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Roma fear vote buying

BUYING votes, particularly those of people living in socially excluded Roma settlements, is frequently suspected during elections in Slovakia, with the allegations tied to all levels of elections and all political parties.

BUYING votes, particularly those of people living in socially excluded Roma settlements, is frequently suspected during elections in Slovakia, with the allegations tied to all levels of elections and all political parties.

The last regional elections, in 2009, were marked by a major vote-buying scandal. Now, just weeks before the November 9 elections, representatives of Roma voiced concerns about such practices appearing again, and called on authorities to take preventive measures.

“The initiative of buying Roma votes definitely comes from the headquarters of political parties who propose their candidates for regional council members,” František Tanko, the head of the Party of Roma Union in Slovakia (SRÚS), told a press conference on October 22, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

To prevent the buying of votes, SRÚS wants to send a letter to the Central Election Commission, the Interior Ministry, and the prime minister in order to secure the protection of polling stations. SRÚS plans to place more than 1,000 Roma activists and observers at the polling stations on election day, TASR wrote.

Pressure has started, Roma say

Tanko said that candidates have started influencing Roma as early as one month before the actual elections, with isolated settlements in Bystrany, Vranov, and Humenné, in eastern Slovakia, as particular targets.

“They approach us with the old message ‘Vote for me and I will help you’,” Tanko said, as quoted by TASR, though he failed to produce any evidence of intended vote buying.

While some Roma are fed up with the promises of politicians, there are still some who would gladly sell their vote. Some even offer their votes to candidates who do not shy away from such practices, Tanko said, as reported by TASR.

The Roma minority in Slovakia amounts to between 300,000 and 400,000 people, but they are hardly represented in central, regional and municipal governments. The current government’s proxy for Roma minorities, Peter Pollák, is the first-ever Roma MP in Slovakia.

There are officially 18 Roma parties operating in Slovakia, but only three are active. SRÚS is one, and is running 27 candidates for regional councils throughout Slovakia. Roma parties often fail to attract voters even from within their own community and their vote count is usually marginal.

Vote buying in the past

In 2009, after the first round of the regional elections, several suspicions of vote-buying were reported to election authorities and police. Four members of the Central Election Commission refused to sign the final election protocol, a closing document on the course of the elections, because of what they called irregularities.

The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), then in the opposition, claimed to have received several reports originating from eastern parts of the country, with the price for one vote allegedly between three to five euros.

According to unofficial findings by opposition deputies, election turnout in some Roma settlements was 60 to 70 percent, compared to the overall voter turnout of just above 20 percent, the SITA newswire wrote.

One of the alleged suspects is Miroslav Kellner, the Levoča district head of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party, who according to the Sme daily was seen by witnesses surrounded by a group of about 100 Roma citizens who had already cast their votes.

Jozef Kislík of the Prešov Region Election Committee told the ČTK newswire that some Roma citizens in the region arrived at polling booths with their election ballots already filled out and then returned with blank ballots to instruct others how to vote. It is alleged they received money to vote for a particular candidate.

In the municipalities of Ostrovany and Jarovnice in the Sabinov district, the Prešov election committee investigated complaints about a mass of voters being driven to the polls in buses and trucks and their votes being bought.

Read also: Media to be monitored during campaign

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