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Recommendation 28 (1997)1 on the state of local and regional democracy in Albania

The Congress,

1. Deeply concerned about the tragedy experienced by the Albanian people in recent weeks, and convinced that only transparency and keeping the public informed about all aspects of the problems, as well as an open spirit of co-operation between all political forces in the process of reflection and in future governmental activity can help to stop violence from wherever it may come and bring Albania back to the path of democratic security;

2. Convinced of the importance of local and regional democracy for the development of pluralist democracy in general;

3. Recalling the European Charter of Local Self-Government (ETS 122) and the Draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government (Resolution 37);

4. Appreciating Albania’s desire to bring its legislation in the field of local and regional democracy into line with Council of Europe standards;

5. Recalling its continued interest in the development of these matters in Albania that has been demonstrated by the observation of Albanian local elections on 26 July 1992, by the establishment of a first report on the situation of local democracy in Albania in May 1995, by the involvement of the CLRAE in the programme in favour of Albanian schools, and by visits of CLRAE members to Albania, such as those made in 1996 by Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton and by Mr Claude Haegi;

6. Recalling the advice given on several occasions by consultants concerning developments in Albanian local government legislation, and in particular that given on 29 September 1996 by Council of Europe consultants on the draft law on amendments to law 7572 of 10 June 1992 on the "organisation and functioning of local government";

7. Recalling that Albania became a member state of the Council of Europe on 13 July 1995;

8. Recalling the mission organised jointly with the Parliamentary Assembly to observe the Albanian local elections on 20 and 27 October 1996 and the report on this observation adopted by the CLRAE Bureau on 18 November 1996 [CG/Bur (3) 52];

9. Thanking the Parliamentary Assembly for its excellent co-operation on the occasion of this observation and expressing the wish that this spirit of co-operation should develop in future;

10. Taking note of Resolution 1114 (1997) and Recommendation 1312 (1997) on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Albania, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly on 29 January 1997;

11. Thanking the ambassadors and diplomatic representatives in Tirana of certain member and non-member states for their support of the CLRAE/Assembly mission and the interest they showed in it;

12. Thanking the Albanian authorities for their hospitality and support in this respect;

Recommends

I. to the Albanian Government

A. on general issues related to local and regional government:

1. to sign and ratify as soon as possible the following Council of Europe Conventions:

1.1. European Charter of Local Self-Government (ETS 122);

1.2. European Framework Convention on Transborder Co-operation between local authorities (ETS 106) and its additional protocol (ETS 159);

1.3. European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ETS 148);

2. to appoint forthwith a delegation to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe;

3. to co-operate with the CLRAE with a view to appointing a temporary liaison officer to work with the National Association of the Mayors of Albania being formed in Albania, in order to provide it with outside information. The presence of such an officer would also help to improve the definition of priorities concerning the proposals made in point II.2. of this Resolution, in agreement with the Albanian local and regional authorities;

4. to adopt without delay the amendments to law 7572 of 10.06.1992 on the "organisation and functioning of local government" based on the advice given by Council of Europe consultants;

B. with a view to improving the law and general conditions for the organisation of future local elections:

1. to envisage the adoption of a general law on elections laying down provisions common to both national and local elections;

2. to give careful consideration to the proposals set out in Appendix I to this Recommendation;

3. to take scrupulous care that results of local elections are immediately made public in accordance with the law;

II. to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

1. to facilitate development of local and regional democracy in Albania by promoting the organisation of joint activities with the Albanian authorities (eg through the CLRAE and the LODE programmes), possibly with help from the European Union’s Phare programme:

1.1. by organising training seminars and/or study visits, in particular on the subjects set out in the following paragraphs. It is understood that priorities with regard to this extensive list will be determined in agreement with the Albanian officials and according to their needs. The schemes would be implemented with the help of associations of local and regional authorities in member states and the training centres in the ENTO network;

1.1.1. role and functioning of local authority associations, concerning matters such as

– local democracy;

– local government finance;

– local government staff;

– status and activities of local elected representatives (councillors and mayors);

– functioning of local authority associations;

– procedures for recruitment and promotion of local authority staff;

– public/private partnership at local level;

1.1.2. voter registration and organisation of elections, concerning in particular matters such as:

– the media in a pluralist democracy, in co-operation with CDMM;

– police and media training (defining the concept of a pluralist democratic State or government as an expression of the political will of the ruling party/ies), with specific assistance from the Council of Europe;

1.1.3. training on specific problems, concerning matters such as:

– management of local public buildings: schools, cultural centres, etc.;

– education for democracy (civic education);

– urban planning;

– environment and landscape protection;

– waste management;

– urban transport;

– urban infrastructure, roads, water supply and sewerage, electricity, gas;

– citizen participation;

– transborder cooperation;

– protection of minorities and intercommunity relations;

– development of local tourism;

1.2. by allowing, through the provision of appropriate resources, the translation into Albanian of the Council of Europe’s basic documents on the subjects referred to in point 2.1, in particular in order to heighten the impact of the training measures;

1.3. by encouraging closer co-operation with the recently formed National Association of the Mayors of Albania with regard to information, especially by making it possible to recruit a liaison officer, also with the aim of better defining priorities with regard to the subjects mentioned in point 2.1.;

1.4. by making sure that the Council of Europe takes steps so that, whenever requested by the Albanian authorities, legal assistance is given with the preparation of new laws or the amendment

of existing legislation in the local and regional government field;

III. to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to give its support, wherever possible, to the recommendations made above.

Appendix

Action proposals to improve the law and general conditions for the organisation of future local elections in Albania

1. Take urgent action on the basis of the existing law "on elections to local government organs" (No. 7573 of 16.06.1992, as amended by various laws including No. 8151 of 12.09.1996):

1.1. to improve the implementation of the law as a whole, by improving training measures and instructions and supplying appropriate equipment. In particular:

1.1.1. to ensure strict application of Article 67, particularly with regard to the following:

Identity of voters should be checked only with the papers mentioned, which must necessarily bear a photograph. Only personal identity numbers (and not page numbers of the register of inhabitants) should be noted on the electoral roll at the time of the ballot. These numbers should not be written on the roll before the voter has shown his papers;

1.1.2. to ensure strict application of Article 76, paragraph 7 (announcement of the results of the vote by the polling station committee immediately after the ballot and posting them in a visible place outside the polling station) and of Article 78 paragraph 3 ("Immediately after the votes have been counted, the commune or town electoral committee shall announce the results by placing them in a visible place outside the committee’s premises"). A lot of time could be gained if provisional results were announced according to the official reports produced in the polling stations and signed by all committee members. The results could then be corrected later in the event of a dispute at the polling station and/or when the votes had been recounted. Immediate publication is an essential element of democratic transparency for citizens and may help to prevent the emergence of rumours or suspicions of tampering. It is also an essential aspect of local democracy that results of local elections should, in the first place, be announced and made public locally. Local and district committees must be aware of their rights and know that no permission from Tirana is needed;

1.1.3. to give instructions with a view to strict application of Article 68 paragraph 3 concerning the presence of only one voter in the booths. This is essential to the secrecy of the ballot, although it may be contrary to habit, especially in rural areas and for family members. It also involves aspects of gender equality. Members of polling station committees should be trained in such matters. The same applies to Article 68, paragraph 5 (no-one should be allowed within 3 metres of a booth when there is a voter inside).  

2. to proceed with any amendments required by law or which will take time for practical reasons:

2.1. The presentation of electoral rolls should be improved, in particular by using alphabetical order (for each polling station). This would make consultation by citizens and parties much easier. It would also considerably reduce the possibility of double registration (at least at the same polling station): such action would be facilitated if municipal and local authorities were better equipped (computers);

2.2. Instructions or circulars should be published sufficiently in advance. It should be ensured that all those concerned received them well in advance of the elections. Any such instructions should be forwarded only after they have been sufficiently discussed with opposition parties;

2.3. There should be a general ban on electoral propaganda (posters, etc.) in all public buildings, especially during the election campaign and on polling day, except for short periods of meetings organised by candidates or political parties. Such a ban would complete Article 42;

2.4. However, it should be ensured that lists of all candidates are clearly posted, in an official form ensuring equal treatment of candidates, at the entrance to and/or inside polling stations on polling day, and in all other places where the electoral rolls are open to consultation;

2.5. The establishment of polling stations in private houses should be banned. Even in small villages public buildings exist (eg schools). Where no other solution can be found, the private owner should not be allowed to be present during the electoral process (except to cast his own vote) and should under no circumstances be a member of the polling station committee;

2.6. Article 20 puts too heavy a burden on polling station committees by foreseeing up to 1,399 voters per station (which means up to 4,197 ballot papers to be counted). The maximum number of voters per polling station should be reduced to 500 or 600, at least until the voting system is well established;

2.7. When the votes were counted Article 63, paragraph 4 was sometimes too strictly interpreted, in that any ballot paper not completed as foreseen was considered null and void, although the text only states that the voter "may" mark the ballot paper in a certain way. Priority should be given to the expression of the voter’s will, in all cases where that will has been clearly expressed beyond doubt, and without using particular marks allowing identification of the individual voter. A final decision on such matters could then lie with the polling station committee;

2.8. Appropriate training should be provided for electoral committee members at all levels, encouraging them to show civic responsibility during ballots, regardless of party membership;

3. To give careful thought to the following ideas for improvement of the election process in the medium term:

3.1. The new composition of electoral committees laid down in Article 24 is clearly a progress compared with the former system, since the Vice-Chairman of the committee must obligatorily be a member of the opposition. However, it would be more logical in a pluralist local democracy that the Chairman should be designated by the party that holds power in the given constituency. The post of Vice-Chairman could then be held by the local opposition (which might well belong to the majority governing at national level). It is proposed that Article 24 be amended accordingly;

3.2. Given the technical difficulties, the period between the first and second rounds of voting should be extended to at least two weeks, in order to allow sufficient time for preparation;

3.3. It should be clearly stated in the law that certain serious violations of it, which could have affected the results of the ballot, may even result in cancellation of the ballot in that particular polling station, municipality, town or district. This could be mentioned in Article 30 c, Article 39 or Article 40. The necessary decisions could then be taken by the Central Electoral Committee or the Constitutional Court;

3.4. The military authorities should give instructions designed to ensure compliance with Article 67, paragraph 3, which bans armed groups in formation from the polling stations;

3.5. It should be possible to provide a free copy of the electoral roll to parties that have fielded candidates;

3.6. It would be useful if lists of members of the polling station’s electoral committee and of members of the municipality or district electoral committees, showing addresses where they can be contacted, were posted in the polling stations;

3.7. In the longer term consideration might be given to the following:

3.7.1. An amendment to Article 13 on voting by members of the armed forces might be envisaged. It does not make sense that they should vote in a place where they have only been living for a year or a few months, in local elections which do not directly concern them. In so far as domestic law allows and in the interests of democracy, the electoral law should authorise military personnel to take leave in order to vote in their home constituency;

3.7.2. The conditions set out in Article 66, paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 are cumbersome, and, in many cases, unrealistic. Observation has shown that many committees never succeed in stamping and signing all the ballot papers (there may be more than 4,000 for one single polling station). In the past, many of them (hundreds) were returned in the evening to the town’s electoral committee unsigned and unstamped. It would therefore seem more realistic to make other arrangements for checking of ballot papers;

3.7.3. Article 23 of the law could be revised, in order to state clearly that there are not three but four categories of electoral committees. A clear distinction must in fact be made between committees of municipalities and towns on the one hand and district committees on the other, whereas at present both are included under point (b).

1 Discussed and adopted by the Standing Committee of the Congress on 7 March 1997 (see doc. CG (3) 15, draft Recommendation presented by Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton, Rapporteur)

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