Albanians will go to the polls on 23 June to elect their 2013-2017 legislature. These elections, and the electoral reforms that preceded them, are of significant importance for the country’s democratization and EU integration prospects.
A new election law, adopted in 2012, integrates many key recommendations from international observer missions, and has generally been applauded by parties and international partners alike. Nonetheless, political intransigence threatens to undue this progress. A volley of retaliatory actions was sparked when a member of the ruling coalition made a pre-election pact with opposition parties. Opposition-nominated members resigned from the CEC, leaving the body with only government-nominated members, and limiting its ability to undertake core functions such as releasing the results of the polls. Lacking a political agreement that results in the reconstitution of the CEC, this situation does not have a clear administrative or legal solution. Should it persist until the June polls, the issue may result in serious disputes regarding the validity of results and the credibility of the electoral institutions.
The newly formed Electoral College is the institution that will be most pressured by the political conflict over the electoral process. The College is the final appeal body for electoral complaints. It is formed of 8 appeal court judges, chosen at random, and remains in force for the duration of the parliamentary cycle. The current constitution of the body was formed in the months before the elections, and consists of 7 new members as well as one who served on the previous College. The College is housed in the Tirana Court of Appeals.
It was in this context that UNDP and the Tirana Court of Appeals organized an internationally facilitated workshop on electoral dispute resolution using the BRIDGE curriculum. The workshop aimed to familiarize the Judges with the unique task that faces them in the coming months, and to provide them with the best available international experiences.
The workshop used the Election Dispute Resolution Module, significantly customized to meet the highly specific knowledge requirements of the judges. The context demanded a more conservative style of facilitation than is traditionally associated with BRIDGE, and an Agenda closely linked to the electoral framework, code, and timeline.
The final agenda covered disputable matters, dispute procedures and timelines, electoral fraud and forensic investigation, remedial actions such as recounting, invalidation, and re-voting, seat allocation, and international standards.
In one popular session, the group was presented with a series of four hands-on simulations that covered investigation of potential electoral fraud and other forms of irregularities. Each scenario covered a different type of potential fraud or malpractice, and tasked the participants with investigation, and adjudication. Each scenario was designed to lead the participants to areas in the law where the Electoral College and/or the electoral managers would have some discretion in interpretation.
The participants included the Judges recently appointed to the Electoral College, as well as several legal representatives of political parties, and staff of the Tirana Court of Appeals. These were invited both by UNDP and the Tirana Court of Appeals.
Given the high-level and technical nature of the workshop objective, the facilitation team consisted of both BRIDGE and Technical Experts. The facilitation team consisted of Electoral dispute experts David Ennis and Victoria Stewart-Jolley, Election Lawyer Mirela Bogdani and was led by BRIDGE Expert facilitator Skye Christensen. David Ennis was seconded from IFES where he serves as Chief of Party, Ukraine. The workshop was organized by UNDP Albania and hosted by the Tirana Court of Appeals.