1. This report outlines the progress made in implementing the voting rights of the Albanian Diaspora (the “Diaspora”). It is the result of various working groups as well as the cooperation and participation of the Central Electoral Committee (the “CEC” or “KQZ”) of the Republic of Albania.
2. The various interest groups continue to work and engage the CEC and the Albanian government.
3. My role in this endeavour has been to provide legal expertise, as a special delegate of the Albanian Canadian Lawyers Association (“ACLA”) on the Canadian voting system for Canadian nationals living abroad. I have also been asked and have provided my opinion of the types of voting systems to implement. This has been in line with our previous report with suggestion on various voting systems to enable a fair and accessible vote for the Diaspora.
B. The Working Group
5. The Working Group is comprised of KKD representatives, myself, GERMIN, Diaspora për Shqipërinë e Lirë (“DPSHL”) and CEC Commissioner, Mr. Ilirjan Celibashi and Mr. Ylli Merkaj, CEC General Secretary.
6. The purpose of the Working Group is to assist the CEC in
a. drafting and implementing the voting method to be used by the Diaspora;
b. registration process of Albanian nationals that reside abroad;
c. providing input and suggestions to make the process fair yet accessible to as many voters as possible.
7. We began preparing various reports and e-mails to all relevant actors, both local and international.
8. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the “OSCE”) was also involved, albeit briefly. They were simply asked to provide their assessment of the voting landscape in and around November-December 2020.
9. One matter we all agreed on was that the time we had to work on creating the voting system was tight. The upcoming elections are on the 25th of April 2021.
12. This would inevitably lead to the Diaspora having its Members of Parliament (“MP”).
14. The Working Group suggested various voting methods as well, ranging from electronic to voting by mail.
15. The CEC ultimately went with mail-in voting for the Diaspora.
C. Logistics (nee Politics) behind the vote
16. The main concern on this front is the security of the system.
17. It is recognised that most of the Diaspora is already registered to vote in Albania, but not registered to vote in the Register of Foreign/Immigrant Voters.
18. Therefore, the CEC suggested that a new list be drawn up and these voters be moved onto it.
19. However, the voting lists are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, and the CEC cannot legally move in to establish new lists.
20. The CEC did indicate that it can produce regulations and implement a voting system for the Diaspora, but has concerns about acting unilaterally and potentially jumping the gun.
21. The main opposition party, Partia Demokratike (“PD”) espoused serious concerns with the current system and that it is rife with corruption.
22. PD also claimed that it has done a legal analysis outlining the issues it has with the CEC’s suggestions, however said analysis has yet to be seen by the Working Group. It appears that the CEC does not have it either.
23. The party in power, Partia Socialiste (“PS”) has left this in the hands of PD and claims to be agreeable to any suggestions PD may have. It appears that they, at least publicly, are willing to work out a deal with PD to accept their recommendations to ensure the Diaspora can vote.
24. Needless to say, the CEC is looking to obtain political consensus from the opposition parties in this process.
26. While in principle the CEC seeks to obtain consensus to avoid either party claiming that the elections are illegitimate, it appears to be a scapegoat.
27. Furthermore, there has been “red tape” in terms of the CEC and the Albanian government getting back to the Working Group in time with comments and/or suggestions.
28. The Working Group has found itself having to follow up numerous times, and even going as far as to involve local media to ensure the Albanian Republic maintains an active participation in the process.
29. The Working Group firmly believes that all actors must be involved in order for this to work in the long run.
30. However, it would not be presumptuous to state that we are losing faith that the voting system will be in place for the upcoming elections in April 2021.
D. Location, Location, Location
31. One contentious point has been the Diaspora’s addresses abroad.
32. It is unclear what the official government position is on this, as the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry for the Diaspora, have stated different requirements.
33. Mr. Nador Bakalli, as well as other DPSHL members expressed concerns with the potential requirement that Albanian nationals residing abroad be forced to declare their residential addresses.
34. I am inclined to agree with Mr. Bakalli and the DPSHL that this serves no purpose to facilitate the vote.
35. It is my position that Albanian nationals that reside abroad and wish to vote, put down a mailing address, with said mailing address being their responsibility to ensure it is accessible to them. This does not have to be their primary residence in whichever country they live in.
36. Furthermore, it would be a breach of privacy to require this for Canadian-Albanians, as the Canadian government only asks for a mailing address where to send the voting card for those voting from overseas.
37. The matter of the addresses is mainly logistical: the CEC has to ask the Ministry of the Interior to create a new list for voters from abroad.
38. The CEC, it appears, does not have the tools or the capacity to even implement these lists.
39. There is an option to register via e-Albania, but the process itself is quite slow. Furthermore, Ms. Hyka Smorgrav has expressed reservations on the data security front and I am inclined to agree with her.
40. In her own registration experiment, she has been waiting for over two (2) months to get answer as to whether or not she is registered to vote from abroad.
E. The Hot Potato
41. The election looming and the Diaspora vote being (largely) left behind, the Working Group sought an official position from the CEC and the government.
42. The CEC, to the surprise of everyone, advised that the delay is due to the lack of political consensus on how to fulfill voting for the Diaspora.
43. The CEC’s position is that it is waiting on the opposition to come up with recommendations and/or concerns it wants to put before the CEC.
44. The government’s position is that the delay is political in nature.
45. Minister Majko expressed the official position as “willing to accept any recommendation the PD and other opposition parties are willing to make.”
46. In another twist, the CEC Commissioner advised that the CEC has a legal obligation to obtain political consensus.
48. The delay became in and of itself a hot potato that no one wants to hold or even remotely claim responsibility for.
49. This was ever evident in the last meeting conducted with the Working Group, the CEC, Minister Majko, Mr. Bylykbashi as PD representative, KKD, DPSHL, The People’s Advocate, and GERMIN. Despite calls by Mr. Maliqi of DPSHL for someone from CEC or the government to accept responsibility, no one was willing to shoulder it.
51. The Working Group asked for the list to be public or at least it be provided with this list so we could independently confirm.
52. The list was provided by CEC and the Directorate for the Civil Registry.
53. Needless to say, the number of those registered was far greater than 851. The number is 2774 Albanian citizens with the right to vote who have sought to register in the foreign voters register in 2021 alone.
G. Next steps
54. The Working Group continues to press on and ensure that the Diaspora will vote, even in the 2021 elections.
55. At the same time, it is unrealistic that this will happen, but efforts are underway to ensure a system is in place for the upcoming elections in 2025.
56. The Working Group, under my recommendation and with the support of the other members, is canvassing its legal options if the Diaspora does not vote.
57. While we will still push on to ensure the system is in place, a legal or any other strategy needs to be in place for a worse case scenario.
58. I volunteered to help spearhead any legal challenges that may be needed. The assistance of GERMIN will be sought, as they have successfully challenged the Kosovar government in similar situations.
I have not added a conclusion, as it would be appropriate to do so only after the elections of 2021 in Albania. The writing is on the wall and this interim report is as blunt as possible.
ALL OF WHICH IS RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED this 5th day of March, 2021.
ACLA member and lawyer with Nati & Caborubias