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Policy brief

Participation of third parties to elections

The participation of third parties in political life is not regulated in Romania, the legislation establishing that only candidates and political parties can contribute to electoral campaigns. Third parties are those entities other than electoral competitors that can contribute to the election campaign with the resources to support a candidate or an electoral issue. Third parties are regulated in a relatively small number of EU or OSCE countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Canada and the United States. Financial and transparency rules differ from state to state, as does the ability to effectively control the participation of third parties in the campaign. Slovakia gave up in 2019 to allow third parties to participate in the campaign. On the other hand, in Lithuania, the 2020 elections showed the need for clearer regulation, as a negative campaign against the Polish party led to the failure of its entry into parliament.

Apparently in Romania, third parties do not seem to have had a role in recent politics, except for the 2018 constitutional referendum (redefining the family). However, the Romanian Church, entities such as the Coalition for the Family or various online portals (whose activity is visible by consulting the Facebook Ads Library) have visibly supported electoral competitors, at central or local level during various campaigns. Unfortunately, at this time, we do not have solid conclusions from a long-term monitoring campaign at the national level, but existing data show that there is a potential for external factors to intervene in supporting electoral competitors, without oversight and reporting contributions.

The law showed its limits in the context of the campaign organized by non-governmental organizations, informal groups or other entities, which were promoters of the position for or against amending the Constitution. The Coalition for the Family declared in October 2018 that the regulations do not apply to them (and they were right). Also, the Romanian Church was an active actor, which officially participated by urging voters to vote yes. At the same time, there were organizations that supported anti-referendum campaigns. However, no contributions were declared. Even if referendums have a special regime and are different from the essence of an electoral process, the transparency of contributions is important, especially if we are talking about a referendum to impeach the president, but also consultations that can fundamentally change the way a state works. by constitution. An example in which most of the regulations on third parties also apply to the referendum is the British one.

So far, there has been too little discussion about the participation of third parties in election campaigns, and their role is probably too little understood. It was put on the public agenda especially during the 2018 referendum, but experiences from other countries, reflected in this report (Lithuania, Latvia), show us that interventions from third parties, which are not regulated, can change the results of the political game. In the Republic of Moldova, in recent years there have been numerous accusations regarding non-governmental organizations close to political parties, which have financed their activity with significant amounts. The GRECO and ODIHR recommendations regarding the regulation of thirds parties, which have not been implemented, as well as the international standards on the possibility of exercising the right to participate in political life and free expression, remain to be implemented. 

In the current context, we believe that the issue of introducing specific regulations for third parties must be on the public agenda. A public debate on this topic could be useful, given the risks that the regulation of such a method of financing would entail (exceeding funding limits, lack of real control of the activity of third parties, etc.), but also the public interest, respectively existing international recommendations. For a start, it is clear that there must be some specific regulations for referenda, as in this context there seems to have been the greatest interest from third parties to get involved, but also the greatest lack of transparency in spending.

In parallel, the legislation needs to clarify the pre-election period, when there are too few rules on the transparency of the process, although significant amounts of money are spent. In 2019 and 2020, most of the campaign moved to pre-campaign, given the limitations during the actual campaign. Considering that during this period the election propaganda materials are not marked with information such as the entity that ordered them or the number of copies, and political parties (or anyone else) can promote practically anything without much control; reporting is done through documents related to party funding, not campaign funding.

Discussions about third parties can be very well linked to other priorities related to political funding, such as increasing transparency in the reporting of parties and electoral competitors,   the control capacity of oversight institutions, sanctions etc . Also, the regulation of the online campaign may contribute to a more transparent and assumed political life. Finally, any form of regulation must be closely linked to real control of the reporting and field activities of third parties. And all this can be done in the context of discussions on the elaboration of an Electoral Code.



Report published within a project funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), implemented by Expert Forum in partnership with CEELI Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).


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