During a meeting on Saturday in Shkodra, OSCE Deputy Ambassador Robert Wilton claimed that although there were issues with vote buying in 2017, “this didn’t influence the result of the elections.”
“Have there been problems with vote buying? Yes! Could those have changed the elections results? No! Is there only one party with those problems? No! The voters have had the possibility to express their choice, because they have it in their own hands. […] We put pressure because we seek stability. The so-called scandals in Albania are not unique. They are the same in Western Europe, USA, etc. When I see something bad in Albania I can say that I see it 3 times worse in the UK!”
Wilton’s rather over-the-top comments arrive at the moment that the Central Election Commission has started preparations for the Local Elections, while none of the previous recommendations of the OSCE-ODIHR as regards electoral reform have been implemented, one of the key requirements for the opening of EU accession negotiations in June.
During the 2017 National Elections, vote buying was, according to the government itself, widespread and linked with the activity of criminal groups. Independent investigators found more than 100 reports of vote buying, while the OSCE itself has recommended measures to reign in this perennial problem in several of its reports, and even addressed the impunity of those who did get caught.
More recently, wiretaps of Durrës Mayor Vangjush Dako showed how he coordinated vote buying with the criminal Avdylaj gang.
Wilton’s comments come at a moment that the international community is rapidly losing its credibility in Albania, as it continues to support the Rama government and downplay the state capture by organized crime, rampant corruption, and the continuing exodus of Albanians.