"The election system remains open to abuse. Intentionally inaccurate
voter lists have left voters disillusioned," says MEP Doris Pack. She
was one of 410 foreign electoral observers from 36 countries in Albania
for Sunday's parliamentary elections. Although the former Communist
bastion was seeking to prove its democratic credentials, international
organizations are reserved in their judgements.
"Overcrowding, delays and uncertainty regarding identification of voters gave an impression of disorganization, but so far few allegations of serious irregularities have been substantiated," says Jorgen Grunnet, mission head for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
Grunnet's reservations were repeated by Jerzy Smoravinski, Polish Senator and head of observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: "The delay in launching the electoral reforms to address the shortcomings from previous elections affected negatively the preparation and conduct of these elections," says Smoravinski. "The authorities and political parties should continue the reforms without delay, in order to redress the remaining shortcomings noted by the IEOM," believes the Polish senator.
Still, the OSCE gave a rough rubber stamp of basic approval to elections deemed 'competitive' whilst criticizing major political parties who "have yet to demonstrate political will that corresponds with their responsibilities for the electoral process". Election day was generally peaceful albeit with several violent incidents including the fatal shooting of an election official.
Electoral observers generally noted only limited progress over previous elections. In many cases observers claimed incorrect procedures, particularly with regard to the use of ink to prevent multiple voting, the secrecy of the vote and the checking of voters' identities. A few polling stations could not open on time since they did not receive voter lists.
Exit poll data appear to confirm a Gallup International poll just before Sunday's elections. This suggests 35 per cent of respondents would vote for the opposition Democratic Party of Albania led by former Primer Minister Sali Berisha. Around 34 per cent favour the governing Socialist Party of Albania, led by Prime Minister Fatos Nano, who took over following the 1997 pyramid investment crisis. The Socialist Movement for Integration bagged 10 per cent of voter intentions.
"The Commission is closely following the electoral process in Albania. We have insisted many times in the past how important democratic elections are. It is too early to comment, though, with the counting of the votes still going," says the European Commission's Enlargement Spokesperson Krisztina Nagy. But whatever the Commission admits publicly, EU leaders are loathe to see Sali Berisha, the first post-communist president of Albania, return to power.
After winning the 1992 parliamentary elections, Berisha is accused of cracking down on press freedom and political rights and rigging elections in 1996. Berisha, and his allegedly corrupt government, was forced out of power following the 1997 banking collapse. Current prime minister Fatos Nano, picking up the pieces, has overseen annual economic growth of some 7 percent since 1998. GDP per capita, at purchasing power parity, has risen to around €4000. This is despite Albania bearing the huge burden of hosting, at one point, over 460,000 refugees during the Kosovo crisis in 1999.
Albania's elections come at an important time, with the EU looking ever more inward following no-votes on the Constitutional Treaty and internal squabbling of the long-term budget. The future is also cloudy with looming decisions on Kosovo's final status and richer Western EU members ever more reluctant to accept new Member States.
Around 56 per cent of the 2.8 million eligible voters turned out, according to preliminary counts by the Central Election Committee. Albanians are choosing, from 22 parties and coalitions, 100 directly elected and 40 party-nominated members of Parliament. Final votes are expected late on Monday.
Monday, 04 July 2005