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Belgrade Media Report, 27 October 2020

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Tuesday 27 October 2020

LOCAL PRESS

Parliament adopts Law on Ministries (RTS/Tanjug)
First session of the Committee for Kosovo and Metohija (Tanjug)
Lazanski on Belgrade-Moscow relations: One should not look for noises where there are none (RTS)
Borrell: Agreement on normalization urgent, crucial for Kosovo’s and Serbia’s European path (Beta/RFE)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Dodik: Serbs and Croats will create joint statement on how B&H can function and if this is not accepted dissolution is only solution (N1)
SDA: Statement of Dodik is direct attack on DPA (Hayat)
Trisic Babic: Dodik did not call for war, he called for respect for original Dayton Agreement and organization of B&H (Glas Srpske)
Lavrov: Russia fully supports Dayton status of RS, there is no need for revision of Dayton Agreement (Glas Srpske)
Croatia

Lavrov: Principles of Dayton agreement guard security of B&H (Vecernji list)
Montenegro

Krivokapic sent a letter urging parties to submit names of their candidates for ministers (Dan)
DF to the US Ambassador: Does your administration support Krivokapic’s view? (CdM)
Husovic: Everything we have achieved since 2006 has been brought into question (Pobjeda)
Republic of North Macedonia

A new Macedonia name dispute, this time with Bulgaria (Republika)
Osmani confirms Mickoski’s claims: An additional annex to the Agreement with Bulgaria is being prepared (Republika)
Albania

Urgent letter of Albanian President to Venice Commission (ADN)
Rama: No one can question the will of the parliament, the Electoral Code will not change anymore (Radio Tirana)
Varhelyi urges the Albanian government to wait for the Venice Commission’s advice before re-voting on Electoral Code changes in parliament (Radio Tirana)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES

Interview: Serbia looks to broaden trade links with China at upcoming CIIE (Xinhua)

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LOCAL PRESS 

Parliament adopts Law on Ministries (RTS/Tanjug

On Monday evening, the Serbian parliament adopted the Law on Ministries, which created the conditions for the formation of the new government of the Republic of Serbia. All 205 deputies who were present at the parliament session voted for the adoption of the Law on Ministries. The adopted Law on Ministries envisages that the Serbian government has 21 ministries:

Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Economy; Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management; Ministry of Environmental Protection; Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure; Ministry of Mining and Energy; Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government; Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue; Ministry of the Interior; Ministry of Defense; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of European Integration;

Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development; Ministry of Health;

Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs; Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography; Ministry of Youth and Sport; Ministry of Culture and Media; Ministry of Rural Development. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) named Branko Ruzic as Prime Minister’s first deputy and the Minister of Education, Science and Technological Development. SPS also decided that another party’s deputy leader Novica Toncev, would be a Minister without Portfolio.

First session of the Committee for Kosovo and Metohija (Tanjug

The Committee for Kosovo and Metohija held its first session on Monday, convened by parliament speaker Ivica Dacic. Pending the election of Committee Chairperson, the session was chaired by the oldest Committee member, MP Zvonimir Stevic of the SPS caucus. The Committee members unanimously elected MP Milovan Drecun of the “Aleksandar Vucic – For Our Children” caucus, Committee Chairman, and MP Danijela Veljovic of the SDPS caucus, Committee Deputy Chairperson.

Lazanski on Belgrade-Moscow relations: One should not look for noises where there are none (RTS

Serbian Ambassador to the Russian Federation Miroslav Lazanski told the morning news of Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) that there were various speculations and malicious comments when it comes to relations between Belgrade and Moscow, but that those relations are stable, as well as that we have a strategic partnership and friendship. One should not look for noises where there are none, there is no place for that, says Lazanski. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will arrive in Belgrade tomorrow, on the day when the government is formed. When asked if there is any symbolism, Lazanski says that he thinks it is a coincidence. “I would not look for a special reason, because that visit was agreed in the past ten days. Minister Lavrov’s original trip was Athens-Zagreb-Sarajevo; he was to open a new building of the Russian Embassy in Zagreb, and in Sarajevo because of the 25th anniversary of the signing of Dayton,” Lazanski said. It was announced that Lavrov will meet with President Vucic and that deeper Serbian-Russian cooperation will be discussed. Answering the question whether that means that Belgrade and Moscow passed all the tests, Lazanski points out that there were various daily tests, especially at the time of signing the Washington agreement, and there were also various, as he says, malicious comments. “Relations between Moscow and Belgrade are stable, we have a strategic partnership, strategic friendship. Russia supports Serbia in all its positions in all international forums, Serbia is the only country along with Belarus and Northern Macedonia that has not imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation, we have never supported any resolution in the EU against Russia, Moscow also appreciates that,” Lazanski pointed out. Speaking about the Washington agreement and whether it is an attempt by the US to regain influence in the Balkans, Lazanski said that he would not characterize it as an attempt of US’ comeback, because “it has been present in the Balkans much longer and is much more involved in various processes than the Russian Federation”. “The soft power of Russia is more symbolically present here than the soft power of the US. There is a disproportion in the fact that the more the US is politically present here, the less their officials came to Belgrade for official visits,” Lazanski said. “When was a US Secretary of State on an official visit to Belgrade as a foreign minister? Pompeo came to Pristina but did not come to Belgrade. When was the last time a US president visited Yugoslavia? Putin has been three times in the last four years. We are talking about how much someone respects you, and how much someone ignores you,” Lazanski added. When asked whether Putin will come to Belgrade, Lazanski said that of course he will come. “During the pandemic, he did not travel to any other country, he is only in Russia. Noises should be sought where there are none, there is no place for that,” Lazanski said. As planned, the current situation in resolving the Kosovo problem will be discussed at the meeting with Lavrov. Lazanski says that Russia is clear in its principled position – international law, Resolution 1244 and everything that Belgrade and Pristina agree on. “I do not see room for any kind of speculation here, if we agree with Pristina that the solution for Kosovo will be one way or another, they will support it,” Lazanski concluded.

Borrell: Agreement on normalization urgent, crucial for Kosovo’s and Serbia’s European path (Beta/RFE

 

EU High Representative Josep Borrell has said that a comprehensive agreement on normalization is “urgent and crucial” for Serbia’s and Kosovo’s progress on their European path.

Both sides must put further significant effort into reaching a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on normalization, Radio Free Europe quoted Borrell as saying. In a written reply to an MEP’s question regarding war crimes charges against Kosovo President Hashim Thaci before The Hague-based Specialist Chambers, Borrell said that the EU ascribed great importance to overcoming the legacy of the past and abolishing impunity across the Western Balkans.

REGIONAL PRESS 

 

Dodik: Serbs and Croats will create joint statement on how B&H can function and if this is not accepted dissolution is only solution (N1)

Serb member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that Serbs and Croats will create a joint statement on how B&H can function and if this was not accepted dissolution is the only solution. He added that dissolution does not mean war, only if international interventionism would produce something like that. He reiterated that it is not banned that Republika Srpska (RS) holds a referendum and that Serbs have the right to think about this and that the right to self-determination should be recognized to them. He added that Croatia openly stands for the status of Croats in B&H. Reacting to Dodik’s statement, Croat member of the B&H Presidency Zeljko Komsic stated that if he was Dodik and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic, he would not play around with such announcements, noting that it is clear where such policy, which represents continuation of the policy of Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic, leads. Komsic said that this policy represents continuation of the policy of Tudjman and Milosevic and everyone knows how it ended. Komsic added: “Now, it would end even in a worse way. Such announcements can only hit back those who try to threaten. They must know that those who love this country are not afraid of them at all”. “In case they venture into that kind of adventure, then they should know that we will not idly stand by, we will respond, but this time they will meet a worst faith than in 1995,” Komsic stressed. Commenting on Dodik’s announcements, Presidency Chairman Sefik Dzaferovic said this would destabilize the region. Dzaferovic emphasized that all those that attacked B&H in the past and tried to break it apart, failed because this country was always able to fend from such attacks.

SDA: Statement of Dodik is direct attack on DPA (Hayat)

SDA reacted on Monday to the statement of member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik that Serbs and Croats will demand that B&H functions the way they want it or else, they will demand dissociation. According to the press release of SDA, this statement is a direct attack on the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA). SDA emphasized that the agreement on functioning of B&H was reached in the Dayton which is why Dodik and everyone else has the obligation to respect the Constitution and laws arising from this agreement. SDA said that each concrete move that Dodik makes against the DPA will mean giving up on the DPA and therefore, return to the state before the Dayton, i.e. to the Republic of B&H. SDA stated: “Dodik should know that B&H was not formed via association and it cannot dissociate and this can certainly not be achieved by a Serb-Croat agreement in a country in which over half of the population are Bosniaks. The Serb-Croat attempt of the so-called dissociation of B&H brought nothing but big tragedies to peoples of this country and finally, it failed to bring a result in which B&H vanished and instead, carriers of these types of policies were convicted before international courts”.

Trisic Babic: Dodik did not call for war, he called for respect for original Dayton Agreement and organization of B&H (Glas Srpske

 

Serb member of the B&H Presidency Milorad Dodik stated that Serbs and Croats will create a joint statement on how B&H can function and if this was not accepted dissolution is the only solution. Hi statement caused fierce reactions of SDA. Commenting SDA’s reaction, Dodik’s advisor for foreign policy Ana Trisic Babic stated that Dodik did not call for war or return to the state before Dayton Peace Agreement. According to her, he did the opposite- he called for respecting the original Dayton Agreement and its original provisions defining the organization of B&H. “This is not the first time that Dodik is calling for equality of all three constituent peoples, for an end to violent changes to Dayton Agreement. In this way, he is trying to encourage the third side to finally understand that two out of three constituent peoples are not satisfied with situation in the country,” said Trisic-Babic. According to her, the new joint statement will not be different from previous similar demands of Croats and Serbs, and it will not violate the Dayton character of B&H. She underlined that Dodik wants prosperous and functional B&H, but it is not possible with present level of interference by the international community. She also noted that the current state of dissatisfaction was caused by interventions of the international community and OHR with support of Bosniak parties. Trisic Babic also criticized Bosniak parties for their lack of willingness to amend the Election Law and remove foreign judges in B&H Constitutional Court. She concluded that the law which allows one people to elect representatives of another people is not acceptable, and that foreign judges passing decisions which are detrimental to Serbs are not acceptable either.

Lavrov: Russia fully supports Dayton status of RS, there is no need for revision of Dayton Agreement (Glas Srpske)

Glas Srpske daily announces an exclusive interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov which will be published in full on Wednesday. In the interview, Lavrov stated that Russia and the RS are connected with close historical and cultural ties, and that Russia appreciates the brotherly understanding which exists between Russia and the RS. He also underlined that Russia, as one of the guarantors of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), fully supports the Dayton status of the RS and its constitutional competencies. “We do not recognize any practical need for the High Representative, his function has been exhausted a long time ago,” said Lavrov. He also emphasized that there is no need for revision of DPA which has been securing peace, security and stability of B&H and the entire region for 25 years. According to Lavrov, the lasting value of DPA lies in the fact that it has defined the internal organization of B&H, established the constitutional position of the two entities, distributed areas of responsibility among different levels of authority and guaranteed equal status of the three constituent peoples. The DPA also secured a verified method for realization of rights of the three peoples which includes the right to veto for protection of vital national interests. He underlined that interfering with these fundamental principles would mean undermining of the foundations of B&H’s statehood. Lavrov also underlined that any changes to DPA are acceptable only if they are result of an agreement of the three constituent peoples in line with the prescribed procedure. “The only thing that really needs to be revised is presence of the OHR,” said Lavrov.

 

Lavrov: Principles of Dayton agreement guard security of B&H (Vecernji list)

Russian Foreign Minister (FM) Sergey Lavrov, was supposed to visit Croatia today (Tuesday). According to the daily, the visit has been postponed not because of political reasons but because of deteriorating epidemiological situation in Croatia, which also had an impact on employees of the Russian Embassy in Zagreb. Lavrov gave an exclusive interview for Vercernji list. Most of the interview was dedicated to Croatian-Russian relations, however the interview began with a question in what parts interests of Croatia and Russia overlap in international relations and in south-east Europe, for example in B&H. Lavrov replied by saying that “our interests overlap on level of principles” and that he is convinced that both Russia and Croatia are interested in strengthening of international peace, security and stability, and in diplomatic solutions to numerous crises and conflicts. As for B&H, Lavrov said that one of topics with B&H partners will be the problem of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA), whose 25th anniversary will be marked on 14 December. Lavrov noted that the DPA remains topical and that “its fundamental principles of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of B&H, equality of three constituent peoples and two entities with broad constitutional competences enable maintaining peace, stability and security and development”. The Russian FM added that Croatia, as a signatory of the DPA, has its part of responsibility for implementation of the DPA and is interested in realization of fundamental principles of the DPA. “In that sense Russia is prepared to offer all kind of support,” added Lavrov.

 

Krivokapic sent a letter urging parties to submit names of their candidates for ministers (Dan)

 

Prime minister-designate, Zdravko Krivokapic, sent a letter last night urging representatives of the new ruling majority to submit the names of their candidates for ministers in the govt departments, several sources have confirmed to Dan daily. In case the parties fail to do so in the next few days, the prime minister-designate is going to present his proposal for the ministers. According to Dan daily, the entire matter should be finished soon, as Krivokapic’s team noted yesterday that they have been waiting for certain responses regarding the allocation of departments in the new government. Dan has also learnt that the prime minister-designate is doing everything in his power to form the government in the first half of November.

DF to the US Ambassador: Does your administration support Krivokapic’s view? (CdM)

Democratic front (DF) has written a letter to the US Ambassador, Judy Rising Reinke, after they had been informed by Zdravko Krivokapic, that one foreign factor has stated that leaders of DF can’t take over positions in the government given to them by people. “Given the fact that we received this information soon after meeting prime minister-designate had in your embassy, we would like to hear from You or some competent person in State Department, if your administration endorses such scandalous view,” DF letter states. According to the information provided by the circles close to the Trump administration, all democratic standards in the formation of the new government will be respected. “Since we received this information during talks with Krivokapic, we ask you to publicly state your own opinion regarding this matter, so that Montenegrin citizens could make clear estimate on what this ultimatum means,” DF states.

CdM published on Saturday that Krivokapic didn’t want three leaders of DF, Andrija Mandic, Milan Knezevic and Nebojsa Medojevic, to be ministers in the new government, because he “wants to be surrounded with people who aren’t worn out in political terms and haven’t got a ballast of court procedures. Mandic then said that somebody who had appointed Zdravko Krivokapic holder of the list ‘For the future of Montenegro’ and who conducted the election campaign would not allow Montenegrin tycoons to steal people’s will. Earlier, DF member and president of the Municipal Board of New Serbian Democracy Podgorica, Rados Zecevic, said that tycoon media, rented analysts and corrupt NGO activists were conducting smearing campaign against Serbian people and devoted politicians in Montenegro, swearing and insulting, financing fake survey which they later refer to in their public performances.

Husovic: Everything we have achieved since 2006 has been brought into question (Pobjeda

Everything we have jointly achieved since 2006, has been brought into question now. By that, I mean high level of results in the context of multi-ethnic relations, exercise of human and minority rights, integration of minority nations into state institutions. That will be a test for the new majority, Rafet Husovic, president of Bosnik party said in the interview for Pobjeda.

What is it that Bosniak party couldn’t get over when deciding about being part of the new government? 

Husovic: Analyzing the new composition of the ruling majority, from the very beginning, the public was asked whether the Bosniak Party, as a national party of pro-European orientation, has a place in a coalition with, in our opinion, unnatural allies. The composition of the new majority also includes some parties that are ideologically quite different from the BP, and our unique decision on the Main Board is the result of principled thinking. We believe that at this moment we should not be part of the current ruling majority. In that way, we give a chance to all those subjects with whom we do not share the same thoughts about the past, but also about the future of Montenegro, to show that they truly want to build a civil Montenegro and to honestly see minority peoples as partners.

Did you talk with Zdravko Krivokapic about concrete positions in the future government? 

Husovic: It was a constructive conversation, where I talked with Prime Minister-designate , Krivokapic, at his invitation, about how we see the future of Montenegro. We agreed that the period ahead is full of challenges, both in political and economic sense. Specifically, I called on prime minister-designate to start building some kind of partnership and cooperation, in order to reach mutual trust, all with the goal of making Montenegro a place for the life of all its citizens. When it comes to seats in government, there was no talk of it.

What’s your comment on the views of some members of the Black and White coalition, Justice and Reconciliation party to be more precise, stating that you “have put your personal interest before the improvement of your people’s position”? 

Husovic: I have already said that the decision not to be part of the government is the best political decision of the BP after the referendum. The opinion of certain parties and politicians that we were guided by personal interests is initially meaningless and is an example of political populism. I remind you that a single decision was made that BP should not be part of the new ruling majority. If we know that the members of the committee are predominantly ministers, directors, secretaries, advisors and other former government officials, and that by voting not to be part of the government they voted to remain without those positions, then it is clear that the principles on which we built the party all these years were crucial when we made this decision.

What do you think about the statement made by Dritan Abazovic, that BP’s decision is expected and that the new government will have Bosniaks and Albanians? 

Husovic: I will be really happy if Bosniaks and Albanians are part of this government. The key is whether these representatives will have the legitimacy to represent Bosniaks. Based on the election result, the Bosniak Party is the legitimate and only representative of its people. The best confirmation of that is almost 16.500 votes. If Abazovic thinks that someone who does not have legitimacy with his people, and at the same time does not have a single parliamentary mandate in the Assembly, will represent the interests of an entire people, in this case Bosniaks, then he is grossly mistaken. This statement is the attempt to give legitimacy to the new majority.

What’s your comment on the Nik Djeljosaj’s statement who said that minority parties should cooperate with the future government? 

Husovic: I think we should wait for the final decision, before giving any comment. In essence, minority parties should cooperate or be part of a government, but provided that the constituent entities, minority peoples and their legitimate political representatives are seen as equal in all respects, and not as mere decor to disguise their true nature. As I have repeated many times, some political entities, which are today the key constituents of the new government in Montenegro, have openly expressed a negative attitude towards members of minority nations, and therefore I believe that at the moment minority nations  have no place in this ruling majority. We give them a chance to show a sincere departure from such rhetoric and convince us that they want true cooperation on an equal basis.

Do you expect that the new parliamentary majority will manage to form the government within the deadline prescribed?  

Husovic: I think they will. Despite all the problems they have, they will probably find a compromise. However, if we see that there is no consensus on the composition of the government, on the division of responsibilities, the question is really how this new majority will harmonize the government’s policy, how it will agree on the continuation of Montenegro’s European path. If we add to all that that a challenging period awaits us in terms of the economy, then everything related to the new majority is a path to uncertainty.

Andrija Popovic said that Montenegro “has been in danger since the new parliamentary majority was formed”. What do you think? 

Husovic: Everything we have done together since 2006, when we worked diligently to build the civic character of society, has been brought into question. When I say that, I mean the high level of results achieved in terms of multiethnic relations, the realization of human and minority rights, the integration of minority peoples into state institutions. And that will be a test for the new majority, to show that it really respects that Montenegro is a civil state, that the minority peoples, who gave the stamp of Montenegro’s independence, are part of the social being of this state.

Will you run for the president of BP in the forthcoming Congress? 

Husovic: At the last session, we made the decision to start preparatory actions and set a date for the congress. The plan is for it to be in the first half of next year. At this point, it is too early to answer that question. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we will choose the leadership and party bodies which will be the strength of our party in the next ten years. Now we are much more ready in terms of personnel.

What is the position of Bosniaks in Montenegro like today? How do Bosniaks feel after the events that took place in Pljevlja? 

Husovic: If we go back 15 years and look at the position of the Bosniak people today, then we must state that this position has significantly improved. Thanks in large part to the wise policy of the BP, Bosniaks have become part of the process, both on the political and social scene of Montenegro. What is indicative is that in the previous period, we could hear from some subjects who will now be in power that Bosniaks and Albanians cannot govern Montenegro. And during the election celebration, we witnessed that Bosniaks were the target of attacks in Pljevlja and other cities. My message to everyone is that Bosniaks are on their own, that this is our state and that every attack on any Bosniak is an attack on civil and multi-ethnic Montenegro.

 

A new Macedonia name dispute, this time with Bulgaria (Republika)

After Bulgaria raised issues with the ethnicity of a number of Macedonian heroes, chief among them Goce Delcev, then the Macedonian language and nationality, the latest dispute that is being raised is the imposed name “North Macedonia”. Bulgaria warned that “North Macedonia” can be seen as a claim on Bulgarian territory. Just as the VMRO-DPMNE party warned, the 2017 Zaev – Borisov treaty did not close historic issues – on the contrary, it led Bulgaria to raise more and more obstacles on the way before Macedonia’s opening of accession talks. While Macedonia was being forced by a number of international powers to accept “North Macedonia” as its official name, upon request from Greece, Bulgaria raised objections, but did not act decisively to disrupt the proposal. But now Bulgarian Defense Minister Krasimir Karakacanov, who is one of the most nationalist members of the Borisov government, said that the term “North Macedonia” could be seen as something that includes parts of Bulgaria. In the 1913 partition of Macedonia by Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria, Bulgaria gained the territory around Mt. Pirin and Gorna Dzumaja (Blagoevgrad) which is commonly referred to Pirin Macedonia. Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani confirmed that the issue of the name is now part of the dispute, and that Bulgaria wants it clarified to mean that it only refers to the Republic of (North) Macedonia, and that Macedonia does not have any territorial claims on Bulgaria. Macedonia already has constitutional amendments that it doesn’t claim any territory from the neighbors, but it is likely that Bulgaria will want a declaration, an annex to the Zaev – Borisov treaty, or a new treaty altogether to cover the latest issues.

Osmani confirms Mickoski’s claims: An additional annex to the Agreement with Bulgaria is being prepared (Republika)

Working groups from Macedonia and Bulgaria are working on a daily basis in a bid to overcome the differences between the two countries regarding the implementation of the Good Neighborly Agreement, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bujar Osmani said Monday, confirming that an additional annex to this document is being prepared. Osmani noted that during his visit to Sofia, they discussed the differences between expectations and different interpretations of certain solutions from the Agreement and how to facilitate certain solutions. “We concluded that we have differences in our expectations regarding the extent to which that Agreement has so far yielded results in relation to the issue for which it was intended or signed. Here, too, we opened all the issues and agreed to form working groups, from the two ministries that will discuss on a daily basis these differences in expectations, different interpretations of certain solutions, how to alleviate certain concerns on one side or the other regarding some solutions. For example, the new short name, if a short name causes some concern in the Republic of Bulgaria that someone might interpret it as a territorial claim of the historical region of Macedonia, I think we have no problem making an additional explanation to the Bulgarian side that the new name is in both long and short use, but both short and long represent the same territory, and that is the Republic of North Macedonia,” said Osmani. According to him, there is no dilemma that certain issues should be resolved and clarified, as well as our obligation not to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring countries. Regarding historical issues, the Foreign Minister said that he would like to encourage the Commissions of the two countries to reach certain solutions as soon as possible that will give new impetus to the relations between the two countries with a view to the future, not the past.

 

Urgent letter of Albanian President to Venice Commission (ADN)

The Albanian President, Ilir Meta addressed an urgent letter on Monday to the Venice Commission on the last changes of the Electoral Code. He addressed eight questions to Venice to give an opinion over the last most heated political debate.

Request for the urgent Opinion on the process of unilateral and accelerated amendment of the Constitution and the Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania: 

 

Honorable President Buquicchio,

Thank you for your personal commitment and the support of Venice Commission to strengthening democracy and rule of law in Albania, for almost three decades. Since the last Opinion of the Venice Commission for Albania no. 978/2020, “On The Appointment of Judges to the Constitutional Court”, regrettably there was no reflection or follow-up to your recommendations. Moreover, a non-functioning Constitutional Court for more than 31 months, a non-functioning Supreme Court, a sui generis crisis of representation – with Government, Parliament, all Municipalities and Municipal Councils in the hands of a single political force, including almost all independent bodies, has affected the country bringing in total disequilibrium the check and balance mechanisms. On 25 April 2021 Albania will hold general elections. Political stakeholders had to agree on electoral reform in line with OSCE/ODIHR recommendations and well ahead of elections. As President of the Republic, I had a legitimate expectation that electoral reform would be subject to an inclusive and constructive debate reflecting cross party-political consensus. Although a consensual electoral reform package was codified in the Albanian parliament on 23 July 2020, the socialist majority killed this reform with subsequent unilateral Constitutional and Electoral Code amendments on 30 July and 5 October 2020 respectively. Such circumstances compel me to request an urgent opinion of the Venice Commission addressing 8 questions related to this process. I am sure that your good office will provide us with a road map in view of ensuring minimum guarantees and international standards for free and fair elections.

  1. Background 
    Albania is engulfed in the last few years in an unprecedented deep and complex crisis. This crisis is political, constitutional, and institutional. The June 2017 general elections were heavily criticized by OSCE/ODIHR for serious violations of international standards including: 1. vote buying; 2. pressure on voters and civil servants; 3. abuse of state resources; 4. violation of freedom and of secrecy of the vote. Undoubtedly, these means were employed to serve the obvious political purpose of affecting election result and the distribution of parliamentary mandates, thus undermining the legitimacy of and the composition of Parliament. As a result, the Socialist Party (alone) took control of the 2017 Parliamentary majority.  Soon after, international media exposed audio tapes extracted from two criminal files in possession of Prosecutor’s Office, related to electoral crime. Leaked criminal files no. 184 and 339, exposed direct communication between high officials of the Socialist Party with notorious criminal gangs to rig election results in 2016 partial local elections and 2017 general elections, in favor of the Socialist Party. To date, Prosecutor’ s Office has not ensued with criminal proceedings against any of the high-level officials involved in these files. Enduring failure to investigate these penal cases and the fact that all individuals exposed in respective electoral crimes continued to enjoy full political immunity, incited opposition’s extreme decision to lift en bloc 182 /58 parliamentary mandates. Governing majority reacted through an accelerated and illegal procedure to partially replace parliamentary mandates with remaining candidates belonging to opposition’s party lists. 182 MP’s and candidate MP’s lifted parliamentary mandates, exhausting opposition’s candidates list. Current parliament is composed of 122 MPs, running short of the constitutional number of 140 Parliamentary mandates. The situation got further complicated due to the serious constitutional crisis in the country, consequent to the non-functioning of the Constitutional Court, since March 2018, and the unconstitutional appointment of a Provisional General Prosecutor, on 18 December 2017. In a climate of extreme antagonism and polarization, including regular national protests and acts of violence, the opposition parties decided to boycott en bloc 2019 local elections. Denying every opportunity for dialogue and an agreeable solution, the Socialist Party on its part, decided to continue with one-party elections, further escalating political and social tension. The Congress of Local Authorities of the Council of Europe decided to cancel its observation mission, in view of such uncertainty. The President of the Republic made another effort to appease all sides offering to postpone the election date. The Socialist Party refused this opportunity insisting with holding of one-party elections. Following extraordinary circumstances indicating serious threats to security and stability of the country, the President decided to postpone local elections to October 2019. Nonetheless disregarding President’s decree for inclusive elections, the ruling Socialist Party held local elections as an uncontested electoral subject. It controlled unilaterally all election commissions at all levels, including in counting of ballots. Massive evidence of voter intimidation and manipulation of voter turnout and results was documented.
    OSCE/ODIHR concluded that elections were held with little regard for the voters and had serious shortcomings. It also noted serious lack of guarantees due to the partisan action and deliberations of the Central Electoral Commission and lack of judicial guarantees due to the non-functioning of the Constitutional Court and the incomplete membership of the Electoral College under obvious political pressure due to ongoing vetting process.
    After the June 2019 local elections, the ruling Socialist Party practically controls all (61/61) municipalities. The OSCE/ODIHR first recommendation and EU’s first benchmark (conditioning the launch of accession negotiations) demanded an inclusive electoral reform addressing all relevant recommendations in view of achieving international standards for next elections. It is widely accepted, and a 20-years practice of electoral reform in Albania, that a genuinely inclusive reform be based on political consensus among the real political forces. The overall political and institutional crises is further compounded by the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court and High Court, for more than 3 years.
  2. Electoral reform and political developments 
    Against this political background, and following 2019 November earthquake hitting central Albania, an agreement was negotiated in late 2019. These negotiations led to the 14 January 2020 Framework Agreement between the ruling majority and the alliance of opposition parties (out of Parliament). 14 January 2020 agreement established a Political Council (PC) serving as a political and technical platform for inclusive discussion and consensual conclusion of electoral reform. The purpose of the PC work was to agree on reform that meets international standards, and its following consensual decisions to be adopted without changes in parliament (fully controlled by the Socialist Party). The PC was assisted by OSCE/ODIHR experts. The agreement also foresees a dispute resolution clause, bounding the parties to seek the OSCE/ODIHR expertise for “acceptable solutions”, in case of inability to find a compromise. The PC was consensually established (and widely welcomed) as a political mechanism to overcome the political deadlock on electoral reform, accepting therefore parliament’s lack of legitimacy to unilaterally address OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. In the background of this agreement and following the outbreak of the COVID-2019 Pandemic, Albania entered the national lock-down with a peaceful political atmosphere. All national energies were committed to overcoming this difficult situation. The President convened a number of National Security Council meetings, including with the presence of the Leader of the United Opposition. However, in a sudden move, the Prime Minister decided to provoke again social and political tensions, by demolishing the National Theatre, while State of Emergency was in force, and in clear violation of the Constitution and a number of laws related to this issue. The National Theatre was demolished while artists were still inside the building, at early morning hours, seriously risking a human tragedy. This act saw the immediate reaction of high level European institutions and interlocutors, and of civil society, leading to daily protests. The sole reason of Prime Minister to commit to such behavior was to kill the 14 January political Agreement and the Political Council established thereof. This was the second provocation of the Prime Minister to fail the PC, after his first move to appoint one of his key cabinet members exposed in the audio tapes (for electoral crime) as the Socialist representative in the PC. Nonetheless, the opposition remained in the PC and debated at length the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations and other issues agreed as the platfonn of the electoral reform. The PC concluded with the 5 June 2020 Agreement facilitated by the international partners, mainly the US, EU and UK ambassadors in Tirana, which laid the basis for the conclusion of the reform. The 5 June 2020 Agreement was welcomed by the US Secretary of State, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, the EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, all demanding and expecting the codification of 5 June agreement in parliament. A consensual draft introducing substantial amendments to the Electoral Code was agreed by the PC on 30 June 2020. On 23 July 2020 Parliament adopted without changes the amendments to the Electoral Code. The President of the Republic decreed on 31 July the new law amending the Electoral Code, which entered in force on 19 August 2020. On 6 September 2020, on the bases of the newly amended Electoral Code rules on setting the date of elections, the President of the Republic decreed the date of upcoming general elections for 25 April 2021. The decree also denotes the official start of the election process. As 6 September 2020, rules for enrolling voters as well as registering electoral subjects (political parties, coalitions of parties and independent candidates) became operational. Parties could register with the Central Election Commission and subsequently could register a coalition based on the model of coalition (widely known as “apparentement” and in other cases as “electoral cartel” or “electoral alliance”) confirmed by the amendments of 23 July 2020 in force. Against such achievement, on 15 July 2020 the Socialist Party presented with an urgent procedure to the Plenary an additional draft on constitutional amendments modifying substantial elements of the electoral system. The Prime Minister claimed to lack the support of “Parliamentary opposition” to codify the 5 June Agreement, offering therefore an additional agreement in Parliament. It must be noted that parliamentary opposition had its own representative in the PC fully endorsing the 5 June Agreement in a signed document. This package was introduced in an emergency procedure in parliament, regardless of the fact that it suggested changes at constitutional level, lacking any substantial debate and while all international actors were demanding that any further changes be discussed and consensually agreed upon within the PC. In response to these calls, the socialist majority tabled these amendments to the PC. While there was no consensus on suggested amendments, the socialist majority refused to ask for OSCE/ODIHR expertise on this package. This was particularly regrettable having in mind that Albania is currently Chair-in-office of the OSCE!!! The united opposition parties claimed that such eventual constitutional amendments, less than a year from the Election Day and without consensus in the PC, would bring changes to substantial elements of the electoral system, especially those regulating the way parties collect votes and such votes are transformed into seats. The constitutional amendments modified significantly some of the fundamental features of the electoral system. According to these amendments on article 68, the Constitution no longer foresees the presentation of candidates by political coalitions, an electoral element which was in force in Albania since the adoption of the 1998 Constitution1 and have been used in practice since the local elections of 2000. In addition, these changes paved the way for redrawing the constituencies by potentially reducing their numbers and increasing the district magnitude in the electoral districts. The proposed amendments introduced a national legal threshold at 5% (The final version adopted by Parliament removed any specific level, leaving it to the Electoral Code which set it to 1%. %). A form of semi­ open list of candidates was also proposed. The Electoral Code prior to these changes stipulated that the regional legal threshold was 3% for all those parties running alone, while was 5% for those political parties running in coalitions. The constitutional amendments were introduced in the PC on 23 of July without any prior, open, inclusive and detailed analysis of effects on the form of the system, functioning of the electoral process and the impact on the election of the parliament, forming of governing majorities and the stability of the executive.

    Former Article 68 of the Albanian Constitution.
    The opposition objected formally and publicly the changes proposed by the ruling majority and the PC failed to reach consensus. However, disregarding any form of consultation with political parties, with legal experts or civil society, and at a very hasty procedure, the Constitutional amendments were adopted only one week after their introduction, and only a week following the adoption of the consensual amendments to the Electoral Code, on 23 July 2020. They were adopted in parliament on 30 July 2020, and entered into force on 8 September 2020, after the President of the Republic decreed the date of the elections on 6 September 2020 when the election process officially started. There was a strong and public reaction from domestic and international partners against these constitutional changes, reminding the Prime Minister his obligation to honor his commitments under 14 January and 5 June Agreements, and calling for continued cooperation within the Political Council for remaining issues on electoral reform.
    On 14 September, the PC reconvened again to discuss the amendments implementing the constitutional changes in the Electoral Code as proposed by the ruling majority. At the opening of the session, based on the 14 January 2020 Framework Agreement, the opposition demanded that the PC should request the expert opinion of OSCE/ODIHR on the disagreements between the parties, the impact the proposed changes bad on the electoral system of the country and the compliance with the OSCE/ODIHR guidelines and recommendations. On 22 September, the united opposition presented in the PC the draft-request to be addressed to OSCE/ODIHR with the relevant questions for an expert opinion. On 27 September, the opposition tabled in the PC an alternative draft of amendments which preserved the model of coalitions as adopted in 2003 and reconfirmed with consensus on 23 July 2020 and asked that both drafts be sent for opinion on compliance with international standards and commitments to OSCE/ODIHR. The ruling Socialist Party refused on all occasions to send an opinion request to the OSCE/ODIHR via the PC, notwithstanding the fact that Prime Minister is currently Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. The PC failed to discuss any changes and therefore to reach any consensual compromise during that period. On 5 October the ruling majority passed unilaterally in parliament the amendments to the Electoral Code, and sent them to the President of the Republic for decree. The President does not have a veto power on the legislation adopted in Parliament. He may only return for further legislative review, only once. If his remarks are not reconsidered by Parliament, the relevant legislation enters immediately into force.
    Compatibility of the amendments with the Constitution and the ECHR
    The amendments raise concerns on several issues with regard to the constitutionality of the new rules:

  1. Despite the Constitution (article 68 of Constitution) provide anymore electoral coalitions to present candidates, the amended Electoral Code2obliges coalitions to present a unique list of candidates.
  2. 11. The law allows for calculating a quotient for each electoral subject’s list in order to determine which candidate of that multi-name list could break the ranking of candidates decided by the electoral subject. This may lead to giving different weight to the votes of two separate electoral subjects, In case candidates of different subjects obtain the same number of votes, but the quotient of the respective lists is different such candidates may stand different chances to be elected. This could violate the constitutional principles of equality of vote and non-discrimination of candidates, as well as makes it difficult for the voters to understand whether they have the same chances with other voters to elect a candidate with their votes.
  3. Party chairpersons shall have the right to run in up to four districts4. In 2009, on a similar provision that allowed party chairpersons to run in all 12 districts, OSCE/ODIHR Final Report on 2009 general elections recommended that “The provision in the Electoral Code giving special candidacy rights to the chairpersons of political parties should be reconsidered bearing in mind the principles of equality and non-discrimination. It should be ensured that voters know in advance of the candidates who are likely to be seated as a result of their support.” (Recommendation no. 2).
  4. The new provisions of the Electoral Code adopted on 5 October 2020 determine the official number of votes obtained by a coalition party by multiplying the number of mandates won by the party in each district lists, with the average of votes per each mandate obtained by the coalition in that district. The sum of these results in each of the 12 districts constitutes the overall number of votes of that party at national level. This legal fiction does not correspond to the true number of votes obtained by individual candidates of the coalition party, as it does not factor in the result the preferential votes obtained by candidates of that party in the coalition lists, but who are not elected. The Constitution allows to participate in the distribution of mandates Article 67 of the Electoral Code as amended on 5 October 2020. 3 Article 68 of the Constitution before the amendment of 30 July 2020 allowed political parties, electoral coalitions and citizens to present candidates. The provisions of the Electoral Code adopted in 2008 , with regard to coalitions, gave the right of presenting candidates to each coalition party and not to the coalition as an electoral subject. That provision has been considered in compliance with the constitution. Article 67 of the Electoral Code as amended on 5 October 2020. when a national threshold is reached, which is set at 1% by the law. A coalition party that has reached that threshold but has not gained any mandate, according to the Electoral Code shall be calculated as not having obtained votes. This appears to conflict with the new constitutional provision5. The number of votes obtained by an individual party, whether running separately or in coalition, is directly related to other political and electoral rights of political parties, including financing during election campaign and non-election years, media access, representation in election commission. The absence of a functioning Constitutional Court as a guarantee against violation of constitutional rights, principles and provisions, makes it impossible to have a final constitutional review of the 30 July constitutional changes and of the new provisions of the Electoral Code.

    Dear Mr. President,

    The President of the Republic, reiterates his concern that unilateral and hasty adoption of fundamental laws regulating the life of the country such as the Constitution and the Electoral Code has the potential of damaging the electoral process and the functioning of democratic institutions in the country. The President of the Republic, following the official request of the United Opposition Parties and in view of avoiding yet another electoral crisis in Albania, contributing to the legitimacy and credibility of the electoral process, ensuring minimum international standards for free and fair elections, especially in a situation where the check and balance system is totally dysfunctional, leaning towards authoritarianism, is addressing to the good offices of the Venice Commission a request to provide as matter of urgency an Opinion on the following questions:

  1. Can fundamental rules governing electoral competition, especially rules relating to the transformation of votes into seats between competitors, be altered unilaterally, after the election process has started, and only 6 months prior to election date? How important is the stability of election legislation and knowledge of the law by the electoral competitors well ahead of elections, for the quality and the credibility of elections?
  2. If rules, especially those relating to the transformation of votes into seats between competitors, are changed unilaterally and very close to elections in order to provide advantage to the party that has introduced the changes, do such changes undermine or otherwise affect the principles of stability of law, legal certainty and level playing field, which are key to uphold OSCE commitments for democratic elections? Do these changes Article 64 of the Constitution as amended on 30 July 2020, setting a national threshold compromise the electoral process? Do they also compromise the political stability if they are done in breach of the consensus of January 24 and June 5 reached by major political parties?
  3. Is the principle of procedural guarantees eventually violated if such unilateral and hastily adopted changes to electoral law are made in the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court which could control their compliance with the Constitution and with the European Convention of Human Rights standards?
  4. While unilateral amendments on the Constitution and Electoral Code of 30 July and 5 October were not part of the OSCE/ODIHR early recommendations for Albania, is the urgent procedure a legitimate motive to justify unilateral amendments from a contested Parliament short of constitutional quorum of 140 seats? Was there a stringent need under the international standards to modify them unilaterally?
  5. Is the newly included provision in the Electoral Code, providing for the right of political party leader to run in 4 electoral districts in compliance with international standards and especially with the principle of non-discrimination amongst candidates and voters?
  6. Do the rules, still in force to date 6 for collecting votes and their transformation into seats between competitors, especially those regarding electoral coalitions and the relevant formula for allocation of seats, impede the introduction of open lists for the selection of candidates from voters? In case the legislation adopts the open lists, while the existing mechanism of electoral coalitions and the relevant formula for allocation of seats for coalitions remain as they are currently in force, would the relevant Albanian legislation be in compliance with OSCE commitments?
  7. Does the unilateral imposition of the Electoral Code changes regarding pre-electoral coalitions to run with a unique list, undermine the rights of the political parties and their electorate (equal vote of candidates of different political parties within a coalition; the right to legal representation to defend their interest during the electoral process; the right to air time and media access; the right of representation in Electoral Local Commissions; the right and transparency of financing)?

Given the situation, what would be an acceptable solution in order to secure an electoral process in compliance with the OSCE commitments and other European standards for democratic elections and agreed by all major political stakeholders and electoral subjects, in order to avoid another electoral and political crisis?
Expressing the highest consideration for the Venice Commission and its experts, to the essential role the Venice Commission has played in the drafting of the 1998 Albanian Constitution and of the 2016 modifications, I am kindly requesting you Mr. President Buquicchio to find, as soon as possible, the appropriate ways to deliver an opinion which could answer to the above questions and offer the chances that 2021 general elections in Albania be organized in a climate of constitutionality, legitimacy and democratic participation. With the highest of consideration, President Ilir Meta.

 

Rama: No one can question the will of the parliament, the Electoral Code will not change anymore (Radio Tirana)

“Without any changes, we will vote for the Electoral Code as voted by the parliament with a meaningful majority”- declared Prime Minister Edi Rama, at the same time chairman of the Socialist Party. After the meeting of the SP electoral headquarters, Rama responded to the media interest about the decree of President Ilir Meta, which returned the amendments to the Electoral Code for consideration in the parliament. Pm Rama said that the Code will be voted on as soon as possible, when the voting session is scheduled, without any changes. “No one can question the will of the parliament for any reason, much less President Ilir Meta,” declared Rama.

Varhelyi urges the Albanian government to wait for the Venice Commission’s advice before re-voting on Electoral Code changes in parliament (Radio Tirana)

EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi urges the Albanian government to wait for the Venice Commission’s advice before re-voting in parliament on changes to the Electoral Code. After returning the amendments to the parliament for reconsideration, arguing that they were adopted unilaterally and in violation of the Constitution, Meta stated today during a press conference that, considering the request of the united opposition, he will address the Commission of Venice. Commissioner Varhelyi says Venice councils will not be late, so parliament must wait before re-voting on changes. “Albania electoral code: I believe that the Venice Commission will provide prompt advice to Albanian stakeholders on the implementation of the 30 July Constitutional Amendments. Parliament should consider waiting for a re-vote to take these tips into consideration. We expect free and fair elections in April 2021”, writes the senior EU official. We recall that Prime Minister Edi Rama has announced the re-vote of the draft law without making any changes.

 

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES 

Interview: Serbia looks to broaden trade links with China at upcoming CIIE (Xinhua, 27 October 2020) 

BELGRADE — In spite of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Serbia looks forward to presenting its products at the upcoming China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai with the aim of expanding its exports, a representative of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PKS) told Xinhua in a recent interview. Mihailo Vesovic, director of the Division for Strategic Analyses, Services and Internationalization at the PKS, spoke highly of the role the previous editions of the CIIE and its accompanying events played in developing China-Serbia trade exchanges in the past two years. “After two years of participation, it became clear that this fair delivers concrete results, especially when it comes to increasing the scale of trade and exporting Serbian products in the field of the food industry,” he said. “Even in this period of difficulties in economic relations caused by COVID-19, in the first eight months of this year, we managed to increase the export of food products by 50 percent, and it was exactly these products that were presented at the fair in Shanghai. This is why we decided to participate in it again.” According to Vesovic, “fairs like this one enable us to show to a wider circle of Chinese businesspeople what Serbia can offer, and what can in the future become recognizable products in our trade exchanges with China.” Vesovic said that thanks to virtual platforms and online fairs, businesspeople around the world continued to maintain contacts despite the global pandemic but insisted that face-to-face meetings at venues are “instrumental in making new business and personal contacts.” He said that Serbia’s exhibition space at the CIIE will cover 200 square meters, where 12 companies will showcase their products. “Last year, we made 250 new contracts, and the contracts that were signed brought the benefit of around 3 million euros (3.55 million U.S. dollars),” Vesovic said. The comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Serbia “provides results both when it comes to investments and when it comes to trade — and it opened up whole new prospects for cooperation between China and Serbia as well as in the wider region.” “We all know how important Chinese investment is for industrial production in Serbia,” he said, recalling that China’s Zijin Mining has become the owner of the Mining and Smelting Combine in the Serbian city of Bor, that the HBIS Group owns the steel plant in Smederevo, and that the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is “one of the most important and most active participants in the development of Serbia’s road and railway infrastructure.” These Chinese companies are the “lifeblood of the remainder of the production chain,” and have strong technological ties with other private companies in Serbia, he said.

Bilateral cooperation is also strong in the field of new technologies, Vesovic explained, and now Serbia would like to attract Chinese investors in its food industry. He said that the two countries’ economic cooperation owes much of its success to the Belt and Road Initiative, which has already delivered results, started several infrastructural and investment projects, and “created an opportunity for us to upgrade our technological cooperation.”

 

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