OSCE Elections Report: Political Agreement Trumped the Rule of Law

In the final report of its Observation Mission concerning the June 25 Parliamentary Elections, the OSCE-ODIHR criticizes the political developments that preceded the vote. In particular, the report singles out the internationally mediated agreement between Prime Minister Edi Rama and opposition leader Lulzim Basha for the way in which its has undermined of the rule of law:

The implementation of the political agreement created challenges for the election administration and resulted in a selective and inconsistent application of the law. […] While the agreement contributed to a more inclusive electoral process and less polarized campaign, its implementation often jeopardized fundamental principles of the rule of law. […]  While largely inclusive, the candidate registration process suffered from selective and inconsistent application of the law and was, at times, based on the political agreement rather than the law. […]

However, the 18 May political agreement was given legal effect at the expense of the rule of law […]. All amendments were voted on in one day, contrary to the constitutionally-prescribed legislative procedure. At odds with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards, the process lacked transparency and consultation with stakeholders, while the late timing created significant difficulties in the implementation of key aspects of the election administration. Last minute legislative changes challenged legal certainty and undermined consistency of the legal framework as some of the new provisions were not harmonized with the Electoral Code.

Significantly, the OSCE-ODIHR report offers no recommendations as how the rule of law may be restored. This remains fully in the hands of a group of politicians that has increasingly eroded any form of proper legal process or coherence.

The following “priority recommendations” were suggested:

  1. The authorities should undertake electoral reform that is inclusive, timely, and based on sound policy analysis, to address the recommendations contained in this and prior OSCE/ODIHR reports. Provisions across different election-related laws should be harmonized, particularly in respect of campaigning, campaign finance, and media.
  2. Robust efforts are needed to address the persistent issue of vote-buying, both through a civic awareness campaign and prosecutions, in order to promote confidence in the electoral process. A concrete and genuine commitment from political parties to combat vote-buying practices could be made. In addition, a public refusal by politicians to accept financial support from individuals with a criminal past would help build public trust in the integrity of the elections.
  3. The government should analyse the effectiveness of previous attempts to counteract the abuse of state resources and employment-related pressures on voters. It should consider establishing a transparent, independent, and inclusive body with the task and competence to act and follow up if such matters are brought to its attention in the pre- and post-electoral period. Such a structure could be replicated on the regional level and be established in due time before the next elections.
  4. The law could be amended to allow for non-partisan appointment of election commissioners and counting team members. The Electoral Code should be amended to prohibit discretionary replacement of CEAZ members by nominating parties. Consideration should also be given to introducing alternative mechanisms to appoint VCC and counting team members, when political parties fail to nominate their candidates.
  5. Restrictions on the suffrage rights of persons with mental disabilities should be removed. The automatic removal of voters over the age of 100 from voter lists should be discontinued and the obligation to verify the records of such voters be placed on the state.
  6. Criminal provisions for defamation should be repealed in favour of civil remedies designed to restore the reputation harmed.
  7. In order to enhance transparency, the law should guarantee the same rights for all observers and clearly stipulate that all observers be entitled to receive copies of results protocols.
  8. The state should guarantee the right to a free and secret choice. Any form of pressure to disclose how voters intend to vote or how they voted should be prevented. Any association between a voter and a specific vote should not be possible.