The Albanian parliament recently approved a series of constitutional amendments, including an electoral reform, thanks to the particular and close collaboration between the Democratic Party (DP) of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, and the Socialist opposition led by the then mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, who united their votes.
The most important change formulated and presented by the socialists regards the election system that changes from the current mixed system - 100 seats are distributed through a majority vote and 40 seats are distributed in a proportional representation system - to a proportional regional system with closed lists similar to the Spanish model based on the administrataive division in 12 districts.
The reform keeps the current number of seats and introduces a two-party model in Albania and therefore it was severely criticised by the small parties represented in the current parliament most of which will face the risk of remaining outside the assembly after the parliamentary elections in 2009.
The latest elections were conducted under a new Electoral Code, adopted in June 2003. The Electoral Code was subsequently amended in October 2004, January 2005 and April 2005. The amendments brought about several changes, in particular concerning the election administration, the compilation of voter lists, the criteria for establishing electoral zones, the counting process and the handling of complaints and appeals.
These changes were largely devised through a bi-partisan process comprising the SP and the DP. New boundaries for electoral zones were set out in a separate law (March 2005), resulting from a bi-partisan SP-DP political agreement.
While the current election zones are an improvement over the previous boundaries, based on the voter lists produced for this election on Election Day a few zones do not meet legal requirements, in particular, some deviated excessively from the “average number of voters for an election zone”.
Election System in Albania
Article 64 of the Constitution (1998) establishes the following election system:
- A fixed number of parliamentary mandates (140), with 100 deputies (71%) elected in single mandate election zones and 40 (29%) elected from party or coalition lists (hereafter ‘supplemental’ mandates);
- That “the total number of deputies of a party […] shall be, to the closest possible extent, proportional to valid votes won by them on the national scale […]” (Art. 64.2); and,
- That parties must obtain at least 2.5% of valid votes and coalitions must obtain at least 4% of valid votes, to participate in the allocation of the 40 supplemental mandates.
This electoral system was first provided for in the previous Electoral Code (2000), based on an interpretation of Art. 64 of the Constitution. Article 65 of the Electoral Code states that, the 40 ‘supplemental mandates’ are allocated “according to the proportional percentage of votes won by the multi-name [party] lists”.
However, the law does not establish a ‘parallel’ election system as the allocation of the ‘supplemental mandates’ is intrinsically linked to the number of single seats won by candidates of each party or coalition.
According to the Code (Art. 67), if the number of single seats won by each party/coalition exceeds the total number of mandates to which it would be entitled should all 140 seats be allocated through a full proportional system (Art. 67.1.b), the party/coalition will not receive any of the 40 supplemental mandates.
While article 67 of the Electoral Code attempts to respect article 64.2 of the constitution, the objective of proportionality in the composition of parliament is hampered by a combination of four factors:
- The number of supplemental mandates is fixed rather than variable.
- The number of supplemental mandates is relatively small (40) and thus may not be sufficient to achieve proportionality.
- The impossibility of ‘taking away’ any of the single seats won by a party candidate; and
- The provision that the election is a two-ballot contest (Electoral Code, art 90)
The provisions on campaign finance, although representing some improvement over the previous elections when they were almost non-existent, lack consistency; e.g. while Art. 144 provides that the campaign expenditure limit for a political party includes its candidates’ expenditures, Art.145.1 does not require party candidates to report expenditures either directly or through the party.
The requirement to declare expenditures relates only to those made within a limited campaign period. Hence, the legal provisions can be circumvented through the careful timing of donations and expenditures. Finally, parties are not required to submit financial reports on campaign expenditure until 45 days after the election, thereby lessening transparency.
The Local Government Election System
Mayors and members of councils of the local government units (LGUs) are elected directly by voters who have a domicile in the relevant LGU. By a constitutional amendment of 13 January 2007, the mandate of local government authorities has been extended from three to four years.
Local elections are held in a single round of voting, with separate ballots for the mayoral and council contests. Mayoral candidates are elected in a first-past-the-post contest. The seats in the local councils are allocated through a proportional system, with application of a variant of the largest remainder method.
For the first time in local elections, the order of candidates on multi-name party lists could be changed after Election Day according to a re-ranking formula provided the latter had been submitted to the competent Local Government Election Commission (LGEC) by the political party or coalition at the time of the list’s registration.
Such a provision limits the transparency, as it results in voters not knowing which candidates are likely to be elected as a result of the voters’ choice. It also has the potential to increase the amount of complaints and appeals to be handled by the CEC and the Electoral College.
The Legal Framework
The 18 February 2007 local elections were held under a legal framework amended approximately one month before the election date. The Assembly amended several provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Albania and the Electoral Code on 13 January 2007.
Although the electoral reform had been on the agenda of the Assembly since December 2005, it had yielded little progress, and the aforementioned amendments were largely the result of a belated political agreement, rather than a comprehensive electoral reform effort.
The amending of the electoral legislation, and the election postponement at a very late stage, led to the necessity to considerably compress all the legal deadlines for electoral preparations and procedures. This presented a major challenge to the election administration. Overall, Albania has an adequate and sufficient legal framework for the conduct of democratic elections.
However, these elections have shown once again that its implementation is fully dependent on the good will and constructive approach of political parties, whose role and responsibilities in the electoral process remain decisive.
The Electoral Code grants political parties the right to nominate members of election commissions at all levels. Following the recent amendments, the membership of the middle and low-level commissions, as well as counting teams, was increased from seven to thirteen, granting representation to the six largest parliamentary parties on each side of the political spectrum.
The thirteenth member would be attributed to one of the two main parties randomly (see below). This amendment reduces the control of the SP and the DP over the election administration, while preserving the party-oriented approach to the formation of election administration bodies.
The Code fails to provide for any effective mechanisms of filling vacancies in case political parties do not exercise their right to nominate election officials. This lacuna is compounded by the right of political parties to replace their nominees in the election administration at any time and without justification.
The amendment to Article 154 of the Constitution increased the membership of the Central Election Commission (CEC) from seven to nine members, enabling broader political representation in the CEC. However, Article 22 of the Electoral Code still provides that “no more than two [candidacies] for each vacancy” shall be put forward by the eligible political parties. This effectively restricts the constitutional prerogative of the Assembly to “elect” these members, especially in case only one candidature is put forward by a nominating party.
The 13 January amendments to the Electoral Code addressed some previous concerns, in particular, the vote counting procedures, which have been improved to some extent. In addition, the deadlines for the appointment of counting teams were made more realistic (two days prior to election day instead of two hours before the closing of polls), a flexible approach was introduced to determining the required number of counting teams depending on the size of an LGU, and operation of counting teams in shifts has been provided for.
In addition to the above-mentioned possibility to change the order of candidates on lists after the results are known, some cumbersome procedures were introduced for the usage and administration of birth certificates as a means of voters’ identification.
Furthermore, special transitory rules were adopted for voting of eligible voters residing abroad. Albanian legislation does not provide for out-of-country voting. Eligible voters residing abroad can only cast their ballot in their municipality of origin in Albania.
The amendments foresaw that such voters would be marked before election day in the voter list as ‘emigrants’ and, in order to receive a ballot, would have to present, in addition to an Albanian passport, a second document issued by their state of residence. This provision was criticized for introducing excessive voter identification requirement and was widely interpreted as an attempt to narrow the number of emigrant voters.
Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania http://www.osce.org/documents/html/pdftohtml/14076_en.pdf.html
Central Electoral Commissionhttp://www.cec.org.alMain political parties:
Democratic Party - PD http://www.partiademokratike.al
Republican Party - PR
Social Democratic Party - PSD http://www.ps-al.org/
Socialist Movement for Integration - LSI http://www.lsi.al/
Socialist Party - PS http://www.ps.al/Political pressure groups and leaders
Transparency International Albania/Citizens Advocacy Office http://www.cao.al
Mjaft Movement http://www.mjaft.org
Confederation of Trade Unions of Albania or KSSH
Union of Independent Trade Unions of Albania or BSPSHAlbania's transition to a Democratic System
Albania held out against political reform longer than any other country that had been considered as in the Soviet Union's sphere of influence, but significant indicators of change in the country's politics began to occur in 1989.
After Hoxha died in 1985, his hand-picked successor, Ramiz Alia, who became party leader while retaining his post as titular head of state (chairman of the Presidium of the People's Assembly), started to institute neccessary needed and economic reforms that attempted to prevent the country from collapsing into anarchy.
In October 1989, workers and students in the southern district of Saranda staged protests against the regime's policy of work incentives, and several protesters were arrested. A more serious protest had occurred in May 1989 at the Enver Hoxha University at Tirana.
At first students were simply demanding better living conditions, but their grievances soon acquired a more political character and were treated as a distinct threat by the regime. Although the protest eventually ended without bloodshed, it caused the regime to reassess its policy toward young people and to consider such measures as improving living standards and educational facilities in order to ease the discontent that had been building up among students.
Some Albanian intellectuals, such as the sociologist Hamit Beqeja and the writer Ismail Kadare, recommended more radical changes, particularly with regard to democracy and freedom of the press. As their demands grew, these intellectuals increasingly clashed with the conservatives in the party and state bureaucracy.
The communist regime faced perhaps its most severe test in early July 1990, when a demonstration by a group of young people in Tirana, the nation's capital, led about 5,000 to seek refuge in foreign embassies. To defuse the crisis in July 1990, the Central Committee held a plenum, which resulted in significant changes in the leadership of party and state. The conservatives in the leadership were pushed out, and Alia's position was strengthened. Alia had already called for privatizing retail trade, and many businesses had begun to operate privately. Then in late July, the Politburo passed a law stating that collective farm members should be given larger plots of land to farm individually.
Despite Alia's efforts to proceed with change on a limited, cautious basis, reform from above threatened to turn into reform from below, largely because of the increasingly vocal demands of Albania's youth. On December 9, 1990, student demonstrators marched from the Enver Hoxha University at Tirana though the streets of the capital shouting slogans and demanding an end to dictatorship. By December 11, the number of participants had reached almost 3,000.
The student unrest was a direct consequence of the radical transformations that were taking place in Eastern Europe and of Alia's own democratic reforms, which spurred the students on to make more politicized demands. Their protests triggered the announcement on December 11, 1990, at the Thirteenth Plenum of the APL Central Committee, that a multiparty system would be introduced in time for the general elections that were set for February 1991. The day after the announcement, the country's first opposition party, the Albanian Democratic Party (ADP), was formed.
By early February 1991, the ADP had an estimated membership of 50,000 and was recognized as an important political force both at home and abroad. The ADP was led by a commission of six men, the most prominent of whom were Sali Berisha, a cardiologist, and Gramoz Pashko. Berisha, a strong nationalist, vigorously defended the rights of the Albanian residents of Kosovo, and Pashko was an outspoken advocate of economic reform. The party's newspaper, Rilindja Demokratike, was outspoken in its political commentary. Its first issue, which appeared on January 5, 1991, criticized the government very aggressively.
Another important sign of democratization was the publication on December 31 of a draft interim constitution intended to replace the constitution of 1976. The draft completely omitted mention of the APL. It introduced a system with features similar to those of a parliamentary democracy, while at the same time strengthening the role of the president, who would be elected by a new People's Assembly.
The president was to assume the duties of commander in chief of the armed forces and chairman of the Defense Council, positions previously held by the party first secretary. Also on December 31, the government eased restrictions on private trade in the service and light industry sectors, indicating a general trend toward a less centralized economy.
Albania held its first multiparty elections since the 1920s in 1991. The elections were for the 250 seats in the unicameral People's Assembly. The first round was held in February and runoff elections took place on March 31, and a final round was held in April.
The ADP captured 30 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly, as opposed to 67.6 percent acquired by the APL. Although the APL bore the burden of being the party responsible for past repression and the severe economic woes of Albania, it nonetheless represented stability amidst chaos to many people. This fact was particularly true in the countryside, where the conservative peasantry showed little inclination for substantial changes in their way of life. Another advantage for the APL was its control of most of the media, particularly the broadcast media, to which the opposition parties had little access. It was therefore able to manipulate radio and television to its advantage.
Although many conservative leaders won election to the People's Assembly, Alia lost his seat. Alia had surprised many people by adopting a new, apparently pragmatic, approach to politics in the months leading up to the election. He had faced a serious challenge in mid-February, when unrest erupted again among students at the Enver Hoxha University in Tirana.
Approximately 700 students went on a hunger strike in support of a demand that Hoxha's name should be removed from the university's official name. The demand was a serious attack on the country's political heritage and one that Alia refused to countenance. He resisted student demands and stressed the necessity of preserving law and order, thereby antagonizing those who had expected him to be more moderate.
In April 1991, Albania's new multiparty legislature passed transitional legislation to enable the country to move ahead with key political and economic reforms. The legislation, the Law on Major Constitutional Provisions, was in effect an interim constitution, and the 1976 constitution was invalidated. The words "socialist" and "people's" were dropped from the official title of Albania, so that the country's name became Republic of Albania.
There were also fundamental changes to the political order. The Republic of Albania was declared to be a parliamentary state providing full rights and freedoms to its citizens and observing separation of powers. The People's Assembly of at least 140 members elected for a four-year term is the legislature and is headed by a presidency consisting of a chairman and two deputies. The People's Assembly elects the president of Albania by secret ballot and also elects the members of the Supreme Court.
The president is elected for five years and may not serve more than two consecutive terms or fill any other post concurrently. The president does, however, exercise the duties of the People's Assembly when that body is not in session. The Council of Ministers is the top executive body, and its membership is described in the interim constitution.
The law on Major Constitutional Provisions is to operate as Albania's basic law until adoption of a new constitution, to be drafted by a commission appointed by the People's Assembly.
Prime Minister Fatos Nano, a moderate communist, did well in the spring 1991 elections, and he was able to set up a new government, which he established in February 1991. His postelection cabinet consisted mostly of new faces and called for radical market reforms in the economy.
Nano's twenty-five-member cabinet and his progressive economic and political program were approved in early May 1991. But the outlook for his administration was clouded by the fact that a general strike had almost completely paralyzed the country and its economy.
Indeed, the situation became so dire that Nano was ousted and a "government of national salvation" was created, in which the communists were forced to share power with other parties in the executive branch for the first time since the end of World War II. The new government, led by Prime Minister Ylli Bufi, was a coalition of the communists, the ADP, the Republican Party, the Social Democratic party, and the Agrarian Party. It took office in June 1991.
After the collapse of the coalition government in December 1991 and the ADP's landslide victory in the spring 1992 general election, he resigned as president on April 3, 1992. On April 9, the People's Assembly elected ADP leader Sali Berisha as Albania's new head of state. Source: http://www.countrystudies.us