Venice Commission: President Exceeded Constitutional Competences but Impeachment Could Undermine State Credibility

The Venice Commission has reached to the conclusion that the President “exceeded his competences under the Constitution” by cancelling and then postponing the 30 June elections, according to a draft-opinion that has leaked to the media. The date on the document is 29 September 2019.

It states that whilst they believe the President exceeded his constitutional competences, the elements of the matter could lead to the conclusion that they may not be of a “serious enough nature to warrant an impeachment of the President.”

Despite their belief that Meta should not have postponed the vote, the Commission states that it should be for the Assembly and the Constitutional Court to establish whether this amounts to “serious violations”. The Constitutional Court has been defunct for over 18 months.

Even if the seriousness of the supposed violations by the President were established, the Venice Commission said that “this need not necessarily lead to an impeachment”.

In response to a request for an opinion by Speak of Parliament Gramoz Ruci, the Commission found that in the absence of a proper provision in Albanian law, the President can only cancel elections for local elections in a situation which meets the criteria for taking emergency measures.

They state that cancelling elections is only possible in situations that meet the requirement for declaring a state of emergency, the requirements of which were not followed in this case. Political consensus on cancelling and postponing was also not reached, which would have allowed for the establishment of an ad hoc legal basis.

Meta stated that he had received intelligence that Parliament was going to be attacked and burned and he took the decision to cancel the election, based on that. The Minister of the Interior, Sander Lleshaj argued this point, informing the delegation that the situation was “manageable” and there was no danger of Parliament being burned.

The draft opinion points out that previous postponements of elections in Albania were done with the consensus of participating parties, something that did not occur this time. It also found that whilst he has the right to set the date of elections, there are questions over his right to postpone, therefore exceeding the electoral mandate.

The Venice Commission states that the President’s decision was taken after repeatedly offering his support and assistance, as well as to postpone the elections until a compromise could be sought. It states that “the intention of the President was to prevent non-competitive elections without the participation of the opposition parties.”

It adds “reasons given show he had no intention to postpone the elections indefinitely” and “did not take further steps to prevent the organisation of the elections”.

The Commission further states that these factors, along with others contained in the report may not meet the requisite criteria of being of “sufficient seriousness” to warrant impeachment. They call on Parliament to take into account the political repercussions of their decisions and consider refraining from continuing with impeachment proceedings.

The Venice Commission questioned whether pursuing an impeachment would truly serve the unity of the people and whether it would “lend credibility to the Albanian State.”