Original article (in Slovenian) was published on 05/04/2022
The activities of the Vox Populi initiative differ from an election campaign in that its primary purpose is to encourage citizens to vote in the election, rather than to promote a particular political party.
“This is a case of explicit and unequivocal engagement in the election campaign, which is why it is important that the initiative also complies with all the rules and laws that apply to political parties standing in the election,” declared the news site Celjskiglasnik.si on 20 March. This came as a response to a tweet by the citizens’ initiative Vox Populi announcing that it would mobilize citizens across Slovenia to bring about a record turnout in the April election.
Celjski glasnik also referred to a tweet by Prime Minister Janez Janša, in which he was speculating whether the initiative had opened a special election campaign bank account, as required of all election campaign organizers by the Election and Referendum Campaign Act (ZVRK).
On the same day as Celjski glasnik, Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), on its official Twitter profile, described the activities of some NGOs as “a complete violation of the electoral law”.
Under the ZVRK, an election campaign includes all political campaign communications and other forms of political propaganda intended to influence the voters’ decisions when voting for candidates in elections.
Election campaign organizers must open a special bank account to collect all funds earmarked for the campaign at least 45 days before the election day. All election campaign expenses must also be paid from this bank account.
The Ministry of Public Administration explained to Razkrinkavanje.si that according to the ZVRK, an election campaign begins 30 days before the election and must end no later than 24 hours before the day of voting. “Outside this period, we cannot talk about campaigning.”
The purpose of election campaigns, as stated by the ZVRK, is to influence the voters’ decisions when voting for candidates in elections. Activities aimed at raising awareness of citizens and encouraging them to vote do not constitute election campaigning which would be subject to this Act, the Ministry said.
“The provisions of the ZVRK concerning the opening of a special bank account and other obligations imposed by the law on election campaign organizers do not apply to such cases,” they added. In an additional message, they noted that activities of the Vox Populi initiative had not been evaluated in-depth and that election campaign bank accounts are examined by the Court of Audit.
Ula Tomaduz from the law firm Pirc Musar & Lemut Strle agreed that the actions of the Vox Populi initiative do not constitute election campaigning. Under the ZVRK, election campaigns may be organized by the candidates themselves, by the proposers of candidates or of the lists of candidates, by political parties, or other legal or natural persons. The Vox Populi initiative is none of the above and therefore cannot be an election campaign organizer.
“In terms of substance, I think it is crucial that the primary purpose of the initiative is to encourage citizens to vote in the election, rather than to favor or promote a particular political party,” she explained. “Their activities represent a general appeal to citizens to vote and to shape the policies of their country.”
In Tomaduz’s opinion, official election campaigns differ from civil society activities primarily in terms of substance. While election campaigns of individual parties or candidates center first and foremost on the reasons to vote for them, the civil society agenda can have a broader focus.
We asked the editorial board of the news site Celjskiglasnik.si for comment on our findings. The claim made by Celjskiglasnik.si that the activities of the Vox Populi initiative constitute election campaigning is false.