Almost two months after voters headed to the polls on October 6, Kosovo’s Central Election Commission (CEC) published the certified results of the elections last week.
As had been clear from the preliminary results, Vetevendosje will be the biggest party, followed by presumptive coalition partners LDK. The official results show that the Nisma-AKR coalition — by the very narrowest of margins — managed to scrape above the 5% threshold to secure deputies in the Assembly; the certified results put them on 5.002% of the vote share.
The publication of the certified results means that the president, Hashim Thaci, must now convene a new parliament within 30 days so that it can vote on the formation of Kosovo’s next government.
While the elections were, according to international observers, overwhelmingly organized in an appropriate and transparent manner, the positive outcome of a campaign and election day without incident was overshadowed by irregularities in the ballot counting process, which led to a series of disputes and recount requests.
Initially, 314 polling stations were subject to a recount in the Counting and Results Center (CRC) due to data discrepancies and technical problems with the polling station forms printed by CEC.
“All of this is an unnecessary drag. A dynamic where confidence is lost in the free vote of citizens who have almost forgotten when they voted.”
A few days later it was decided to recount another 530 polling stations due to technical problems with the processing of the data due to the miscalculations between the party and candidates’ results.
Five weeks after election day, the Central Election Commission (CEC) decided to recount 1,470 polling stations. On November 24, it was reported that the recount of these polling stations was also completed, bringing the total to around 2,300, the number of recounted polls, or about 90% of the 2,547 polling stations.
In addition to the recounts, there was also the controversial issue of late diaspora votes and whether or not to accept votes from Serbia. Despite an exemplary parliamentary campaign and election day, Kosovo is lagging behind in administering the post-election process.
Diaspora votes and votes from Serbia
According to analyst Imer Mushkolaj, Election Day in Kosovo goes smoothly, but the aftermath is problematic.
“This, in my opinion, is also due to the contradictory decisions of the relevant institutions, in this case the Election Complaints and Appeals Panel [ECAP] decisions, that have been corrected by the Supreme Court,” he said, adding that the CEC itself seems to be unprepared for the post-election process.
Still, the most troubling issue for Mushkolaj remains the ECAP’s controversial decisions. For example when ECAP decided to cancel votes from Serbia. It canceled them twice. However, it rejected votes from the diaspora. The CEC was forced to admit only diaspora votes after the Supreme Court ruling.
“All of this is an unnecessary drag. A dynamic where confidence is lost in the free vote of citizens who have almost forgotten when they voted, dealing with these procedural problems,” says Mushkolaj.
All the delays are happening due to the lack of electoral reform and non-resolution of problems voting abroad. He thinks that voting by mail is unfair and bureaucratic, and that citizens of the Republic of Kosovo living abroad, should be able to vote through the diplomatic missions where they live, says Mushkolaj.
The issue of voting for Kosovo citizens living in Serbia should also be solved. Either it should be decided to allow them to vote in Serbia and their votes brought to Kosovo or they should be allowed to vote by mail. According to the data, at least four ballot envelopes have been mailed from Serbia, proving that this method is not impossible.
“The previous method has proved ineffective as we have deputies elected by the individuals who work on election day at polling stations.”
The new government’s priority should be the initiation of electoral reform. That would also include other issues, such as lists of candidates for deputies or constituencies, Mushkolaj goes on to note.
Electoral reform needed
Florent Spahija, a legal adviser at the Kosovo Institute for Democracy (KDI), also stresses the need for electoral reform.
“All that has happened is leading us to demand that political entities start electoral reform, including how to count votes — whether all votes should be counted in the classroom [where the voting takes place], whether all votes should be counted in the CRC or whether the political party votes should be counted in the classroom with those of the candidates in the CRC,” he says, adding that the possibility of electronic voting, the number of preferential votes are some of the other topics that should be considered.
“The previous method has proved ineffective as we have deputies elected by the individuals who work on election day at polling stations,” Spahija says.
As for the overall picture, he says the campaign started loudly and became quiet. A worrying phenomenon, Spahija says, were the finances of political subjects prior to the official start of the campaign and he says there have been minor incidents but that they have not harmed the process.
“Election day has been calm, with a large turnout. Except for a few minor technical problems, the voting process went generally fine. What happened next is that during the counting process there were mistakes, there were deliberate mistakes that we might even call criminal offenses committed by commissioners manipulating candidate results,” Spahija says. He emphasizes that as a result, the CEC decided to recount many polling stations, after a very good screening and where it found errors, it opened the boxes.
But, according to Florent Spahia, in all of this, the State Prosecutor’s Office has a lot of work to do. He says that the boxes that have been opened for recount should be processed by the prosecution and that every commissioner who was there on that day should have a criminal report.
“Those commissioners should be prosecuted for the mistakes they made — firstly, the delay they caused, and secondly, the huge cost they caused to the election.”
Mushkolaj says that the counting was the Gordian knot.
“Because elections have been held more often, the staff is also beginning to understand the procedure better.”
“According to my information, we have politicians who give money to the commissioners for two years. The commissioners pay back their debt during the count, helping them to steal votes. It is important that these people do not have the space to manipulate,” he says, adding that this manipulation happens with the agreement of all parties because it does not happen to only one political party.
“Therefore, sending back the counting process to the CRC should be reconsidered, but with the condition that the criteria for the recruitment of individuals to CRC are improved, and the quality of their training increases.”
Spahija points out that the last time we had about 600 recounted boxes, an increase. He says that now the CEC has become more professional.
“Because elections have been held more often, the staff is also beginning to understand the procedure better. Before, the Prosecution — but also the whole society — was more focused on the voting thefts that took place between political parties and the focus was not inside the lists. Now that this has emerged as a problem, the focus should be on the theft of votes that take place within the lists of political subjects,” Spahija says, adding that now the Prosecution should act as before, sending those responsible to the courts and seeking maximum sentences for them. The courts, however, should give prison sentences rather than just fines for the guilty. K
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.