Last weekend, the so-called “Political Council,” an ad-hoc negotiation group comprising representatives of the government, the parliamentary opposition, and the extra-parliamentary opposition, reached an agreement on the Electoral Reform. In many ways, this agreement forms the sequel to the McAllister+ agreement from 2017, which already severely undermined the rule of law and democratic institutions in Albania.
The McAllister+ agreement between PD leader Lulzim Basha and PS leader and prime minister Edi Rama stipulated the conditions for the 2017 general elections, which provided a framework that was designed to deprive the smaller parties on both the left and the right of the spectrum of votes, and led to a violation of presidential decree on the election date. As a result, the McAllister+ agreement, brokered under immense pressure of Albania’s international “partners,” simply delayed the conflict between the major political forces in the country while weakening the rule of law and democratic institutions.
The results of this disastrous agreement became rapidly clear. The opposition thought it could pull off the same stunt, and left Parliament in 2019, hoping to get another round of extra-parliamentary negotiations facilitated by the internationals (which they got!). The government found that it could ignore presidential decrees without sanction from the internationals, and went ahead with the arguably unconstitutional local elections in the same year.
Having learned absolutely nothing from the mistakes of their respective predecessors Donald Lu and Romana Vlahutin, US Ambassador Yuri Kim and EU Ambassador Luigi Soreca fell in the same trap and took on the leading role in their own little reenactment during the last few weeks. And just like in 2017 “u mbart mali dhe polli një mi” (the mountain got pregnant and bore a mouse).
Already in the first paragraph, the Electoral Reform agreement ignores the recommendations of OSCE-ODIHR, claiming it will implement “100%” biometric identification of voters during the 2021 general elections: a recipe for complete disaster considering generally poor preparation of electoral bodies, lack of training, and the extended political mudslinging that will no doubt ensue ahead of the elections. Furthermore, the electoral bodies will not be depoliticized, paving the way for a conflict between the extra-parliamentary opposition and the actual opposition in Parliament over who controls the seats allotted to the opposition in the coming election.
Except biometric identification, not a single other recommendation of OSCE-ODIHR is addressed by this “reform”:
- No solution for the widespread practice of vote-buying or an independent investigation of such practices during the 2017 and 2019 elections;
- No solution for the abuse of state resources for electoral campaign purposes;
- No depoliticization of electoral bodies (pushed to 2023 – allegedly);
- No solution for the age restrictions on voting lists, no extension of suffrage rights to people with mental disabilities;
- No further enhancement of transparency by providing independent observers with results protocols;
- No repeal of the defamation legislation;
- No gender-balanced representation in electoral bodies;
- No reform of campaign finance legislation;
- And so on and so on and so on.
It speaks for their lack of integrity (or understanding) that HR/VP Joseph Borrell and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi spoke of an “important electoral reform political agreement” that will “give Albania an electoral process with higher integrity and transparency standards” and “address a key condition to start EU accession negotiations.”
Rather, this “important electoral reform political agreement,” just like the McAllister+ agreement, poses a severe threat to the rule of law and democratic institutions of Albania, in particular because of paragraph 10:
All of the agreed proposals will be drafted into legal amendments that will be reviewed and checked by the Political Council to properly reflect the agreement BEFORE passing Parliament, WITHOUT any further changes or amendments. In the eventuality of any technical legal corrections proposed to these amendments by parliamentary bodies, these MUST be approved by the Political Council PRIOR to voting.
This shameful paragraph is a direct attack on the Albanian Constitution, which clearly gives Parliament to sole right to pass legislation as it pleases. There is no mention anywhere in Albanian legislation of an unelected “Political Council” that would have the legal right to approve or disapprove any legislation presented to Parliament, nor can any document remove Parliament’s right to pass amendments to any piece of legislation.
Despite the pathetic allcaps of “BEFORE,” “WITHOUT,” “MUST,” and “PRIOR,” this “agreement” is as anti-constitutional if there ever was one, and the signatures underneath have no meaning except to express a shocking lack of respect for the rule of law and the basic principles of democracy.
The internationals, jubilant on their Twitter feeds, will soon find that this agreement will yet be another Pyrrhic victory: a short-term non-solution that further erodes the foundations of the Albanian state while simply postponing the next crisis.