Updated: Aug 7, 2018
For Immediate Release
Contact: Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
THE CIVIC LEAGUE SUPPORTS THE CALL FOR OPEN LISTS IN KOSOVA
OSSINING, NEW YORK, MARCH 1, 2004—For the past year, the Albanian American Civic League has been lobbying the U.S. government to support the call from Kosova’s civil society and some members of the Kosova Assembly for electoral system reform. We did not publicize our efforts because we did not want to run the risk of bringing media attention prematurely to a discussion of critical importance to Kosova’s future as a democracy. However, now that the Working Group for Elections has failed to reach a consensus in support of open lists, and now that OSCE, which adamantly opposes open lists, has handed the matter over to UNMIK administrator Harri Holkeri for a final decision, we feel an obligation to go public with our position.
Kosova needs a system that is more transparent and designed to increase the accountability of elected officials and the level of citizen participation in the democratic process. At a minimum, the current proportional system should include open lists in the October 2004 parliamentary elections, so that Kosovars can vote for a person and not just for a political party. Voters should know who their legislators are and to whom they should appeal when there is a problem. The current system encourages loyalty to a political party and, in particular, to a party’s leadership, instead of encouraging citizen representation. Open lists alone would introduce more accountability and transparency into a system that is meant to be democratic.
It is distressing, therefore, to learn that OSCE opposes open lists (along with any other changes to Kosova’s electoral system), arguing that it would be too complex and costly to introduce open lists in advance of the October 2004 elections. But, even at this late date, this is not true. Open lists would involve a minimal amount of public education to acquaint voters with a new ballot. The ballots would cost a little more and the count would take longer, but this could be done without a large injection of additional resources.
Ideally, a district system, similar to the one that the United States uses to elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives, would also be instituted, so that voters can have more meaningful representation from the local level to the central government. To be sure, the creation of districts, unlike the establishment of open lists, would be more complex and expensive. However, even a district system could be established for the 2004 elections if enough resources were provided quickly to make it work.
OSCE can easily justify its position by claiming that it is being true to its mandate to keep costs down and processes simple. But this is a “penny-wise and pound-foolish” position that OSCE will eventually have to account for. Kosova, which is inherently pro-Western and pro-democratic, is nevertheless shackled by vestiges of the mentality of the former Yugoslavia. It has the ability to free itself from this mentality, but it cannot do so if multinational NGOs like OSCE, charged with bringing Western democratic standards to Kosova, promote a political system that is seriously deficient five years after war’s end.
Owing to an increasing lack of belief in the electoral process, regrettably only 54 percent of the Kosovar electorate voted in the last election, compared with more than 80 percent in the first postwar election. Both open lists and the creation of districts would encourage Kosovars to vote in greater numbers. Now is the time to introduce open lists, at the very least, and to launch a public awareness campaign in support of them. UNMIK, OSCE, and other international institutions that have invested so much time and funds in postwar Kosova will only gain by this action. They will also give Kosovar Albanians, still in recovery from ethnic cleansing, mass expulsion, and genocide, and noncriminal Serbs who want to be productive members of Kosovar society, hope in the future. In so doing, they will help bring genuine democracy and stability to Kosova and the region.
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