Full participation of Roma and Sinti in electoral processes essential to their successful inclusion, say participants at OSCE/ODIHR meeting in Warsaw
Successful inclusion of Roma and Sinti in their societies depends on whether their right to vote and be voted for is adequately exercised, said participants at a consultation meeting organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw on 27 and 28 October 2016.
The meeting brought together 17 civil society activists, politicians, academics, election and national minority experts who reviewed the obstacles facing members of Roma and Sinti communities in exercising their right to vote and be voted for. Among others, participants examined issues related to voter registration, voting turnout, opportunities for voters to make free and informed choices and other aspects of electoral campaigns. Combined with anti-Roma campaigning, these obstacles also negatively affect the motivation of Roma and Sinti voters, limiting support for parties which represent community interests. Particular obstacles affecting the participation of women and youth have also been addressed.
“Mainstream political parties shy away from putting forward Roma and Sinti candidates in spite of an increasing number of educated and competent Roma and Sinti, including youth and women,” said Mirjam Karoly, ODIHR’s Senior Adviser on Roma and Sinti Issues. “Unfortunately, social and economic vulnerabilities of Roma and Sinti communities are often exploited during election processes through vote buying and vote manipulation, direct pressure or threats.”
The participants also explored further areas of engagement to address these specific issues.
“OSCE participating States should focus on efforts to ensure that Roma and Sinti can fully enjoy their right to vote, including steps to enact appropriate legislation and policy measures such as voter education and awareness raising campaigns,” said Roland Ferkovics, a young Roma activist from Hungary.
The 2003 Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area encouraged the participating States to “organize election-awareness campaigns so as to increase participation of the Roma electorate in elections”, “ensure that Roma voters can make free and informed choices in elections” and “encourage the representation of Roma and Sinti people in elected and appointed office.”