Perspectives | Elections2021

Why should the rules change halfway into the game?

By - 15.01.2021

Clientelist political parties versus the “disobedient” diaspora electorate.

Kosovo citizens who live abroad have the right to vote and run for office, to represent and be represented the same way as citizens who live within the country. For a country like Kosovo, with a massive diaspora population, such a principle is important because it strengthens mutual ties and continuously helps temper the identity of our compatriots, a process that is important for numerous critical issues and for the country itself.

In spite of that, on January 11, a little over a month before the snap parliamentary elections, the Central Election Committee (CEC) issued a decision that does not look like it aims to enable voters abroad to exercise this right. The decision says that the verification of applicants who seek to vote from abroad will be done through the phone, and “if applicants do not pick up the phone, their application will be rejected.”

Following plenty of objections that came after the decision was made public, the CEC issued a new decision where it says, among other things, that applicants will be called on the phone multiple times during different parts of the day in order to verify the voting registration process.

This step by the CEC has been heavily criticized by various civil society organizations in Kosovo, Albanian foundations and organizations based in the diaspora, as well as human rights activists. The decision heavily violates the human rights enshrined in the Kosovo Constitution, where it is highlighted that “Every citizen of the Republic of Kosovo who has reached the age of eighteen, even if on the day of elections, has the right to elect and be elected, unless this right is limited by a court decision.”

The CEC with its decisions should contribute to the facilitation of the voting process for nonresident citizens of the country not hinder or further complicate it for them.

The Constitution also obligates the state institutions to create equal conditions for participation in elections — including local and parliamentary elections, be they regular or otherwise — for all Kosovo citizens.

The same principle is also regulated by international norms such as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its protocols, as well as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and its protocols, to which the Constitution and the law of the land is subordinate to. 

The CEC decision that voter verification be done by telephone can cause major problems and reduce the number of voters living outside Kosovo. Instead, the CEC with its decisions should contribute to the facilitation of the voting process for nonresident citizens of the country who have the right to vote in Kosovo, and not, with or without intention, to hinder or further complicate the voting process for them.

The power of the diaspora vote

There are over 300,000 Kosovo citizens living abroad who are eligible to vote in Kosovo. This huge number of potential voters from abroad carries immense weight and can make a difference in determining the winner of the elections in Kosovo. It is clear that such a large voting power — which is not dependent on clientelism and regionalism, which has characterized elections in Kosovo for a while now — unsettles political parties, especially those that have been in power so far.

Kosovo citizens who live abroad have often expressed disappointment with the lack of rule of law, crime and corruption, as well as bad governance in the country. Based on the last general elections in Kosovo, many diaspora voters are likely to support a change of government.

Kosovo political leaders aimed to discourage and violate an already inalienable right of citizens living abroad.

In the last elections in Kosovo, which were held in October 2019, the almost 20,200 fellow nationals who voted were decisive in determining the winner; the same happened in the 2017 local elections in Prishtina and Prizren, the two largest cities in the country.

The dissatisfaction of a part of the political establishment with this reality was best reflected in the reaction of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) President Isa Mustafa. After the last elections Mustafa said that it is not fair for the diaspora to determine the winner of the elections, instead it should be up to the citizens who live in Kosovo. This statement is extremely disappointing in our circumstances, not only for the fact that we have an active and dynamic diaspora that maintains close ties with the country, but that Kosovo political leaders aimed to discourage and violate an already inalienable right of citizens living abroad.

It is clear that our electoral system as a whole is in need of reform; however, this reform needs to be general and function for the result of facilitating election participation as a form of exercising citizens’ democratic rights.

However, while it has been reported that Kosovo has improved its electoral process over the years, this has not been reflected in the part of the process that affects diaspora voters. In many elections, the CEC has faced many problems with votes coming from abroad, starting with the process of registration, verification or even receipt of votes. Despite the ongoing difficulties with this process, no measures have been taken to address these challenges.

How to enable conditions for voting from abroad?

The process of voting from abroad has been marred by major problems in every election cycle in Kosovo. The CEC and the country’s institutions have never managed to organize a successful and professional election process for the country’s nonresident citizens. This may have been due to the fact that the parliamentary elections in the country were mainly irregular, which probably did not give enough time to the CEC to organize the electoral process for the diaspora voters as well.

However, this is not the main reason why the country’s institutions, the CEC and political parties have not created optimal conditions for the diaspora vote.

One of the obstacles faced by the diaspora during the election process is the lack of Kosovo identification documents — this is due to the numerous procedures faced by nonresident citizens of the country to get identification documents at Kosovo consulates and embassies. Communication of the country’s institutions either directly with the diaspora, or through the country’s embassies or consulates is very limited, a fact that reduces the interest of members of the diaspora to vote.

To facilitate the voting process for the diaspora, a great help would be the organization of voting in the country's embassies and consulates around the world.

Due to the lack of knowledge about their constitutional and legal rights to vote and to be elected, as well as the lack of knowledge about the voting procedures, there are Kosovo citizens from the diaspora who are less inclined to vote and do not participate in elections. Political parties and state institutions are not in genuine and constant communication with the diaspora to inform them of their constitutional rights to participate in elections.

Another obstacle that reduces their participation in the voting process is because the current registration and voting procedures are highly bureaucratic. Short deadlines for registration and voting as well as complicated voting procedures make the situation even more difficult.

To facilitate the voting process for the diaspora, a great help would be the organization of voting in the country’s embassies and consulates around the world. This would facilitate many processes, and it would not be an unprecedented situation given the fact that there are countries that practice voting in embassies.

Another type of assistance would be better institutional communication with the diaspora about the elections in Kosovo, informing them about the constitutional and legal rights to participate in the elections in Kosovo and the importance of this process. Given the contribution of the diaspora to the recovery of Kosovo, it is of vital and strategic interest for Kosovo institutions that its diaspora feels closely connected to the political processes in the country.

For many years, the Kosovo diaspora has been engaged in supporting and developing Kosovo. Initially by lobbying and engaging directly in the liberation of the country, and then through remittances supporting their families in Kosovo, as well as being among the main sources of the state budget.

The diaspora has maintained strong ties with Kosovo, but due to difficult conditions in almost all sectors of life in the country, many of its members continue to carry the burden of providing for the survival of Kosovo and their families there and they are disappointed with the political parties that have ruled for so many years.

Exactly this disappointment with the political situation in Kosovo and vocal criticism in its direction have made Kosovo institutions disregard the facilitation of the voting process for diaspora voters as a priority, convinced that the large number of votes from abroad could make a difference in the political landscape of the country.

Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.