From: Alice Taylor
ODIHR: 274 Observers for Genera Election Amid Vote Buying, Voter Pressuring, and Transparency Concerns

Prior to the April 25 general elections, the OSCE has published an assessment report on the needs of the ODIHR who will monitor the run-up, day of, and days after.

They have announced that 24 long-term observers will be present in the country, alongside some 250 observers who will monitor the voting and counting process.

In the report, they detail a number of concerns regarding transparency, financing, media freedom, vote-buying, and the pressuring of voters. These elections, they wrote, will also take place in the context of deep distrust between the ruling Socialist Party and the Democratic Party.

Regarding the current electoral system, several ODIHR NAM interlocutors questioned its fairness, noting it seems to unduly favor larger parties. This is despite the amendments made in 2020 which they observe was only “partially” based on ODIHR recommendations and was characterized by a lack of political consensus.

They also noted concerns regarding the way that candidates for MP were verified to be sure they were not concealing criminal records. The June 2019 elections resulted in a number of Mayors being elected who had concealed criminal pasts both in and outside of Albania, sometimes using fake names. These local elections were “held with little regard for the interests of the electorate” and there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured.

Pressure on state employees and the misuse of administrative resources by the Socialist Party as well as the influence of criminal groups is expected to be widespread, the report notes. Organized voting especially among socially vulnerable communities such as Roma, is also expected.

Vote-buying remains a concern, especially when combined with pressure on voters from criminal groups. This along with the misuse of state resources and a lack of transparency on campaign financing were also highlighted.

Concerningly, the report noted that several ODIHR Nam interlocutors had questioned the independence of the Central Election Commission due to “perceived politicization”. Some interlocutors from among the political parties alleged possible manipulations during the vote count largely due to the failure of the leading political parties to depoliticize lower-level commissions.

In terms of media, the report states that despite ODIHR recommendations, defamation remains a criminal offense. This goes against international best practices.

Some ODIHR NAM interlocutors raised serious concerns that both government institutions and major political parties limit access to information on their activities. Instead, media have to use content published by political parties in their news programming. This challenges their editorial independence and limits voters’ access to impartial information. The state broadcaster RTSH however, said that during the election it will not publish any footage created by political parties and they would cover the campaign independently.

Issues still remain regarding continuing pressure on journalists and lack of their safety. In addition, the financial vulnerability of many media outlets, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the economic and political interests of media owners often influence journalists’ reporting, affect the independence of editorial policies, and induce self-censorship.