THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS PROVIDE NO POLITICAL PARTICIPATION FOR THE ROMA: PARTIES SEE THEM ONLY AS VOTES

We planned to participate as a Roma community, but since the threshold for Roma has not been reduced, as it was done for the Croatian national minority, we are not able to stand for the elections. If they had reduced the threshold, I believe we would have had enough voters for one Member of Parliament”, Mensur Shala, president of the newly formed Democratic Party of Roma, told CIN-CG

“The Roma community is fed up of others deciding on its behalf!”

With this exclamation, the president of the newly founded Democratic Party of Roma, Mensur Shala, in an interview with the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG), admits that the authentic political representative of his people will be awaited after the parliamentary elections scheduled for August 30th.

Shala explains that the current Law on Election of Councilors and Members of Parliament prevents a party that would represent the Roma community from winning a sufficient number of votes. 

We planned to participate as the Roma community, but since the threshold for Roma has not been reduced, as it was done for the Croatian national minority, we are not able to stand for the elections. If they had reduced the threshold, I believe we would have had enough voters for one Member of Parliament”, Shala has pointed out.

According to the Law on Election of Councilors and Members of Parliament, electoral lists that received at least three percent of the total number of valid votes participate in the distribution of mandates. By applying the principle of affirmative action, parties representing minorities, primarily Bosniaks and Albanians, in the event that none of the electoral lists presenting them reach the threshold, and individually receive at least 0.7 percent of valid votes, gain the right to participate in distribution of mandates as one – collective electoral list. They are entitled to participate in the allocation of up to 3 seats then.

Due to the amendments to the election law, the parties representing the Croatian minority, due to a lower percentage of representation in the total population, are entitled to one seat if they gain 0.35% or more of the valid votes.

According to the turnout in the previous elections, the parties usually need about ten thousand votes to enter the parliament, the minority lists four times less, and the Croatian minority about a thousand.

According to the results of Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in Montenegro, 6.251 persons (1.01 percent of population) have stated to belong to the Roma population, slightly more than the Croatian national minority (0.97 percent). However, data on the number of Roma eligible to vote are not available. The survey presented by CEDEM shows that, as many as 57 percent of members of this minority do not have Montenegrin citizenship.

CIN-CG’s interlocutors have stated that the method for enabling authentic political participation of Roma exists but political will is also needed.

“In the last few months, since I was on the field, because of the situation with the COVID-19, they asked me in the community whether our party will stand for elections. Some of them were sure it would. They can’t wait for our party to appear, to be given an opportunity to choose what we want. No one can fight for us like ourselves, because we know the best what we need “, Shala says.

Since 1998, the Law on Election of Councilors and Members of Parliament has been amended 17 times, the last time in October 2018, and the legislator has never recognized the necessity of introducing the affirmative action for the Roma community.

The initiative to enable it to this community, as it was done for the Croatian minority, was submitted to the parliament in 2018 by the members of the Coalition Together for the Inclusion of Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro. It was signed by Samir Jaha from the NGO Young Roma, Milan Radovic from the Civic Alliance, Dragan Koprivica from the Center for Democratic Transition, Elvis Berisha from the NGO Phiren Amenca and Fana Delija from the Center for Roma Initiatives.

Program Director for Human and Minority Rights in the Civic Alliance Milan Radovic points out for CIN-CG that this is the key moment for the Roma to have a political representative in parliament who would primarily deal with the position of that minority in the moment of democratic development in Montenegro and ask certain issues to be resolved.

Radović explains that the document requested “to enable the Roma people affirmative action, as in case of the Croatian minority, in the sense that they, as a minority can gain one parliamentary seat in a significantly smaller quota.”

“We have not received an answer yet, nor this issue was discussed in the parliament”, Radović points out.

Almir Tahiri, a member of the UMRE Civic Movement (United Movement of Roma and Egyptians), is the first person from the Roma community in Montenegro to graduate from the Faculty of Political Science. He believes that the state must show sensitivity to its citizens. 

“Montenegro is as much a state of Montenegrins, Serbs, Croats, Albanians and Bosniaks as it is ours. Unequal access and selective concessions cannot bring progress in either the social or the economic field. I am sure that our integration would lead to significant increase of GDP. In this regard, all those MPs who love Montenegro should initiate and support the amendment of the Law on Election of Councilors and MPs. They do not have to do it for our own sake, but for the sake of society in general and Montenegro, because by providing support to us, they provide it to their own country “, Tahiri says for CIN-CG.

Political parties represented in parliament, with the exception of Demos and the Civic Movement URA, despite a two-week insistence by CIN-CG journalists, avoided answering questions about their views on the initiative to reduce the threshold to 0.35 percent in the case of Roma, whether a party representing the Roma community would contribute to the further democratization of Montenegrin society, and whether they have representatives of this community in their parties.

In DEMOS, they say, they are aware of the extremely difficult position of Roma in Montenegro. They believe that the principle of affirmative action, applied to the Croatian national minority, should also be applied to the Roma. They believe that the Roma party would contribute to better protection of Roma interests and “reduce the possibility of abuse of the Roma population in the electoral process by the current government, and thus would contribute to the democratization of Montenegrin society.”

That is why, they say, “DEMOS will support potential changes to the Law on Election of Councilors and MPs, which would enable such a solution.”

The main challenges that the Roma community may face in the process of creating a party that would protect its national interests concern the expected obstructions of the ruling elite, DEMOS stated. 

“This is primarily in order to continue to secure the votes of Roma citizens by abusing the difficult economic position of Roma and state resources for election purposes,” this political party explains.

The Civic Movement URA points out that their party has representatives of all nations from the last Census from 2011, including Roma and Egyptians.

“We are a party that respects and values the differences. It is important to note that we had representatives of the Roma population as candidates for councilors in the local elections in Ulcinj. Also, in the Youth Forum, we have members who are Roma “, URA said for CIN-CG.

The URA representatives believe that it is necessary to introduce amendments to the Law on Election of Councilors and MPs as soon as possible, “in order to equalize the position of Roma and Egyptians with the position of some other minority communities.”

“We emphasize that according to the last population census, there are more Roma and Egyptians living in Montenegro compared to other minority communities that have a privileged electoral threshold,” URA said. 

Representatives of URA also assess that “it is extremely important that Roma and Egyptians have representatives in state institutions and in political life, because otherwise there is no full integration into society.”

Recalling that Roma and Egyptians are the most marginalized community in the Parliament, the Civic Movement URA assessed that “if they had their representatives in parliament, they would significantly contribute to improvements in education, health care, legal and social status, family protection, culture and information ”.

The president of the NGO Roma Hope, Mirsad Muratovic, says that now there are a sufficient number of educated people who can represent the Roma community in parliament in a professional manner.

“Twelve years ago, when I founded the NGO, there was a small number of educated members of the RE population in Montenegro. We now have a significant number of those who have completed postgraduate and master studies. We have the capacity to participate in political life and people who would be members of parliament and protect our rights,” Muratovic told CIN-CG.

Mensur Shala, the president of the newly founded Roma party, announces that, in addition to insisting on reducing the threshold, he will also work on uniting young educated Roma in order to advocate for a better position of the community. He says that the plan is to talk to the deputies in the next period and open the issue of a reduced threshold, but also to prepare for the local elections in Podgorica in 2022.

“For young, educated people to be employed in ministries, to have our rights, that no one takes our places,” Shala says, adding that he primarily thinks of the ministries for human and minority rights, education, labor and social welfare, and even foreign affairs. 

“So, the aim is to have members of the community who will actively participate in creation of our destiny”, Shala says.

“In order to achieve the principle of equality between ethno cultural communities in the national-state context, it is necessary to recognize the special political rights to the members of minority communities or minorities as collectives. This especially refers to the communities that have been marginalized or discriminated against for a long time, as it is the case with the Roma community, ” Danijela Vukovic Calasan, in her work The Politics of Multiculturalism and Political Participation of Roma in Montenegro, states.

Political participation and representation of Roma are stated in the recommendations of the Government, the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

The Roma, despite the first step of founding the party, are still invisible on the political scene.

He advocated for the Roma party, then joined the DPS

The President of the Roma Council, Isen Gashi, who previously fiercely advocated for the authentic representation of Roma, in the meantime became a member of the Main Board of the DPS and – fell silent.

In January 2018, he told CIN-CG that it is necessary to provide a systemic solution for the authentic representation of Roma in the Montenegrin parliament and at the local level, which he sees a precondition for true integration.

“It is incomprehensible that the Roma community must provide twice as many votes for one parliamentary mandate in relation to the Croatian community. This is not a concept of civil society, it is a typical example of double standards,” Gashi said at the time.

Referring to experience, he then pointed out that he was not sure that the Roma would have the support of the DPS and other parties for their demands.

“Especially if we remember the initiative of Positive Montenegro, which once submitted an amendment to provide the Roma community with a guaranteed mandate in the Montenegrin parliament, which was rejected by everyone else. “Even minority parties opposed such a request,” Gashi said.

The President of the Roma Council, on November 30th last year, was elected by the DPS Congress as a member of the Main Board.

Even after several days of journalists’ insistence, Gashi did not answer the questions about whether he maintains his earlier commitment to reducing the threshold and political participation of Roma and Egyptians, whether he will advocate for it as a member of the DPS leadership and whether he has already raised such an issue, why he had accepted a seat in the ruling party and whether it conflicts with the function of president of the Roma Council, which should bring together all Roma.

Serđan BAFTIJARI 

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