The Democratic Party of Albania, and the Allies of the United Opposition presented on May 2nd, the “Platform for Free and Fair Elections”. The platform brings together several key objectives of what a transitional government should aim at, before any anticipated legislative elections can be held.
The platform highlights the main challenges faced by the electoral process in Albania and the deteriorations that have followed the 2013 elections, including the 2015 and 2017 elections.
It is noteworthy to stress that the ODIHR’s assessments found that the 2009 elections had achieved an overwhelming majority of OSCE commitments for that period. On the contrary, the 2017 ODHIR reporting identifies corruption and vote-buying as major challenges, with the second being on top of its recommendations.
Because Edi Rama’s government has no political will to guarantee a fair and honest electoral process, the Albanian opposition emphasizes that only a transitional government would be able to take on the responsibility for such a mission. The platform identifies 10 objectives ensuring that free and fair elections can be normally held in Albania: starting first by reflecting zero tolerance towards any political or criminal structure involved in vote-buying; stopping immediately any governmental pressure on justice; fighting any police liaison with crime etc
PLATFORM FOR FAIR AND FREE ELECTIONS – EXPECTATIONS FROM THE TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT
DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY & STABILITY
- Free and fair elections represent the core foundations of a legitimately elected Parliament, Government and Local Government;
- Manipulated or without standards elections, represent a threat to democratic coexistence and stability.
FREE ELECTIONS AS A FOUNDATION OF DEMOCRATIC STABILITY
- Without free elections there can be no democracy, rule of law, European integration;
- The continuous improvement of previous electoral processes have enabled two peaceful political rotations (2005 & 2013);
- 2009 ODIHR assessment: Elections achieved overwhelmingly to be in line with OSCE Commitments.
FREE ELECTIONS AS A FOUNDATION OF ALBANIAN EU INTEGRATION
- Electoral standards positive progress during the period 2002-2013, contributed to the progress of Albanian integration to the EU;
- The deterioration of the electoral standards in 2015 and 2017, made free and fair elections to be, again, an EU condition – a major setback for the EU integration process.
- The political will is a prerequisite for holding free and fair elections;
- Legislation alone can’t replace the lack of political will;
- Political will is the first recommendation of every ODIHR report;
- A government that lacks the will to organize free elections is a threat to democratic stability.
LAW APPLICATION VS. ELECTORAL REFORM
- Despite the need for an electoral reform, the major challenges faced in holding free and fair elections, don’t need changes to the Electoral Code;
- These challenges are a matter of everyday governance, therefore, they only need a determined political will and a responsible Government;
- If legislative changes are required, these may result from a simple parliamentary majority or from Council of Ministers / Responsible Ministers’ acts.
MAJOR ELECTORAL CHALLENGES
- Government cooperation with organized crime in vote-buying, and the exerted pressure on voters;
- Pressure on public administration and abuse of State resources;
- Credible voter identification through IDs cards;
- Voters’ List and Address System;
- Fictitious voting of immigrants;
- Police role in the elections.
- Organized crime & vote buying
- Vote buying is considered an electoral unlawful act (electoral corruption), which is a serious crime according to the 2017 Criminal Code. This criminal phenomenon violates the freedom to vote;
- The involvement of organised crime during the 2015 & 2017 elections, backed by government support, transformed to an acute electoral and democratic problem;
- The October 2013 elections in Korça confirmed that the Socialist ruling party had a clear organized strategy of vote-buying. The parliamentary amnesty of the electoral crime in Korça proved that vote-buying was a deliberate politically backed action;
- ODIHR made a recommendation relating to vote-buying, for the first time, in view of the 2015 elections (recommendation 14);
- The partial elections in Dibra held in September 2016, proved the systematic and planned use of organized crime in vote-buying, with the involvement of the highest political levels (Prosecution File 184);
- The 2015-2017 cannabis campaign; the criminal networks’ control of local territories backed by police support; the large amounts of criminal money; the co-operation between crime and politics, and its cover-up; altogether these elements dictated the results of the 2017 elections (Prosecution File 339/2017);
- In 2017, the ODIHR found a dramatic increase of vote-buying while ranking it as Priority Recommendation no.2;
- An EU funded survey found that 20% of voters in Albania admitted being affected by vote-buying during the 2017 elections;
- The existing legal framework part of the Electoral and of the Penal Code, is enough to counter the vote-buying phenomenon. It is Rama’s direct involvement through his authority as a PM, that provides impunity against this crime;
- Need to free justice so it could carry out investigations, judgments and punishments of electoral crimes without any political interference (Prosecution File 184/2016 & File 339/2017);
- The fundamental prerequisite, lays in the will of the government to fight electoral corruption;
- Edi Rama is the driver and main supporter of this phenomenon. He can’t guarantee the success of any fight against vote-buying.
- Pressure on public administration & voters
- The government exerted pressure on public administration employees;
- Public employees were forced to take part in the campaign and vote in favour of Government candidates, under the threat of being fired if they refused to do so;
- Voters were threatened similarly even in private companies having received state tenders and favours;
- Prime Minister Rama ordered State Police forces to collect votes in favour of Socialist party candidates;
- ODIHR: Violating the voter’s ability to cast a vote without the fear of punishment (pg.7.7 Copenhagen Document – OSCE, 1990);
- Priority Recommendation 3 (2017): Government should fight job-related pressures on voters;
- Priority Recommendation 8 (2017): The State must guarantee free and secret elections. All forms of pressure must be prevented.
- Abuse of state resources
- Senior officials handed out property legalization certificates during the campaign;
- Government candidates used State activities and resources in support of their campaign;
- The government used hiring campaigns for electoral purposes;
- The government used economic aid, social housing and other aid schemes;
- The government allowed for fiscal and property benefits during its campaign;
- ODIHR: The principle of a clear separation between state and political parties shall not be violated (pg. 5.4 Copenhagen Document, OSCE 1990);
- ODIHR, Priority Recommendation 3: Government should fight abuses relating to State resources.
- Voter’s identification
- In 2007, voter identification led to a political crisis and the postponement of local elections (Issue relating to personal certificates);
- Currently, 1.4 million IDs dating from 2009 expire on June 30, 2019. This affects 90% of active voters;
- The government has not taken measures to equip 1.4 million voters with new ID cards;
- The increased price to be delivered a new ID card, hampers poor voters and enables massive vote-buying risks. There are currently no subsidy for those in need as of this renewal;
- Political selectivity by delaying ID cards renewal of opposition voters;
- The deadline extension without any change of the date on the ID card enables massive vote-buying as expiring ID card can be collected;
- The inability to verify those ID cards which period is extended, could lead to a massive multiplication of forged ID cards;
- There is an urgent need for a renewal campaign, for mitigating measures and for a credible verification system of IDs at all voting centres.
- Voters’ list & address system
- In the 2000-2003 elections, voters’ lists triggered a political crisis, protests and the boycott of the opposition;
- There were 600.000 doublets in the voters’ list in 2000, there were only 2.000 in 2013.
- The 2004-2013 reforms modernized the lists and solved the issue;
- The lists were automatically extracted from the National Registry of Civil Status. Manual intervention is prohibited by law;
- Currently, the National Register has not been maintained for more than 1 year due to a corrupt tendering procedure. Infrastructure and services are at risk;
- A modern address system is fundamental for the long-term accuracy of the lists. The 2004 system is outdated;
- The 2016 OSSHEE’s tender relating to addresses verifications, is corrupt and politically used. Over 5 million euros were spent without results;
- Socialist militants were used for a door-to-door verification. Risk of selective registration and party use;
- Not all addresses of citizens are registered. The database is not being used by the Civil Status relating to voters’ lists;
- There is no transparency as of the address database and its use. The Socialist Party owned and used an unlawful copy of it in the 2017 campaign;
- Voters are fictitiously transferred to districts or municipalities with a view to manipulate the election result (Durrës, Kavaja 2015 – Tirana 2017);
- CEC auditors have found grave violations and manipulations with these lists;
- Voters’ lists are not extracted from national databases, but, they are manually operated although this is forbidden by law;
- As of December 2018, the voters’ list had 270,000 individuals without address (with address code “999”);
- Within two months, these voters were “cleansed” illegally by a verbal order of the Minister of Interior;
- Any sub-legal act can be found defining the criteria, procedures, deadlines and responsible bodies for such doing;
- The address verification is effectuated only after a door-to-door campaign. The Interior Minister has cleansed this list without any field verification. This comes to manipulate the voters’ list;
- The fact of registering a voter in a voting centre other than his factual settlement makes this voters’ lists unlawful;
- The illegal processing of these lists, the inaccuracy of its addresses, the lack of transparency and access, results in a manipulated voters’ list;
- A door-to-door population registration and an official address designation is required;
- The lists should be processed automatically and transparently;
- The voters should be registered only where they actually live, as required by the Electoral Code.
- Emigrants fictitious voting
- There are over 1 million emigrants in the voters’ lists. Most of them don’t travel to vote;
- Emigrant voters’ list records are being abused by the Socialist Party seeking to manipulate the electoral result;
- Many emigrants appear to have voted without even entering the Albanian territory during in the past elections;
- Forged ID cards or the bribing of electoral commissioners are used to fill the ballot boxes;
- The TIMS system is being manipulated so the citizens’ border entry-exit registry could match the forged signatures in the voting centres;
- Identity verification systems are needed in the voting centres, as well as pre- and post- election investigations in the TIMS system.
- Role of police
- Politicized and incriminated police segments have cooperated with criminal gangs during recent electoral periods;
- The police protects, accompanies and covers the criminal structures that buy votes on behalf of the Socialist ruling Party. No cases are investigated; investigations are delayed or closed;
- Pressures on voters during the campaign, or during the voting day, are not investigated nor prevented;
- Senior officials and other police officers participate directly in the campaign;
- The legal regulatory framework disciplining police forces in electoral period was abolished;
- The politicization of police forces recruitment process has turned it into an electoral political instrument;
- Effective measures are needed to prevent the electoral use of police and to crack down electoral crimes;
- The government will, in favour of free elections, should be effectively transmitted to all police levels.
Edi Rama and his government can’t guarantee that these challenges can be effectively addressed. These are at the source of the impossibility to have free and fair elections in Albania. As Rama is at the source, he can’t be at the same time the solution to these challenges.
Only a transitory government, free of any conflict of interest, with a strong political will and support, can implement these tasks entrusted by the Constitution and the law, in order to guarantee free and fair elections.
DUTIES OF TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT
- Zero tolerance towards all political and criminal structures involved in vote-buying, the intimidation of voters and the manipulation of the elections;
- To impede government pressure on justice so any co-operation between organized crime and public officials relating to the manipulation of elections could be adequately investigated;
- Strict monitoring and zero tolerance towards any pressure on public administration and voters;
- Prohibition of public procurements, tenders, concessions & PPPs, licenses, favours and other abuses with state resources;
- Verification and intervention relating to any illegal appointment or dismissal by public administration and state-owned companies, as well as illegal changes in economic aid lists, persons with disabilities, etc. ;
- Equipment of citizens with ID cards, mitigation scheme and criminal investigation of counterfeiting IDs;
- Registration of all citizens’ addresses; drafting non-manipulated voters’ lists;
- Investigate and condemn with zero tolerance all fictitious voting of immigrants;
- Cut any connection between police forces and crime, prosecute incriminated police officers, seek for police engagement against electoral crimes and guarantee public security during elections;
- Transparent reporting of law enforcement activity and credible access to the opposition.
FIGHT AGAINST VOTE BUYING
- Strengthening police fight against organized crime;
- Zero tolerance against vote-buying;
- Requests to the Prosecution and Information Services to investigate electoral crimes, especially Files 184 and 339, with priority;
- Seek involvement of Governmental law enforcement institutions (Police, Money Laundering Directorate etc.) in addressing electoral crimes.
ABUSE WITH STATE RESOURCES
- Immediate prohibition of the use of any material or financial resources affecting the elections;
- Suspension on new hiring up to election date;
- Strict monitoring of social penalties and benefits (economic assistance, persons with disabilities, social housing) and prosecution of offenders;
- Prohibition of government promotional activities during the electoral campaign;
- Suspension of all governmental acts that generate benefits during the electoral period (fiscal, property, economic convenience).
PRESSURE ON PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND VOTERS
- Establish structures for monitoring, denouncing, recording and tracking cases of pressure on voters, especially those in the public administration;
- Prioritize, with zero tolerance, investigations and punishments of any pressure on public administration and voters;
- Institutional coordination with the prosecution to investigate any form of pressure on voters.
TRUSTWORTHY IDENTIFICATION OF VOTERS
- Strengthening and immediate financing of ID card renewal infrastructure;
- ID card renewal subsidy scheme for persons in need;
- Monitoring and punishing cases in which voters are prevented to access renewed ID cards;
- Proactive awareness campaigns and announcements;
- Establish a system for verifying identity cards in each voting centre and the criminal prosecution of counterfeiting.
VOTER’S LIST & ADDRESS SYSTEM
- Door-to-door registration of citizens and identification of each citizen’s address;
- Integration of addresses to the National Registry of Civil Status;
- Voter registration only in the voting centre list that corresponds to the factual residence;
- Update of the electoral maps;
- Measures for determining the address of immigrant voters and the designation of the respective voting centres;
- Draft voters’ lists directly from the National Registry of Civil Status.
FICTITIOUS VOTING OF EMIGRANTS
- Establishment of a control and monitoring system of border entry-exits, including of the TIMS system;
- Allow CEC to have a full access to the TIMS so it can investigate complaints of fictitious voting of emigrants;
- Criminal prosecution with zero tolerance of any violation.
ROLE OF POLICE IN ELECTIONS
- Institutional monitoring of police activity during the electoral process;
- Reporting and prosecuting violations;
- Immediate departure of Senior officials and police officers having links with crime;
- Give priority to the fight against electoral crimes;
- Ensuring elections’ public security while fighting criminal gangs;
- Issuance of legal acts that discipline the Police role during the electoral period;
- Transparent reporting of police activity.