Albania Waste Referendum Ruling Outrages Greens

Environmental activists are up in arms over the Electoral College’s decision to reject an appeal against a decision by the Central Electoral Commission, CEC, on a referendum on waste imports.The specialized court on electoral issues on Friday rejected an appeal from the Alliance Against Waste Imports, AKIP, which would have forced the CEC to cut a bureaucratic delay that has stalled the referendum request.Dorian Matlija, a human rights lawyer from the Res Publica center in Tirana who represented AKIP in front of the college, said the judges had decided that AKIP could not appeal the CEC decision, although they admitted that the CEC resolution was essentially illegal.

“According to the ruling, nobody can appeal a CEC decision on a referendum request because this is not prescribed by [electoral] law,” Matlija explained.

“This sets a very dangerous precedent because every time there is a referendum request the CEC could take an arbitrary judgment without fearing a review by a court of law,” he added.

Arguing that Albania’s nascent recycling industry could not survive on the proceeds of domestic waste alone, in November 2011 the government approved a bill allowing some waste products to be imported into the country so long as they conformed to a so-called “green list” of 55 materials.

A group of intellectuals and environmental activists joined forces to condemn the change to the law and demanded a referendum on the issue. They argued that by allowing in such imports Albania was turning itself into the garbage can of Europe.

For a referendum to be held, Albania’s law requires the collection of 50,000 signatures. The validity of the signatures is reviewed from the CEC, which than forwards the request to the Constitutional Court that judges the referendum request. If the court endorses the constitutionality of the request, it is forwarded to the President who sets a date for a referendum within 45 days.

The law also mandates that a referendum should not be held within six months before the end of the mandate of parliament. If the procedures for the referendum request are not finished before March 15, the referendum date is pushed in the next calendar year.

On March 13, AKIP, filed a request for a referendum with the CEC after collecting nearly 64,000 signatures.

The CEC approved the request on June 29. But it decided to forward the request to the Constitutional Court only on January 3, 2013.

Because the court needs 60 days to review the request and Albania is due to hold election next spring, the CEC’s arbitrary-seeming delay in sending its decision to the Constitutional Court means that a referendum on the waste ban can not be held until 2014.

Deeming the delay by the CEC in filing its decision with the Constitutional Court as arbitrary, AKIP, filed an appeal with the Electoral College to speed up the process.

Matlija said that although the judges had agreed with the essence of their appeal, they maintained that AKIP could not be recognized as a legitimate party.

“Normally, a court gives decision of no competence and forwards the case to another court, but the college simply rejected our appeal,” Matlija said.

“If the college cannot review the referendum request and no other court can, the ruling serves as a precedent that gives unprecedented power to an administrative institution like the CEC,” he added.

AKIP said on Sunday that such power effectively gave the CEC the right to ignore the people’s will for a referendum.

“A referendum is an expression of direct democracy and no institution should have such power to restrict this right,” the alliance said.

“The denial of the right to appeal from the court immunizes the CEC to breach the electoral code without fearing the courts,” it added.

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