Electoral College Decision Fuels Controversy Over Election Date

Albania’s Electoral College upheld a Central Election Commission (KQZ) decision not to deregister a party from the June 30 local elections.

The ruling Socialist Party (PS) of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the KQZ it controls have presented today’s decision as a final confirmation of the invalidity of the presidential decree canceling the election date.

In a similar spin to the decision, several international media outlets, referring to an Associated Press (AP) article written by an Albanian journalist, including New York Times and Washington Post, have also reported that the top legal election institution in Albania has turned down President Meta’s decision to cancel the elections date.

The government seems to have embarked on a campaign to share the “news” on social media, including Prime Minister Rama himself, who tweeted the NYT version of the same AP article which claims that the Electoral College has turned down the presidential decision.

In fact, the object of today’s verdict was not and could not have been directly related to the President’s decision to cancel elections. Furthermore, any interpretation of the verdict would be premature as long as the full text of the Electoral College decision has not yet been published.

Here is a brief explanation of what we know so far:

  • Albania’s President Ilir Meta issued a decree cancelling the local election date he had set earlier.
  • The government-allied Party of National Unity (PUK), led by Idajet Beqiri, filed a request to the KQZ to be deregistered from the June 30 local elections, following the President’s cancellation of the date.
  • The KQZ refused to deregister the PUK, arguing that the local election date was still valid.
  • The PUK appealed the KQZ decision to the Electoral College, which today ruled against the small party; i.e. the KQZ was right not to deregister it from the local elections of June 30.

After today’s verdict, head of PUK Idajet Beqiri claimed that their appeal aimed at clarifying whether the President’s decree was valid or not. He stated that now they were forced to enter the June 30 elections, given that the election date is still valid.

The interpretation of Beqiri, the KQZ, and Albanian government, which seems to have made it to some of the most prestigious international media outlets through the reporting of the Associated Press, has been that the court today declared the June 30 election date valid and the presidential decree invalid.

However, the situation is more complicated. The presidential decree is not mentioned in today’s two-line decision of the Electoral College which turns down the PUK appeal. Furthermore, whilst the full text of the decision is not known, and it’s not clear if it has touched upon the presidential decree, several constitutionalists, as well as the President and opposition, have repeatedly argued in the past weeks that the Electoral College has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the validity of a presidential decree.

In the dispute over the election date, the government has claimed that it is the Electoral College who should rule on the validity of the “unconstitutional” decision of President Meta.

Those supporting the constitutional right of the President to issue a decree cancelling the election date in this case, have claimed that the KQZ has acted upon Prime Minister Rama’s political influence. The majority of the KQZ members were proposed by the ruling Socialist Party and the institution is seen as far from being impartial.

During this election cycle, the Electoral College also has sided with the government by including the “opposition” party Democratic Conviction in the elections and rejecting the opposition parties’ representatives in the electoral administration.

Only one (Artur Malaj) of the five remaining members (Artur Malaj, Astrit Kalaja, Ridvan Hado, Lindita Sinanaj and Tomor Skerli) of the Electoral College has passes the vetting process under the justice reform in Albania, but his confirmation was appealed and awaiting final decision.

The opposition has maintained that the constitutionality of a President’s decree can only be adjudicated by the Constitutional Court, which has been dysfunctional for over one and a half years, and that other courts, including the Electoral College, have no jurisdiction to make legal judgments on the constitutionality or validity of a presidential decree.

Immediately after today’s court decision, the President’s Office announced a press conference for tomorrow at 8 am, while the President’s spokesperson Tedi Blushi commented: “No surprises from another skit that has been orchestrated for a long time.”