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A joint opinion from the Venice Commission and the OSCE on elections in Albania has concluded that legal reform alone will not ensure that polls meet international standards.
|Albanians vote during poll | Photo by : OSCE|
“The recurring problems with the conduct of democratic elections in Albania cannot be resolved merely through changes in electoral legislation,” the report by the independent legal body associated with the Council of Europe said.
“Any meaningful improvement in the quality of the electoral process will not be achieved without a change of attitudes and practices by the main political groupings and their leaders,” the report adds.
Albania has suffered a long and tumultuous transition to democracy since it emerged from the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha in 1991. No elections held since the collapse of the regime have met international standards and allegations of fraud and disputed results have been widespread.
Since the 2009 general elections, which the Socialist opposition said were marred by fraud, the country has been in a political crisis, which has brought EU-mandated reforms to a standstill.
The recent local elections on May 8 were no exception. The key race for Tirana, in which opposition leader Edi Rama faced former interior minister Lulzim Basha, ended in three months of legal wrangling after Basha won by a razor-thin majority.
After yet another contested poll, the big parties recently agreed to work on electoral reform, which is one of the key conditions for Albania's progress towards the European Union.
In their joint report the Venice Commission and the OSCE’s office for Human Rights and Democratic Institutions recommend the insertion of new rules into the electoral code. These would ensure the appointment of members of election commissions in a timely manner and prevent their removal except when duly motivated.
The report calls for changes to, and clarification of, vote-counting procedures, especially concerning miscast ballots, which were one of the sticking points in the race in Tirana.
The report urges taking better account of the specificities of local elections in the electoral code, in particular as regards provisions on media access and campaign financing.
The commission also suggests new provisions that would make media access and campaign financing oversight more effective.
However the report says the crucial challenge remains moving away from the present partisan composition of the election administration, based on a balance between both main political parties, to an election administration including a non-partisan and impartial element.
“This change is indispensable if one wishes to reduce conflicts and polarisation within the election administration,” the report says.
“However, under present circumstances, it will be extremely difficult in Albania to identify a person or body who could appoint such non-partisan members of the election administration in a way that is deemed impartial,” it adds.
On May 8, 3,186,569 Albanians 18-year or older will have the chance to cast their ballot in the local elections, choosing the new mayors and head of communes in 384 municipalities.