Albanian President to Parliament: Election Decrees Constitutional, Should be Enforced

On Friday, Albanian President Ilir Meta sent a letter to the Speaker of Parliament Gramoz Ruçi arguing that his decrees related to the local elections—the first canceling the elections scheduled for 30 June 2019, and the second setting 13 October 2019 as the new elections date—were issued within his constitutional powers, remain valid and should be implemented. He added that only the Constitutional Court can review their validity.

The Socialist Party are now attempting to to impeach the President.

President Meta moved to cancel the elections amidst an intense political fight between the Socialist majority and the united opposition, and after the latter decided to boycott the local elections completely. In February, the Opposition had resigned their parliamentary seats accusing the government of vote-rigging, state capture, and links to organized crime.

Meta argued that he was forced to cancel the elections, which would be divisive and undemocratic without the opposition, to give a chance to both parties to find a solution to the political crisis and agree on a new elections date.

However, Prime Minister Edi Rama denounced President’s decree as unconstitutional, and the Central Election Commission, controlled by the socialist majority, rejected President’s decree and decided to go ahead with the June 30th vote.

Presidential decrees are subject only to the Constitutional Court review, but Albania has remained without it for more than a year, due to a badly implemented judicial reform, which has paralyzed the judicial system.

Disregarding the decrees, the Socialist majority organized and held the local elections on June 30th. The Opposition boycotted elections, and Socialist Party candidates ran unopposed in 31 out of 61 mayoral races. In 21 others, Socialists ran against candidates from Bindja Demokratike, a newly founded party, which was allowed to run in the elections, although it was not yet legally established by the election registration deadline—a clear violation of the Electoral Code and the Law on Political Parties.

Socialist Party achieved victory in all mayoral races—but the elections were criticized by the international monitors. In its preliminary report, the OSCE noted that elections were held without respecting the President’s decree, pointing out that only Constitutional Court could review it.

Responding to the parliamentary inquiry, today President Meta stated that the decree to postpone was necessary in order  “to defend the democratic values and principles set enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Albania; to reduce the social tension; to guarantee constitutional order and democracy; […] and give political parties time to […] solve the severe political crisis, which are part of the essential duties and responsibilities of the President in a Parliamentary Republic”.

In his arguments to parliament, the President noted that his decrees were issued in a context where there is clear contempt by the political elite towards democracy, free elections and political pluralism, which lie at the foundations of country’s constitutional and political order.

The President criticizes, what he calls, the “legitimization and revival” by the Prime Minister of a state based on unchecked majority rule, the same standard used by the communist regime to brutally crush any opposition to the one-party rule.

He drew a clear distinction between what a “majority rule state”, where only the majority has rights, and a state based on the rule of law, which “guarantees the rights of the minorities and the opposition, in particular, [and] respects the fundamental human rights and liberties, [including] the right to choose and not just to vote” without having a choice.

According to the President, it is this “grave and unacceptable misunderstanding between the ‘rule of the majority and the ‘rule of law'” are at the core of Albania’s current deep constitutional, institutional, and representation crisis.

Therefore, the President clarified, he used his constitutional powers to put a hold to a “fake electoral process”, which would undermine all democratic principles, by reducing elections to a one-party vote, and push the parties to find an agreement to guarantee free, fair and democratic elections, in a safe environment.

In his letter, the President also stated that his actions are based on precedent, referring in some detail cases when elections were postponed elections, in order to solve political crisis and enable the opposition to participate—in 1991, when general elections were postponed to give time to the recently created non-communist parties to participate in the first pluralist elections, immediately after fall of communism; in 2007, when local elections were postponed, at the request of Edi Rama, then the leader of the opposition, to solve a political crisis; in 2017, when local elections in Kavaja were postponed due to the unsafe environment for voting; and again in 2017, when general elections were postponed to accommodate a political agreement reached between Prime Minister Rama and the leader of the opposition Lulzim Basha, which ended a protracted political crisis.

None of the above presidential actions was challenged by any political force, least by Rama who was a sponsor of such actions in the three last cases.

Based on legal arguments and precedents, President Meta called the voting process of June 30th an “unconstitutional, faux and undemocratic process with no legal consequence.”

He reiterated that the decree setting October 13th as the new local elections date is still valid and should be enforced by the Central Election Commission and all relevant institutions.

He stated that whatever decision the Constitutional Court might take in the future regarding his two decrees, “it will be effective only for the future and may influence the behavior of the President in similar situations, but never can this decision have any retroactive effect to legitimize the process of non-official voting, with only one candidate as it has already done on June 30, 2019.”