to vote for the last Spanish elections and less than 89,000 could ultimately do so.

The Spanish authorities should tackle the “shortcomings of the postal voting system” and “take steps to ensure that all voters benefit from equal voting opportunities to the maximum extent possible”, according to the OSCE and ODIHR.

Both bodies noted in the report that a number of civil society organisations “blamed the authorities for failing to remedy the significant decrease of out-of-country voter turnout” since 2011, when it was first noticed, following the “amendments to the election law”. “The decrease appears to have been caused by several factors, including the introduction of the in-person registration requirement, but also exceedingly tight deadlines, host-country postal service disruptions, and an ineffective voter information campaign” states the report.

The report estimates that only 161,228 (or 8.57%) of the 1,880,849 citizens residing abroad registered to vote by mail. From these, a total of 151,061 requests were approved. Ballots were mailed to all these citizens and some 88,900 voted. However, the OSCE/ODIHR also stated that they had been informed of “several instances of voters abroad claiming that they never received their ballots” and highlighted that “the authorities have no information as to how many ballots arrived late and were therefore not counted”.

To remedy this, the report suggest that the authorities should “address the shortcomings of the postal voting system and take steps to ensure that all voters benefit from equal voting opportunities to the maximum extent possible”.

“Political pressures” on the public media coverage

Regarding the media coverage of the electoral campaign, the report raised “significant concerns” about “growing commercial and political pressures diminishing media outlets’ editorial independence and credibility”. In this vein, the OSCE and ODIHR considered the coverage of the campaign to be “highly regulated according to some stakeholders to the detriment of the quality of information provided to voters”.

“Many argued that the impartiality of the public broadcaster had been damaged following a 2012 decree abolishing the qualified majority requirement when parliament appoints members of its executive board”, states the report. “The Newsroom Committee”, an internal self-regulatory body representing journalists of the Spanish Public Radio and Television (RTVE) informed the OSCE and ODIHR that “the tone of news coverage of the elections was influenced by editors appointed because of their political allegiance, rather than on merit.”

Thus, according to the report, “consideration should be given to reviewing the method of selecting the members of RTVE’s executive board with a view to protecting the public broadcaster from political interference and ensuring standards of professionalism and editorial independence”.

More transparency

However, concerns were raised about “legislation regulating the freedoms of expression, association and assembly”, especially the 2002 Organic Law on Political Parties and the 2011 amendments to the 1985 Organic Law on General Election Regime that permit “outlawing parties that peacefully pursue political objectives similar to those of, or have any links with, terrorist groups”.

While the election administration enjoys a high level of public confidence, “the transparency of its work was diminished by the fact that commission sessions are closed to the public” warned the report. To remedy it, “the commissions should conduct their meetings in sessions open to observers and media representatives, and all their decisions should be published.”

The authorities should ensure the full enjoyment of the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and that any restrictions on the exercise of these rights are proportional and minimal, in accordance with international standards.