In a joint statement issued on Monday, the international election observer missions for Sunday’s parliamentary poll concluded that Albania’s election process demonstrated “marked improvements” but did not yet meet international standards.
The mission included more than 400 short-term and long-term election monitors from the OSCE, ODIHR, Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and a delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Facing a difficult and often tumultuous transition to democracy since the collapse of the communist regime in 1991, Albania’s former elections have been marred by fraud and violence.
Now newly promoted to NATO membership and having filed for EU candidate status as well, the ballot was seen as a crucial test of the country’s democratic credentials.
The observers said the elections marked tangible progress with regard to the introduction of new voter registration and identification procedures, and the adoption of an improved legal framework.
But the observers also noted that these improvements were overshadowed by the politicization of technical aspects of the process and violations observed during the campaign, which undermined public confidence in the electoral process.
Election day was largely calm and peaceful, and the atmosphere was improved. Observers assessed the voting process slightly more positively than in previous elections, but noted procedural violations related in particular to inking procedures and widespread family voting.
“The country has matured, it has made progress, and many of the fears we had only some months ago have not materialized,”said Wolfgang Grossruck, vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Special Coordinator of the OSCE short-term observer mission.
“I’m certainly happy about the progress we saw, but there is also a considerable number of issues that need to be tackled, in particular the polarized political climate,” Grossuck added.
“These elections demonstrated that the Albanian people have the … potential for building a democratic society like that in other European countries. Now there is a huge responsibility of the authorities and main political stakeholders to work hard in order to establish confidence among the citizens for a democratic electoral process,” said Corien Jonker, head of the delegation of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.
Jonker also criticised the Albanian media for acting as the mouthpieces for political parties, rather than serving and informing the public.
“Progress has been achieved since the last parliamentary elections in 2005,” said Bruce George, head of the delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. “However, greater efforts still need to be made by all political forces in order to meet demanding international standards,” George added.
“The new electoral code agreed to by both main political parties introduced a number of important improvements and safeguards, in particular with regard to voter registration and identification,” said Ambassador Audrey Glover, head of the long-term election observation mission of the ODIHR.
“It is unfortunate that the high level of distrust among parties, the use of official events for campaign purposes and allegations of pressure on voters did not increase public confidence in the election process,” Glover added.
Votes were still being counted on Monday afternoon, with the process moving slowly. Although exit-polls gave a lead majority to the Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, toward his Socialist rival, Tirana Mayor Edi Rama.
Unofficial results from 1,416 out of 4,753 polling stations showed the two main parties evenly split in Albania’s 12 voting regions.