By Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
Where Is the Electoral Reform?

It’s not that no one saw this coming. The electoral reform is not even close to being passed by Parliament, let alone implemented.

Last year, Socialist MP Taulant Balla promised EU Foreign Affairs Commission David McAllister and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn that bipartisan electoral reform would be passed before Christmas 2018.

Yet nothing has happened.

The electoral reform, which is supposed to follow the recommendations of OSCE-ODIHR following the 2013, 2015, and 2017 elections has also become perhaps the single most important condition for the Albanian government to fulfil before accession negotiations can be opened in June 2019.

In July 2018, the German Bundestag’s reporter on Albania, Thorsten Frei, already stated that “the first accession conference will only take place after the local elections take place based on a new electoral reform that has been approved in a bipartisan manner.”

This position was reiterated by the European Parliament in October 2018, when the EU-Albania Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee (SAPC) insisted “on the need to timely implement OSCE/ODIHR recommendations that are still outstanding from various rounds of postelection reports, especially those related to the independence and depolitisation of the election administration, transparency in campaign finance, voter registration, vote buying and out-of-country voting.”

Most recently, German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michael Roth, after a meeting with MP Taulant Balla and Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruçi, emphasized the importance of bipartisan electoral reform.

Let us remember already in April 2018 the Albanian Helsinki Committee published a press statement with the alarming title “We Are Late.” Yet there is still no word from the Ad-Hoc Parliamentary Commission on Electoral Reform about any bipartisan proposal.

The most recent development is that on February 1 the PS switched out its co-chairman from the Commission, after former co-chairman Bledi Çuçi became Minister of Agriculture. That tells you everything about the value the PS gives to this reform.

The reforms proposed by the OSCE-ODIHR include a complete depoliticization of all electoral bodies, yet as we are closing in on the June 30, all the old – politicized – institutions have started preparations for the elections to be held in less than five months. In January, for example, the Central Election Commission (KQZ), which is fully under political control, determined election documents and electoral zones.

This means that no matter what will happen next, the reform has basically failed before it got ever started. Time’s up.