The Electoral Code Is Dead

If it wasn’t already before, it is now. The Electoral Code is dead.

Although the McAllister+ agreement has been touted as a triumph for democracy by internationals of all colors, it has in fact caused severe damage to the rule of law in Albania. The agreement has shown that political power trumps the law. It has shown that international negotiators can ignore it. And as a result of this agreement, more and more government institutions, including the Central Election Commission, (KQZ) appear less and less interested in upholding the legal standard approved by Parliament and signed by the President of the Republic.

First of all, the postponement of the elections. The Electoral Code offers no mechanism to postpone the elections once they have been decreed by the President. Therefore, in order to postpone the elections, even if only by a week and within the time window mandated by the Constitution, the Electoral Code should have been changed to allow the President to decree a new election date.

But if we accept the President using his authority to change the election date based on an agreement between two political parties, this new election date should come with a whole new set of deadlines: deadlines for the registration of electoral subjects, registration of electoral coalitions, and registration of candidate lists. Only the registration of electoral subjects and candidate lists of the opposition was regulated by the McAllister+ agreement, which means that neither coalitions, nor government-allied small parties were offered the possibility to register. If the PD and PS refuse to enter into any coalition that is their good right, but to prevent other parties from doing so is a gross violation of the Electoral Code. The result is now known to everyone: small party leaders begging the PS and PD to be included on their candidate lists or face extinction.

Then there are the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, forcing private companies to offer free airtime to political advertisements. In a large display of hypocrisy, the Society of Audiovisual Media (SMA) suddenly raised the alarm about “press freedom” and the “protection of private property.” Although they never lifted a single finger when journalists were silenced, censored, or fired, they are right when they point out that the amendments are in violation of the Electoral Code.

Other amendments to the Law on Political Parties, again approved as part of the McAllister+ agreement, significantly improve the monitoring of the finances during the electoral campaign. The Electoral Code, however, limits the role of auditing campaign finances of political parties to the period after the elections. So again, the amendment approved in Parliament appear to contradict the Electoral Code, no matter how useful these amendments may have been.

That all these violations of Electoral Code have led to a progressive erosion of the legitimacy of decisions of the KQZ, and a laxness in the behavior of political parties, is clear from the latest episode, in which the PD failed to provide fully completed and documented candidate lists on the “deadline” last Friday. The KQZ gave the party yesterday 24 hours to complete their lists and documentation. According to Klement Zguri, the newly elected chairman of the KQZ, “electoral subjects have the right to correct their irregularities.” Last time I checked, the Electoral Code doesn’t give such right to anyone. If you miss the deadline, you missed your chance.

If Presidents can change election dates, if Parliament can approve legal amendments that violate the Electoral Code, if the KQZ can issue decisions that have no basis in the law, if parties can ignore legally mandated deadlines, what should prevent the chair of a voting center from starting the vote an hour late? What should prevent a political party from hanging a flag too close to the voting center? What should prevent a vote counter from saying “this ballot is invalid but I think it was for political party X or Y”?

In Albanian there is a nice saying which proves true time after time: The fish starts rotting at the head. It is indeed rotting already, and our fridge is broken.