'Albania Needs a Comprehensive Long Lasting Electoral Reform'
By Claus Neukirch
Albanian Daily News
Published September 14, 2017
I would like to thank Mr Klement Zguri and the Central Election Commission staff for his strong commitment and their readiness to continue the cooperation with the Council of Europe towards achieving the Action's goals.
I would like also to thank our partners of National Democratic Institute, OSCE and the Twinning Project on Anti-corruption for the good cooperation and synergies created by working together to improve Political Party Funding legislation and institutional framework.
The purpose of this Roundtable is to present the results of the EU/CoE sponsored action in this area, discuss Technical Paper "Recommendations to strengthen and improve the regulatory, procedural and methodological framework of the Albanian Central Election Commission".
Civil Society Organisations will present reports on their CoE grant monitoring activities on election campaign finances.
The lack of transparency in the political party's finances does not only create an environment for illegal influence and corruption but also contributes to general distrust of government affecting the entire democratic system and institutions.
Bearing this in mind it is very important to ensure that a robust legal framework regulating political parties and elections campaign finance is in place and oversight institutions dispose the necessary capacities and provide dissuasive and proportional sanctions for violations.
Transparency of Political Party Funding is at the heart of the 3rd Round of Evaluation of GRECO where it invites Albanian authorities to take appropriate measures to implement the recommendations. OSCE/ODHIR and Venice Commission have constantly supported the Electoral Reform in Albania.
Electoral reform has been under discussion for too long time.
The Council of Europe through AEC-AL has contributed to strengthening the legislation on Political Party and Election Campaign Financing by providing targeted recommendations to ensure a lasting impact of the electoral reform. The final product is the result of an intensive work of the Council of Europe with the co-chairs. Both the government and the opposition positively assessed these recommendations and proposals were included in the analytical document of the Technical Working Group of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Electoral Reform.
A key intended impact of the measures recommended is to restrict the overall scale of electoral campaigning. Specific measures have been proposed to better tackle corruption of parties/candidates by private donors (stricter restrictions on donations from beneficiaries/potential beneficiaries of state contracts) and misuse of state resources. Other recommendations concern tightening reporting and publication requirements for both annual financial reports and election campaign reporting, including reporting during election campaigns; strengthening oversight, with a focus on Independent audit, clear and simple audit templates, measures to ensure Central Election Commission (CEC) independence and professionalism, providing that the law authorises the CEC to conduct audit/verification of election campaign finances, establishing internal oversight structure and audit procedures, cooperation with independent monitoring, ensuring clear procedures for receiving and processing complaints/initiatives.
The political deadlock delayed the adoption of the amendments to the Electoral Code and to the Law on Political Parties.
Taking into consideration this unfavorable political climate, the Council of Europe has provided support on developing the templates and tools for the financial monitoring of election campaign through secondary legislation provisions. The templates were developed jointly with the National Democratic Institute and were adopted by the CEC on 21 April 2017 to be used during the electoral campaign of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Following the adoption of the templates, the Project organised workshops and training activities for civil society organisations on monitoring the electoral campaign funding, given their vital role as watchdog of the democratic processes especially in monitoring electoral campaign funding
Following the 18 May agreement that was reached between the two main parties, the parliament adopted on 22 May the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Criminal Code and the Law on Audiovisual Media. Some of these amendments are in line with the Council of Europe's earlier recommendations, in particular concerning transparency and accountability in election campaign financing and measures aimed at combating corruption and undue pressure on public servants.
Furthermore, immediate assistance was accommodated to the CEC in drafting the subsequent by-laws followed by a training of the CEC auditors on monitoring election campaign finances.
In addition to this, the Council of Europe involved through grant agreements the CSOs trained on monitoring the electoral campaign funding to observe the compliance of the legal provisions by electoral subject and other related third parties. More concretely this consisted on monitoring of violations on the use of propaganda materials beyond 5m from electoral offices, monitoring the designated special public places for displaying the electoral education materials and party programs by Municipalities.
Changes to the law on Political Parties one month before the elections produced inconsistencies with the Electoral Code which is a qualified majority law and takes precedence over the amendments. (For example the provision on free airtime on media broadcast).
Venice Commission Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters recommends that no major amendments should be made less than one year before an election.
Horizontal Facility recommendations are still not fully implemented. The Electoral Reform should move forward and table the amendments in Parliament.
Electoral Reform should not be a reform "a la carte", but a comprehensive long lasting package nurtured by dialogue and compromise, taking into consideration outstanding recommendations by Council of Europe, OSCE/ODHIR and Venice Commission.
Implementation of these recommendations will boost voter confidence in the democratic process.
The support of the HF-AEC-AL to the CEC will continue through assistance in setting up the relevant structure for the control and verification of audit reports, and through a cascade of trainings to enhance the capacities on audit and verification of financial reports of political parties which will be delivered to the CEC staff, as well as the High State Audit, Authorised Chartered Accountants and NGOs.
I wish you fruitful discussions and I hope this Roundtable will provide the opportunity to promote and advance the Electoral Reform.