When he became head of Albania's Central Election Commission in February 2001, Ilirjan Celibashi faced a difficult task. Three years earlier a new constitution enshrined the commission as a non-political body charged with overseeing Albania's historically troubled elections. The permanent commission aimed to promote bipartisan cooperation and restore trust in the political system after violence gripped Albania's capital, Tirana, in the wake of 1996 national elections that the international community labeled as fraudulent. During its first three years, the commission failed to achieve substantial reforms largely because of the partisan leadership of its chairman. When Celibashi, a former lawyer and judge, took over as head of the CEC, he had to overcome a highly politicized environment, and he set out to enact reforms to restore confidence in the commission and the electoral process. His reforms concentrated on four priority areas: staffing the CEC with competent people, ensuring transparency for the commission's activities, assembling voter lists and overseeing local election commissioners. In 2008, the political parties removed the commission from the constitution and reinstated it as a political body, erasing most of Celibashi's reforms. The case provides insight into how and why a window of opportunity opened for reform, explores how an individual was able to enact changes in a highly politicized environment and considers reasons why the changes were short-lived.
Michael Scharff drafted this case study with the help of Amy Mawson on the basis of interviews conducted in Tirana, Albania, in June 2010.