Albania has a unicameral legislative branch consisting of an Assembly (Kuvend) with 140 MPs (deputetet). For more than a decade, the OSCE-ODIHR has been asking for fundamental reforms in the elector system, related to the politicization of officials, party finances, and the issue of vote buying and vote pressuring. Changes to Electoral Code according to OSC-ODIHR recommendations were one of the conditions for the opening of EU accession negotiations.
Following negotiations in an ad-hoc “Political Council” containing government, parliamentary opposition, and extra-parliamentary opposition, Constitutional and Electoral Code reforms were adopted in July 2020, in part addressing the issues raised by OSCE-ODIHR. The July 2020 changes were followed by additional, unilaterally imposed reforms by the Socialist Party, initially vetoed by President Ilir Meta but eventually adopted by the Assembly in October 2020. The internationals “regretted” the reforms. In December 2020, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe ruled that the reforms pushed through by the Socialist Party were “extremely hasty.”
Consensual changes to electoral system adopted in July 2020:
- Changing the electoral system to a “proportional system with regional competition.” Until now, the Constitution stipulated that the electoral system is a “proportional system with multi-name constituencies” —the constituencies had to conform to one of the administrative-territorial divisions of the country, leaving open that there could be a single constituency, i.e., a national system. The definition of “regional competition”, now made in the Constitution, excludes the national proportional system. On the other hand, the term “regional” is not defined in the Constitution and it is not clear what it means.
- Biometric voter identification: A biometric voting system has been implemented throughout Albania, but currently not working in multiple voting locations.
- Restructuring the Central Election Commission (KQZ): The KQZ now consists of three independent decision-making bodies: a five-member body that sets the rules and guidelines, a five-member body that reviews complaints, and a person who will practice all activities for holding elections, which will also lead the KQZ administration.
- Charging the KQZ with the decision to vote for emigrants: The Electoral Code has authorized the KQZ to decide when Albanian citizens living abroad will have the opportunity to vote abroad. The KQZ is also charged with the implementation of this decision, whenever it is taken. Migrant voting is currently possible, though the government has blocked Greek and North Macedonian voters from voting by imposing quarantine on those entering the country.
- Election of members of the Electoral College: The Electoral College, which consists of eight judges, will be elected not only by appellate judges but also those of the first instance; also, the Code ruled that members of the Electoral College should be vetoed in advance.
- Amendments to the Police Law to define the role of the police in elections.
- Amendments to the Law on the Status of Judges and Prosecutors, to decide that election issues should be included in the assessment of vetting and careers for magistrates who have considered such cases.
- Amendments to the Law on SPAK and the Prosecutor General to investigate electoral corruption.
- Changes in the financing of political parties in election campaigns.
- Determining the gender formula in the selection of candidates and MPs.
- Establishing the status of a whistleblower of electoral crimes, which will enjoy legal protection.
Unilateral changes pushed through by PS, adopted in October 2020:
- Reduction of the national threshold from 3% to 1%. The national threshold is the minimum number of votes a party must receive to win a seat.
- The leader of the party or coalition has the right to register as a candidate for deputy in four constituencies. After the vote they can choose in which constituency he wants to be an MP.
- After the elections candidates on all lists are divided into two lists: secure and not-secure. Both lists are ranked. If a candidate on the non-secure list has more votes than the average of votes obtained by the candidates on the secure list, they are placed on the secure list. In practice this will hardly ever happen, thus basically keeping lists “closed.”
- A change from separate list coalitions to joint list ones. Coalition parties must submit only a joint list of candidates and register as a single electoral subject. This means that voters will vote for the coalition, not for the parties within it, separately. This change makes the formation of post-electoral coalitions more difficult.