The efforts of the Serbian authorities to bring the legislation into line with international standards are welcome, but it is regrettable that the revision of the law on referendums did not begin until a constitutional referendum was imminent. declared on Venice Commission in his urgent notice on the referendum and popular initiative bill published today.
Amendments to the fundamental provisions of this legislation should only be applied within a year of their adoption if they ensure compliance with the standards of the European electoral heritage or implement the recommendations of international organizations. The Venice Commission recommends holding the next referendum late enough for the revised law to really apply to it. Amendments should be adopted by broad consensus and taking into account public consultations with all relevant stakeholders.
The amendments contain several positive elements, such as the abolition of the quorum for the validity of the referendum, the regulation of the possibility for the Assembly to take a position on the question submitted to the referendum; as well as the obligation to provide citizens with objective information on the referendum question.
However, several issues should be addressed in a revised version of the draft. The Venice Commission recommends in particular to clearly define the different types of referendums and the provisions applicable to them; matters which can and cannot be put to referendum; the hierarchical rank of the provisions submitted to the referendum (constitutional or statutory) and the effect of the request for a referendum on the legislation in force. She recommends reconsidering the extension of the right to vote to property owners, or at least clearly detailing this extension. No fees should be charged for signature authentication, or at most these fees should be very low. All voters should have the right to appeal, and the time limits for filing and ruling on complaints and appeals should be reasonably extended. Private media should not be required to maintain neutrality; it would suffice to ensure equal conditions for radio and television advertising for the private and public mass media. Furthermore, the Venice Commission recommends reconsidering the composition of the electoral administration in order to guarantee its independence by revising the relevant legal texts.
Other recommendations of the Venice Commission include reviewing restrictions on the nature of the entities that can conduct electoral campaigns and on the funding of such campaigns; extension of the time between the referendum convening decision and the vote; and restrict the discretionary use by the Assembly of the possibility of reducing this period, in particular for constitutional referendums. It is also recommended to relax the requirements for collecting signatures for popular initiatives.