From: Arbjona Cibuku
Comment: It’s Not the Fault of the People That They Sold Their Votes

During the last few days, I have seen a narrative emerge, I don’t know if it’s naive or malicious, that blames the victory of the Socialist Party and Edi Rama on voters.

After eight years of leadership from the PS and Edi Rama, many were waiting for change and were frustrated, so the results of the election disappointed them. One of the first comments people made was that people are “sheep” that “only want communism” and similar cynical generalizations.  

This mentality blames a family that lives on 10,000 lek assistance a month, the peasant that once in four years is offered something and doesn’t have the luxury to think about selling dignity, and with families who find it hard to get a job to provide for their children.

How can you blame the ordinary people who are in this situation because of 30 years of bad politics?

This category blames people for having the luxury of “philosophizing from the couch or television studio”, and thinking about dignity when they don’t have food to put on the table. They do not see the problem in wealthy ministers living in luxury villas or in those who go and buy the vote.

But before we throw mud at these people, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: How did we get here? How is it possible that we see people everywhere disappointed by the government of Edi Rama and yet he was elected to a third term?

First of all, I think that the stealing of votes isn’t something that happens only on election day and during the counting process. It is a protracted phenomenon and the PS has had ample time to expand it over the last years, especially in the absence of an opposition in parliament. 

Another part of the alienation of the will of the people undoubtedly occurred during the counting process. An obvious sign is invalid votes, which in my view I do not think are simply votes out of ignorance or illiteracy. I believe some of them must have been protested votes.

Secondly, videos have been released showing party counters declaring ballots invalid, which further confirms that the vote-counting process has had serious problems.

Thirdly, during the election campaign, there were reports from the opposition and citizens about attempts to buy votes and manipulate them. The case was the arrest in flagrante delicto of an official of the Municipality of Dibra for vote-buying.

The database leaked two weeks ago that showed a data interception system is another indication of this party’s formidable power and perpetual practice of alienating the will of the people. It is a mechanism that is not only used to persuade voters to change sides but to blackmail in various ways, such as the workplace, etc.

But the problem lies in investigating and punishing the phenomenon.

The opposition has shown a weakness in this aspect and others, which may also have to the skepticism of citizens who may question if they could offer change. The opposition has responded to several government scandals simply with a formal statement to the media.

Furthermore, the judiciary has not convicted any senior PS leader for vote-buying and election manipulation, even though the facts have been public since 2019 after prosecution wiretaps were leaked to the media.

They also failed when they went after media portal Lapsi who revealed the data leak scandal. The courts moved to seize their equipment until the ECHR intervened in an extraordinary action, to prevent them. But they failed to launch an investigation into the PS who spun the scandal around to praise patrons and normalize a very non-normal situation.

In the face of this complex situation, I do not think we should point the threatening finger at “the people who were sold for a piece of bread.”

Such a system has been built in Albania, where to win the elections you have to be a good thief – in this respect, Rama has won the elections.

What needs to be done is to investigate the electoral process and the phenomenon of vote-buying, all the way to the top. As well as the reconceptualization and reformulation of the election administration in such a way that fraud becomes impossible. The process should be entirely digitized, or in its absence, it should be overseen by a body of truly independent and stoic civil servants and trained volunteers.

Until then, every election will have the same ugly face with accusations of “electoral massacre” and alienated voters.