Kosovo panel works to make direct president election a reality this year

12/01/2012

Up until now, picking a president in Pristina has been an exercise in high-level horse trading in parliament. But that could well change in the months ahead.

By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 12/01/12

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Arsim Bajrami is chairman of Kosovo's Parliamentary Committee for Amendment of the Constitution. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]

A committee in Kosovo's parliament has spent the past several months working towards one goal: amend the constitution to allow for voters to elect the president directly, as opposed to parliament selecting the president.

The panel -- formally referred to as the Commission for the Amendment of the Constitution -- was formed in April, with a mandate of nine months. Presidential elections would be held six months after the amendments enter into force. That means elections could be held this fall or winter, says Arsim Bajrami, chairman of the parliamentary committee.

He tells SETimes the commission has divided its work into three main phases. "The first phase was the identification of the constitutional provisions that should be amended in order to enable the direct election of the president. At this stage, the commission has identified about 30 provisions that have been addressed by commission members and the experts engaged in the process."

In phase two, the commission opened "a broad debate with citizens who were presented the initial scheme of changes to be made. In these debates, the commission has taken account of citizens' ideas and suggestions, which we consider very constructive."

Currently, the commission is in the last phase of its work, drafting the final version of the amendments that will be delivered first to parliament, and then to the Constitutional Court.

Article 84 -- covering presidential powers -- remains a key sticking point. The commission in fact, is asking for an additional mandate to iron that area out alone. Parliament is expected to vote on that request later this month. Speaker Jakup Krasniqi said on Wednesday (January 11th) that if Article 84 is amended, two others -- articles 64 and 65 – should be as well, potentially lengthening the process even more.

Speculation is rampant that the election may be postponed until 2013, allowing the presidential, national and municipal elections to be held all in one year.

For now, Bajrami says changes will begin with Article 85 of the constitution, concerning candidate qualifications. The panel has decided to retain the current minimum age -- 35 -- given "the average age of the population in Kosovo, which is young". To be eligible for office, a candidate must have been a permanent resident in Kosovo for at least five of the last ten years.

The commission is also discussing the right of dual citizenship. "This is an accepted principle in the constitution," he says, "but should this principle also apply on the case of the president?"

The commission envisions that any winning candidate, before taking the presidential oath, should resign from any other public position.

Article 86 has also been subject to change, particularly the section about write-in candidates.

Another provision under review is Article 87. Bajrami says the commission wants to keep the term of office at five years. But how that oath of office is administrated may change. "The swearing-in procedure is under discussion, whether it should be done in front of the deputies, or at a special ceremony in front of the chairman of the constitutional court and parliament speaker," he said.

Articles that cover immunity are being amended as well, he says.

Then there is the issue of who would replace a sitting president. "There are currently two ideas: first that replacement remains the current model; the Speaker of Parliament exercises the duty (of the president). The commission has also incorporated the first deputy of the parliament as the third option, if for any reason the chairman of parliament cannot replace the president."

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The second alternative is to have a vice-president, an option "largely supported" during the course of civic debate on it.

Article 91, the procedure for resignation and discharge of the president, has also been the subject of several alternatives proposed by the commission, to try to preserve the balance of control and separation of powers. Regarding the procedure of discharge, the commission has decided that the Constitutional Court -- not parliament as is the case now -- should be the final authority that decides to remove the president.

Parliament would have to initiate the procedure in court if it considers that the president has committed breaches. Still under discussion are the specifics of the procedure, including how many deputies would be needed to initiate it, and whether a larger number of deputies be required to confirm the initiation before passing it to the Constitutional Court.

All these amendments would require parliamentary approval and accompanying legislation to allow the direct election of the president. And Bajrami knows the clock is ticking. For his commission, he said "it is important to deliver in time the necessary changes for which we have been mandated."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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