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ODIHR Final Report on elections in Albania detects undue advantage for the ruling party

2017 elections in Albania; Photo: ODIHR

TIRANA – Final Report on the 2021 Albanian parliamentary election by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), released this week, stresses that the ruling Socialist Party of Albania received significant advantage from the campaign of public officials. It also notes the allegations of vote buying, while giving a generally positive assessment of the administrative organisation of the elections.

In the election, held on 25 April, the ruling Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama retained all 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament, winning 49% of the vote. The coalition led by the main opposition Democratic Party won 59 seats and 39% of the votes.

According to the Report, the campaign lacked vigour, and messaging focused on the main party leaders, rather than on genuine issue-driven discourse.

“Widespread practices of vote- buying, as alleged by many IEOM interlocutors, remained a problem. The leaking of sensitive personal data of some 900,000 Albanian citizens before elections, including their political preferences, was of serious concern and made voters vulnerable to pressure”, the Report states.

Despite a robust legal framework in place to prohibit the misuse of administrative resources and minimise the advantage of incumbency, ministers continued to campaign during official engagements.

“The resulting publicity gave the ruling party a significant advantage. The alleged provision of incentives and pressure on civil servants were areas of concern. In his official capacity, the President campaigned against the ruling party”, the document stressed.

When it comes to the media environment, the Report describes it as “crowded”,

“Editorial independence is negatively impacted by owners’ interests, which induces self-censorship. Journalists remain vulnerable to pressure and corruption… This, combined with party-produced content in news programmes, limited voters ability to make an informed choice. Regrettably, no televised debate between political leaders was organised”, the document reads.

The Report noted that the parliamentary elections had been held following a breakthrough political agreement achieved in June 2020, which had followed by electoral reform.

“While the July 2020 changes in the Election Code were based on a wide political consensus and followed an inclusive consultative process, further constitutional and electoral amendments adopted in October 2020 were not preceded by due consultation with stakeholders. While a number of ODIHR and Venice Commission recommendations were addressed in the legislative changes, other recommendations remain outstanding, including those related to de-politicisation of lower-level election commissions, suffrage rights of persons with disabilities, criminal liability for defamation and use of campaign materials in the news”, the Report noted.

Parliamentary elections were generally well organized by the election administration.

“The newly formed CEC with its three distinct branches took on extensive new responsibilities following the recent legal amendments. Notwithstanding delays, including in the adoption of essential regulations, the launch of a voter education campaign and training of polling staff, the CEC managed to adequately fulfil most of its obligations, including complex new ones related to electronic voter identification”, the Report reads

Reacting to the Report, the EU delegation in Albania stated yesterday that the OSCE Report shows that the last elections were “generally well-organized” but that they also emphasize the need to start an electoral reform that will help solve all the issues that came to light, Euronews Albania reports.

While pointing out the concerns raised by OSCE over the misuse of public resources and official functions by the ruling party and other public officials, the EU delegation urges the new parliament to start works in improving the legal framework in time for the next elections.

On the other hand, the EU delegation also urged competent authorities in Albania to wrap up investigations and proceedings that are dealing with claims for vote-buying, including the case of the leaked personal data.

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