Choosing an election system is one of the most important decisions a country has to make. Election systems influence the way political parties behave, the way they campaign, and the relationship they maintain with the electorate.
Ever since the first elections were organized in post-war Kosovo in 2000, many different elections were held, including local elections, parliamentary elections, regular and snap elections — voting and re-voting. All the elections have served to identify deficiencies and can help develop alternatives for the electoral system we want to have as a country. Electoral systems must undoubtedly be reviewed continuously, so as to see whether or not they suit new social demands and developments.
Attempts were made in the past to make changes to Kosovo’s election system. Switching to open lists for deputy candidates and electing mayors with direct votes from citizens, instead of from municipal assemblies, can be considered great achievements. Political party leaders, under pressure from civil society and international institutions, proved to be quite open, as they accepted new changes which took away part of their control over who gets elected as a deputy or mayor.
Stagnation hit in 2011 when more ambitious election reforms were planned. It came as a consequence of electoral reforms never being seen as a necessity for improving the organizational aspect of elections, or ensuring better representation of citizens.
In the past, election reforms were used to escape political crises, such as the one in 2011, which resulted in Atifete Jahjaga becoming president as the candidate of the PDK-LDK-AKR coalition. Another example of this is president Thaci initiating election reforms in order to postpone elections, justifying that elections could not be held without implementing said reforms. In reality, elections have continuously been held whenever political party leaders wanted or needed them.
Many elements of the election system are more political issues than technical issues. Through election reforms, political parties have attempted to obtain more power than their electorate provides, or to undermine the power of their political opponents.
The practice of gerrymandering is used for designating borders of election zones, through which parties try to gain political advantage over one another. To evade such a scenario, it is important to have social consensus regarding what changes are necessary, and to include all political forces and ethnic groups.
Which issues should be addressed through electoral reforms?
Conditional voting is an opportunity provided to voters who do not find their name on election lists on voting day, mainly in post-war countries that have a high number of internally displaced people. Seventeen years after the war in Kosovo, the number of internally displaced people is low, and changing polling stations can be done quickly and easily.
Conditional voting is no longer needed as it serves as an opportunity for manipulation, delays the process of announcing results, and presents a big obstacle in the organization process.
Voting from abroad enables citizens who have the right to vote but are away from the country on voting day to exercise this right. Kosovo is one of 115 countries that have legal provisions which enable their citizens to vote from abroad. Different countries apply different forms of voting from abroad, depending on their respective specifications and costs.
Voting in person, which is organized in diplomatic missions or special locations is the most prevalent method of voting from abroad (49.5 percent). This type of voting can be applied in Kosovo to substitute the method of voting by post, seeing that it is safer and does not delay the counting process.
Municipal mayors are elected to serve four year mandates. But, if a mayor does not finish their mandate, new elections must be held. However the newly elected mayor is still connected to the mandate of the Municipal Assembly. To help avoid these unnecessary additional elections, the election of municipal mayors should be done together with deputies, who could step in should a mayor not complete a mandate.
Additionally, if there is a consensus to cancel the second round of elections for municipal mayors, then a better solution would be to apply alternative voting, limited to three preferences. Voters can give their preferences for second and third candidates, in case their first pick does not receive the required majority of votes.
It is also crucial to clarify certain constitutional provisions related to the election of Assembly Presidents. The political system has been disoriented by the Constitutional Court’s interpretation which gives a unique right to the political party or coalition with the most votes, specifically the right to propose the candidate for Assembly President.
This has caused continuous stalemates. The right to be nominated as a candidate should belong to any deputy who achieves the support of a third of all deputies. This would provide more alternatives, evade stalemates, and most importantly, create a situation in which parties no longer form pre-election coalitions just to gain top spot.
The design of ballots is also problematic, as it currently includes a lot of content and is unclear, which can cause more invalid votes and confuse voters. This happened in Palm Beach, Florida in 2000 when “butterfly” ballots confused older voters who accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore.
Similar cases have also happened in Kosovo. Candidates who have the same number as their political party have a tendency to win. A solution to this problem could be to use numbers 1 to 110 for candidates, and then use 111 and above for political parties, so that no candidate has the same number as their party.
In addition to this, ballot design has also influenced an increase in the number of invalid votes, which have reached 8 percent. In an audit of invalid ballots conducted by the Central Election Commission in the 2017 parliamentary elections, it was found that 45.83 percent of invalid ballots came as a consequence of voters choosing a candidate, but not a political party. This is also influenced by the fact that candidates aggressively campaign their personal numbers to the electorate, without clarifying that they must initially choose a political party.
2017 was an election year in Kosovo. We held parliamentary elections in June and then local elections in October and November. Additionally, a re-vote was held in Istog in December. Four elections within one year can tell us a lot about what is dysfunctional in our current election system, and what we must retain.
These lessons are fresh in the mind, so we should make 2018 a year of electoral reforms. We can develop democracy in our country by electing responsible, knowledgeable and energetic politicians to represent us. To achieve this, we need an adequate system which minimizes mistakes.
Feature image: K2.0.