Pre-Election Technical Assessment of the Republic of Albania, March 1996
The International Foundation for Election Systems, (IFES) completed a “Pre-election Technical Assessment in the Republic of Albania from March 20-28, 1996." Two IFES representatives; Program Assistant Kimberley Ross and Election Administration Specialist Paul DeGregorio, were joined on this assessment review by Jonas Rolen and Alicia Allison of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (ND!) and Gerald Mitchell of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This assessment was the first review by IFES of the election process in Albania since sending advisors to the country in March 1992 for the last Assembly elections.
The IFES Team reviewed the newly-enacted electoral law and, in a series of extensive interviews, determined the status of preparations by administrative bodies and political parties for upcoming Assembly elections which are scheduled for May 26 of this year. The Team also spoke to former officials who served on previous election commissions during votes held in 1991, 1992 and 1994, to obtain their perspective of the election process. In addition to the capital city of Tirana, the Team traveled to the cities of Durres, Fieri, Kavaje, Lac, Peshkopi, Bulqize, and Burrell to obtain a more complete perspective.
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 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 economic progress in recent years. Changes in economic conditions have been accompanied by a significant shift in population from the countryside to more urban districts.
Under the new election law passed in February 1996, 115 members of Parliament are to be elected by a strictly majoritarian vote in individual districts (known as Electoral Zones) while an additional 25 are selected through a nationwide proportional vote for the individual political parties. The new law made minor changes to the representation system by increasing the number of members elected by a direct majoritarian vote from 71 % to 82%. The new statute also makes minor changes to the voting process, such· as a revised--but not permanent--voter registration--procedure. The law establishes three levels of temporary election commissions for the election: a Central Election Commission (CEC); a Zonal Election Commission; and a Voting Center Election Commission. The most important commission, the CEC, can be appointed as late as 45 days prior to the election. Unfortunately, the Parliament did not make other changes in the law such as the introduction of a more professional and permanent central election commission as recommended by the 1992 IFES Report. In addition, the time frame to define the boundaries of the voting zones, appoint and train the commission members, select and qualify the party candidates and for citizens to determine voting eligibility was not changed and is still extremely narrow.
One of the most controversial aspects of the new electoral law regards the disqualification of candidates submitted by the political parties who appear on the "genocide law" list. Technically, this portion of the law appears not to allow appropriate time for candidates to appeal adverse decisions of a verification committee which is established to approve the qualification of candidates for parliament. Another element of concern to some political parties and organizations is the inability of thousands of Albanian citizens in other countries to participate in the election (in order to vote they are required to return to Albania to place themselves on the list and present themselves at the polling station on election day).
There is significant concern by leaders of opposition parties that the election process is too dominated by the government in power and its political party, the Democratic Party of Albania. A review of the election law does lend some credence to this argument. While opposition parties are allowed representation on the three levels of election commissions, most of the supervisory personnel at these levels are appointed by officials associated with the present government.
The Team found uniform support--from previous election officials and from current political party leaders of all political stripes--for the institution of more professional training procedures of election commission members at all levels. In addition, the presence of international professional technical advisors to the CEC and other entities involved in the election process was not only welcomed, but encouraged. International observers were deemed a necessity. Government officials also requested assistance in the area of commodity support and submitted a list of needs to the Team.
It appears that the level of political competition for this election will be high-- as will the chances for close contests in many areas. With much at stake by all parties, the possibilities for attempts at vote fraud are enhanced, as they might be in any democracy with similar conditions.
Therefore, based on this assessment, the Team strongly recommends the following immediate actions for the upcoming Assembly elections:
· Central, Zonal and Polling Place election commissions should be appointed by appropriate authorities as soon as the law allows so that preparations can begin in earnest.
· Expert technical election assistance should be given to the newly-appointed Central Election Commission to assist in the areas of procedure and regulatory development, commission training at the Central, Zonal and Polling Station level, the development and distribution of an election procedure manual, the credentialing of domestic and international observers and consulting in election law interpretation.
· A series of seminars should be held throughout the county which would be open to participation by all political parties, candidates, and independent observers and which would focus upon the new election law and how procedures are to be followed at the polling stations.
· The commodity needs list submitted by the government for this election should be audited and scrutinized. A revised list should be shared with other countries and international institutions so that potential donors can be found.
While time will not allow changes to the new election law for the upcoming Assembly election, the Team recommends the following future actions:
· establish a permanent and professional central election commission
· significantly expand the election time period to allow an appropriate interval for preparation and training -improve the transparency of the process
· allow citizens to sign multiple candidate petition forms
· address the issue of voting by expatriates
· eliminate the candidate verification committee
· increase the opportunities for greater access to the media for opposition parties
· finalize zonal boundaries at least 90 days before the election
· establish a permanent or on-going voter registration system
· reconcile all election laws so that in each election the process is consistent
· establish and institutionalize long-term voter and civic education programs
The International Foundation for Election Systems is well prepared to provide the technical assistance identified in this report. Such support was offered and well-received by the Government of Albania and is imperative if Albania is to be successful in taking the next step up the ladder toward a truly free and democratic society.