Irregularities at PACE’s Secretary-General Elections Come to the Fore

On September 29, in a vote plagued by irregularities, Wojciech Sawicki was re-elected as the Secretary-General of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). PACE matters because it is one of the few truly pan-European bodies — its parliamentarians come from EU member states, those states seeking to join the European Union, and all those even barely European countries who accept democratic norms — and because, linked as it is to the European Court of Human Rights, it is a vital voice on human rights and governmental norms in Europe. Aleksandra Djurović, the head of the PACE Serbian delegation, has pushed for an investigation into these irregularities, which include allegations of double-voting and counting the votes of delegates whose votes could not count. Ms. Djurović was kind enough to speak to us about this matter.

Can you tell us what happened during the Secretary-General Elections at PACE?

Serbia nominated Ms. Svetislava Bulajic for the position of Secretary-General of PACE, and we started our campaign in May this year. Mr. Sawicki from Poland, who was running for his second term on that position, was also a candidate.  During this campaign, we faced many difficulties, but everything culminated on electoral day. We have found that even though we a had candidate for that position, we didn’t have the right to have observers. All processes should be conducted according to the rules of the Secretariat of PACE and we believed that everything would be regular even though their boss, Mr. Sawicki, is one of the two candidates.

What irregularities or abnormalities did you perceive? And are they being addressed? If so, how?

There have been a lot of abnormalities, but I am going to mention two of the strangest things: a discrepancy between the number of signatures and ballots inside the box, and the fact that one member of Polish delegation voted two times.

The day after elections, we asked Mr. [Horst] Schade, the Director for General Services, to provide us with a copy of the original signatures to find some answers, but he told me that he cannot give us the copy of signatures because it is a confidential document, and that a request for the copy of the original document has to be addressed in written form to the Secretary-General, Mr.Sawicki, personally. I did so on Monday, and he answered that he would transmit my letter to Bureau of the PACE to make the decision! I couldn’t agree that this document is confidential: It is a strictly administrative document, no matter how essential it is for the full transparency of the voting process. The mere fact that the transcript, which should be identical to the original, was indeed published, confirms that such a document is not confidential. This also shows a very regrettable lack of transparency, which PACE would never accept when conducting election observations abroad.

Regarding the transcript list, and due to the fact that the [vote] tellers and secretariat told me there were 269 ballots, I was very surprised to see the list with 251 names only. When the tellers asked for an explanation of the discrepancy between the number of signatures and ballots, the explanation of the secretariat was that sometimes it happens that some MPs take the voting papers, but put them in their pockets and don’t vote. I wondered how it would be possible to know which MPs did that, because in the transcript list, there are only 251 names. Now, we have received a Memorandum in which Mr. Shade explains the reason for the difference: the memorandum claims that Russians were on the list even though they don’t have voting rights and their names were counted in the total number of signatures. I wonder: why were Russians on the list at all? Everybody knew in advance that the Russians don’t have voting rights.

One of the undisputed rules of international law regarding regularity of elections is the existence of only one, unique voting list! In PACE, there are two! In the Rules of Procedure it is not written that an election is allowed to have two lists! There is no paragraph which allows PACE to have two voting lists; it is just their practice, their clarification of the rules!

As we all know, the holy democratic rule is: One person; one vote! PACE’s official report reported that Iwona Guzowska, from the Polish delegation, voted two times! She is a substitute, and during the morning sitting, she voted instead of one representative; during the afternoon sitting, she voted for yet another representative of Polish delegation! The Secretariat’s explanation is that it is possible to change substitutes from the morning sitting to the afternoon sitting, and it is not forbidden that one substitute vote two times! We very well know that it is possible to change substitutes but for different topics, different resolutions which we discuss in hemicycle. But, of course, it is not possible to do so at the same voting!

I asked them to show me in the Rules of Procedure where it is written that a delegation is allowed to change substitutes from the morning sitting to the afternoon sitting for the same voting; and where it is written that one substitute can change two different representatives during the same voting.  Of course they couldn’t show me that, because there is not written a single word about that! PACE is the only organization in the world where is possible that one person vote two times! 

What do you see as the next steps going forward?

The Bureau of PACE decided to ask the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities, and Institutional Affairs to consider the rules applicable to election procedures in the plenary Assembly, and to disclose to the Chairperson of the delegation of Serbia a copy of the original lists of members who voted in the elections for the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly. We passed through a very bad experience in the elections for Secretary-General of PACE!  I hope that the rules and practice regarding elections within PACE will be changed, with an aim to ensuring that something similar never happens again!

Thank you very much for your time.

You are very welcome.

Stefan Muller contributed to this report.