Albania elections peaceful & orderly but under a polarized and antagonistic environment – says international observation mission

audrey glover osce odihr albania
Ambassador Audrey Glover during the OSCE-ODIHR press conference in Tirana

Tirana, Albania | 01 July 2019 (Tirana Echo) – Albania’s local elections were conducted in a generally peaceful and orderly manner but were held under a polarized and antagonistic political environment, with little regard for the interests of the electorate – says the OSCE-ODIHR election observation mission.

In its first statement of preliminary findings and conclusions since the 30th June local elections, the OSCE-ODIHR Observation Mission said that following a decision by main opposition parties to boycott elections, voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options.

The 30 June local elections were held with little regard for the interests of the electorate. The opposition decided not to participate, and the government determined to hold the elections without it. In the climate of a political standoff and polarisation, voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options.” said Ambassador Audrey Glover, Head of the ODIHR Mission, during a press conference in Tirana.

The ODIHR report reflects the first unchallenged local elections in Albania since 1991, with 31 socialist mayoral candidates of the 61 municipalities in total, running unopposed.

The preliminary report said “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both political sides”, with ruling socialists feeling obliged to vote, and opposition supporters feeling scared to participate in the controversial poll.

However, Glover said “voting was conducted in a generally peaceful and orderly manner and counting was assessed positively overall, although several procedures were not always followed correctly.

Most Albanian citizens and international observers have heaved a
sigh of relief as until a few days ahead of elections, the opposition democrats and its smaller allies were threatening with violence and civil disorder.

Following such threats of violence, Albanian President Ilir Meta revoked his earlier decree of 30th June local elections, citing concerns for public safety and his constitutional responsibility to protect pluralism, upsetting the ruling socialists of Prime Minister Edi Rama, who rejected it and decided to go ahead with elections, under support from the US and the European Union.

On 13th June, the parliament passed a resolution declaring the revocation invalid and on 19th June, it began an impeachment procedure, initiated by the Socialist Party (SP), to dismiss the President on grounds of having exceeded his mandate.

The political confrontation deepened further when in a publicly demonstrative manner, on 27th June, President Meta issued another controversial decree setting 13th October as the new date for local elections. Following the rejection by Rama’s ruling socialists, the Central Election Commission (CEC) continued preparations for the 30th June elections.

Albanians are used to a polarised and antagonistic political environment, with constant mutual accusations between  politicians and a multitude of mercenary media analysts who serve political and business interests of their owners. However, most Albanians are largely disenchanted with an irresponsible and highly corrupt political class.

In February, after the parliament voted down their initiative on the vetting of politicians, the opposition Democratic Party (DP) and Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) withdrew from the parliament. The DP and SMI, along with several smaller parties, announced that they would not participate in elections until the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama (SP) and the formation of a transitional government that would organize early parliamentary elections.

Since February, regular opposition protests, led by the DP, were marred by violence and vandalism directed at state institutions, later including the election administration. The Prime Minister rejected the opposition’s demands and, warning against establishing a precedent that would threaten what he described as the “democratic co-existence” of elected governments and their parliamentary opposition, called for the elections to be held as scheduled.

The United States and the European Union  have recognized June 30th as the official election date and have stated any complaints against electoral administration decisions or presidential decrees must be challenged in the relevant courts.

Albania has currently no functioning Constitutional Court and no High Court, due to a major overhaul of its hugely corrupt justice system, a requirement by the EU before it starts official membership talks with its small Balkan neighbor.

Albania hopes to open membership talks with the EU later this year, after its member states decided earlier in June to postpone their accession talks decision, despite a positive recommendation by the European Commission earlier in May.

The outcome of local elections and the speed of erecting new justice institutions and a new anti-corruption prosecution structure, will determine the decision by Brussels to start negotiations. The OSCE-ODIHR report will be published in September.

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