Albania Technical Observation, October 1996 Local Elections
The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) completed a local government technical election observation and assessment in the Republic of Albania between October 7 and November I, 1996. Two IFES representatives, Charles Lasham, Chief Electoral Officer for the City of Liverpool and Andrew Scallan, Head of Statutory and Agency Services and Deputy Electoral Registration Officer for the City of Manchester, took part in the short on-site mission. Lasham was in Albania from October 7 to October 22 and Scallan from October 18 to November 1.
Less than a month prior to the October 20 local elections, IFES was asked by USAID and the U.S. Embassy in Tirana to send a two-person team to Albania in order to assess the Albanian Election Commission's capabilities as it administers the October 20 elections and the October 27 run-offs (if necessary). The team focused on assessing commission administration capabilities, coordination and responsiveness to election day and runoff practices. Each of these election administrators, contracted by IFES, provided an assessment of election procedures and, within the very limited time frame available, provided relevant experience to address the questions of the CEC.
The IFES team reviewed the recently amended Local Government Law, determined the preparedness of the Central Election Commission (CEC), the Secretary of State's Department and the various local organs involved in the electoral process from the prefecture level to Polling Place Commissions. The team had meetings with the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Secretary and other members of the CEC, the Secretary of State for Local Government and his staff, representatives of NGOs and others involved in the process. The October 20 elections were observed by IFES. Although primarily based in Tirana, the team did visit Fuse-Kruje, Kruje, Durres,Vlore, Elbasan and Librahzd.
In the IFES report of March 1996, authored by DeGregorio and Ross, the following reference is made to the process of change in the Republic since 1991.
Albania has been going through a steady but evolving process of making the transition from one of the most Communist and repressive governments of the world to a nation that can be recognized as a true democracy with a satisfactory human rights record. While it is clear that true progress has been made, Albania is a country that continues to need appropriate technical assistance to help it achieve that goal, as well as close monitoring to determine if real progress is being made. It should be noted that as a poor country, Albania has made relatively good progress in recent years. Changes in economic conditions have been accompanied by a significant shift in population from the countryside to the more urban districts.
In April 1996, IFES was informed by USAID and the US Embassy in Tirana that an IFES Technical Assistance Project envisioned since the return of the Pre-Election Assessment Team in March, could not proceed due to a decision on the part of the Government of Albania. It was the Government's perception that IFES' technical expertise was not needed or, as some believed, was unwanted due to a perception that IFES was an observer organization. Despite this unfortunate decision, IFES continued to stay in contact with USAID in hope of fulfilling the important role of technical advisor in the local elections scheduled for October. IFES' continued persistence in assisting the Albanian CEC was based on the overwhelmingly negative response by the international community to the administration of the May parliamentary elections.
The National Assembly elections which took place on May 26, 1996 were generally considered to be flawed. Various agencies issued critical reports on the election process, reflecting problems with the registration of voters, inconsistencies within the polling places, allegations of ballot stuffing and a general lack of transparency throughout the process. The fact that opposition parties withdrew from the election late on election day only further undermined the election. Certain measures were taken since May 1996 to overcome these difficulties and prevent further criticism of the electoral process during the local elections. This was, perhaps, recognition of the fact that the international community would find it difficult to tolerate the repeat of failures which occurred during the National Assembly elections.
The Law on the Election of Local Power Organs enacted in 1991 has undergone radical, positive changes since May 1996. A few examples include:
· additional time has been allowed between the calling of an election and election day itself (Article 7);
· electors lists are required to be published in public places earlier (Articles 12 & 13);
· voting centers are defined earlier (Article 21);
· significant changes have been made to the establishment of the election commissions (Articles 24, 25 & 26);
· registration of candidates is required to be done earlier (Article 59).
The IFES team was given every opportunity to examine the preparations for elections by the CEC and, in particular, within the Office of the Secretary of State for Local Government. Daily meetings were held between IFES and the General Director for Local Government. Access was granted to the election planning process, the drafting of proofs for the printing of ballots, the printing process within the government printing houses, the receipt and storage of ballots and other materials and the distribution of materials to prefects. All of these processes were conducted under tight security. It is an indication of the level of cooperation received that IFES was given open access to the General Director of Local Government, the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Secretary and other individual members of the CEC. The processes described above were subject to and withstood rigorous examination by the IFES representatives.
The CEC met on a regular basis throughout the assessment period. Decisions of the CEC were challenged, resulting in changing the law only days before the election as a result of an inconsistency (Article 73 (b) refers to this). A more detailed analysis of the changes in the Local Election Laws is covered in Chapter 2 of this report.
Election day, October 20, was determined to have been largely successful, receiving a free and fair rating from international observers. Nevertheless, observers did note infringements of the electoral law in varying, although primarily minor, degrees. This view was shared by the political parties and the Society for Democratic Culture. The run-off election of October 27 was also judged to have been free and fair by a reduced number of observers who participated. A real test of the effectiveness of the election process, the functioning of the CEC and Albania's move to a democratic culture will be in the response made to the complaints of infringements which were reported to the CEC. It is important that all complaints, emanating from all participants are fully and openly investigated. The process of investigating complaints was not exhausted upon the completion of this mission.