Chasing ghosts in the political party arena

Chasing ghosts in the political party arena 

Tirana Times -

By Alba Cela * 

TIRANA, July 12 - The most recent Electoral Reform in Albania has been a real rollercoaster of political actions, sentiments, steamy declarations and frozen relations. From progressive sudden moments when agreements pushed forward a significant number of changes and propositions to back to the fight battle positions, the reform has been a micro-cosmos of the political conflict that has griped Albania for too long now. Hitting the deadline, both sides seem to have finally come to their senses and achieve the minimum at least for a measure that ranks high among the priorities that Brussels expects Albania to fulfill in order to be granted candidate status. 

The urgency of the Reform given its links to the integration conditionality has shifted attention to the politics and has provided for a less fertile terrain to discuss the actual content of the proposed changes. The purpose of this article is to discus one of them in the context of exposing larger phenomenon that plagues Albania since the dawn of political pluralism. 

According to what the media has leaked from the amendments considered for the Electoral Code (yet not adopted) an important element of political parties finance is going to change. Hence annual public funding will be available not only for parties represented inside the Parliament but also for parties that mange to get a certain percentage of the national vote. Since this exact percentage is not disclosed, I want to make some considerations that I hope are already reflected in the calculations of the reform actors. 

For many years in Albania there exists a large number of ghost political parties, phantom structures or groups with no political or media activity, with no addresses and often fictitious or unreachable party leaders. Results from many electoral processes indicate often parties that do not even manage to get the vote of their alleged founding members. 

In 2007 there have been cases when political parties have got 4 votes or even 0 votes. Consistently throughout the years there have bee plenty of examples of political parties falling in numbers of votes below 300 and even more so below 500. although this indicator cannot be adopted strictly as a measure stick for the existence of a political party when coupled with additional evidence such as lack of any information about program, activity, leaders etc it provides for a clear picture of the shady existence of such phantom groups. 

The phenomenon of ghost parties is largely ridiculed by media, however its implications go further than the occasional laugh. These parties often cause confusion in voters especially young and first time ones, distort results by manipulating their presence inside larger coalitions, are subjects of misuse by large political parties and have a very detrimental effect on the image of small but genuine political parties since they induce the public opinion to lump the together in its perception. 

The law on political parties in Albania has changed many times, increasing the number of the minimum necessary founding members for the registration of a party first from 300 to 500 then finally to 3000 (in 2011). There should be a reflection of this required minimum number in the calculation of the minimum national percentage of votes that will allow political parties to get funds from the state budget. 

Furthermore political parties that for many years do not enter electoral processes should lose their status. Some practices from neighboring countries should be considered: in Macedonia political parties are requested to submit the declarations of their founders every four years, allowing for a periodical check on the very existence of the party. 

These measures will not harm pluralism. On the contrary they will encourage substantial and genuine pluralism instead of the empty one that is presented by the current reality in Albania where for less than 3 million inhabitants and hence even less eligible voters , the court has more than 120 political party registration certificates. Pluralism and representation cannot hurt each other. Real representative power of political parties is only harmed by the stretching of the limits of image that this ghost parties have caused in the Albanian public opinion. 

Author of the book” Ghost political parties and the deformation of democracy: the case of Albania”, supported by the Alumni Grant Program of the Open Society Institute