A few months before Albania takes over the OSCE chairmanship for 2020, deputy/acting Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEFA) Gent Cakaj held a press statement yesterday, in which he broke the OSCE report on June 30 elections down into its main findings, according to the Albanian government’s perspective.
Cakaj’s conclusion out of the report was that elections were legitimate and opposition was to blame for irregularities.
The Socialist Party decided to hold local elections on June 30, despite presidential decrees that had changed the date to October 13. With the opposition boycott of elections, the ruling socialists won virtually uncontested in all 61 municipalities. The OSCE/ODIHR report released last week was highly critical of the process.
Cakaj’s 55-minute-long press conference came after the publication of the report, which the opposition claimed confirmed its worries about Prime Minister Rama having corroded the rule of law and democracy in Albania.
The deputy minister quoted parts of the report and explained his excerpts one by one to the numerous journalists and TV cameras broadcasting live from the ministry.
Cakaj concluded that the report should be read with fairness, and that it confirmed the full legitimacy of elections, while blaming the opposition for irregularities.
Prime Minister Edi Rama had stated earlier that the report confirmed the “full legitimacy” of this election, adding that the opposition was trying to “make a storm in a teacup” over the report and “damage the country”.
Cakaj kept a similar rhetoric in yesterday’s press statement. He focused his speech on the report having on the one hand confirmed legitimacy of elections, and on the other hand put responsibility for irregularities on opposition.
“With the publication of the ODIHR report, there is a clear and objective proof that the electoral process in Albania was regular, democratic and internationally recognised.”
“ODIHR found the process to be regular.”
None of this is expressed in the OSCE/ODIHR report.
The word “regular” is mentioned 5 times in the report in relation to opposition protests and CEC meetings.
The word “democratic” is mentioned either in relation to political party names, or in similar sentences like the following: “The legal framework could provide a sound basis for democratic elections, if implemented impartially and with genuine political will.”
The words “internationally” and “recognised” are mention one time each, separately, and in both cases unrelated to Cakaj’s statement.
The deputy minister claimed several times during his speech that critical report excerpts were meant for the opposition.
“The opposition in particular exercised major pressure of a high level on voters, particularly in municipalities led by them.”
Following is what the OSCE/ODIHR report actually stated regarding this particular issue:
“Citizens, especially those employed in public administration, came under pressure to demonstrate a political preference. With a low number of contestants and many uncontested races, the essential choice presented to citizens was whether to participate or not.”
The ODIHR EOM received concerns from citizens that turning out to vote or abstaining would potentially expose them to retribution in their communities. Several described direct intimidation and threats of firing or withdrawal of social service benefits.”
He eventually reached to the conclusion that the report was “more critical toward the opposition rather than a delegitimization of the general government approach.”
Cakaj went on to clarify that the opposition was now using an opposite strategy from the one it used before: whilst ahead of elections they manipulated the international public with news from Albania, now they are manipulating the Albanian public opinion with quotes from the report of an international organization.
“There has been an attempt to misuse in front of the domestic public opinion quotes taken from internationals, which is the opposite of what has happened so far. Until this point, the opposition – mainly the Democratic Party (PD) and the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) – had been engaged in misinforming the international factors about internal developments.”
Cakaj accused the opposition for disseminating “fake news” and “actively misinforming the public opinion” in their “futile attempt to take advantage of an international report for delegitimizing a regular electoral process.”
This is the second time since he was appointed deputy MFA, in January this year, that Cakaj engages in what he calls “breaking the report down” for the public.
In April he also “broke down” before cameras the 2019 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of the US State Department, which was highly critical of the Albanian government. It described an increasingly dire situation regarding organized crime, drug trafficking, and money laundering in Albania.
Back then also, Cakaj read excerpts from the report and explained their meaning to the public. He stated the opposition was “untaught to read and unable to understand”, and it was spreading misinformation about the situation in Albania.