IFES Observer Coordination to the OSCE Albanian Election Observation Mission, June - July 1997
On June 6, 1997, the U.S. Department of State selected the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to recruit, instruct, transport and coordinate one hundred qualified Americans who would join four hundred additional delegates from thirty-two other counties to serve as election observers, sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), for the parliamentary election held in Albania on June 29 and July 6, 1997. This task was completed very successfully and in a remarkably short period of time.
From 1945 until the collapse of communism in 1991, Albania had one of the most repressive governments on the face of the earth. The nearly total isolation of the country, especially toward the end of the communist regime, helped make Albania the poorest nation on the European continent.
During the post-Communist period in Albania, several elections were held to allow citizens the opportunity to determine their leaders in a free and fair manner. The first was conducted in 1991. Since that time, there have been several national and local elections, all of which have had relative degrees of technical success.
Various international organizations, especially the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have played a role in assisting and monitoring the election process in Albania during this period. The parliamentary elections conducted in May 1996 were widely viewed as being seriously flawed and were not deemed as particularly free and fair by the OSCE and other groups.
In early 1997, the collapse of several pyramid investment schemes led to mass riots and demonstrations. Over 1500 Albanians lost their lives in the subsequent violence and anarchy which reigned in early March. Nearly every household in Albania became armed during the crisis. Only through intervention by the international community was some semblance of order restored. Under pressure from the world community, the Albanian government formed a coalition governing body and, on March 27, reached an agreement with the OSCE to hold new parliamentary elections on June 29. The OSCE, along with the Council of Europe and other international organizations, agreed to provide advice and assistance to Albania in the areas of democratization, the media, human rights, election preparation, and monitoring.
Since 1991, the International Foundation for Election Systems has played a significant role in assessing and improving the electoral process in Albania. IFES has assisted the procurement and delivery of election commodities; has conducted pre-election assessments; and has provided numerous technical recommendations for electoral law and procedural improvements in Albania. In 1997, IFES supplied the OSCE with international election experts to assist in the conduct of the Albanian parliamentary election.
Because of its international election expertise and previous experience in Albania, IFES was able to complete this mission with tremendous success under some of the most trying of circumstances. The U.S. observer delegation was by far the most prepared, the most organized, and the most diverse. The U.S. team contributed significantly to the overall OSCE observer mission and to the final OSCE report which deemed the elections to be "acceptable given the prevailing circumstances" and that the process should "constitute the foundation for a strong, democratic system that Albanians want and deserve."