The news cycle has in the last few days been dominated by new wiretaps from Dossier 339 published by the German newspaper Bild, providing additional evidence for widespread vote-buying practices in Durrës County linking criminal organizations and the Socialist Party.
After VOA and BIRN published the first wiretaps from dossier 339 in February, MEP Knut Fleckenstein continued to defend the Albanian government, while OSCE Deputy Ambassador Robert Wilton was able to claim “When I see something bad in Albania I can say that I see it 3 times worse in the UK!”
A few months later, Fleckenstein has been ousted by the European Parliament elections, while the silence of the internationals, grasping for a silver lining – “this proves the Justice Reform is working!”; “the European Commission recommended opening accession negotiations!”; “‘Tis but a scratch!” – has become louder than any headline.
The last tweet of EU Ambassador Luigi Soreca, 18 hours ago, contained an interview by Global FDI Reports, “insightful global investment content to guide the affluent and influential” (paid for by “sponsors”). EU Ambassador Soreca appears flanked by Prime Minister Edi Rama and the new Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Belinda Balluku, showing precisely how impartially he views the current situation. The last tweet of the OSCE was from June 5, retweeting government-backed Top Channel that the “opposition must stop [the] violence.”
It is not that OSCE did not know about vote buying practices. In his first interview after arriving Albania, in February 2017, OSCE Ambassador Bernd Borchardt stated:
Every other week we have the capture of thousands of seeds. That means that there is more dirty money involved. More than €2 billion euros in street value. This is a risk for the elections, because it can be used to buy deputies. All of this is a big risk and a bit dangerous. That is why we advocate changes in the Electoral Code, to avoid, or to much more limit and contain vote buying.
The OSCE Needs-Assessment Mission Report of April 2017 also stated that several of its interlocutors:
also voiced concerns about the possible misuse of state resources during the campaign and the impact of illicit money from organized criminal groups.
After the elections, the technical ministers from the Rama government (nominated after the McAllister+ agreement) released a report, again denouncing widespread vote-buying practices.
But as recently as February OSCE Deputy Ambassador Wilson was able to state:
Have there been problems with vote buying? Yes! Could those have changed the elections results? No!
The delusion of this claim – that vote buying did not change the election results – has now come to the fore, as the wiretaps from Dossier 339 clearly reveal that criminal organizations were involved in positioning candidate MPs and other officials, gathered votes for them, and coordinated intimidation of civil servants. An EU-funded report from 2017 showed that “21% respondents in Albania were offered money or favours in exchange for votes and 12% of respondents were requested by their manager/boss to vote for certain parties.” Considering the sample size, these numbers appear to be representative for the entirety of the Albanian population.
Let me reiterate that one of the main reasons that the opposition left Parliament is because there had been no investigation of vote buying practices in 2017, which risked being repeated in 2019. The fact that Durrës mayor Vangjush Dako has not yet been arrested shows precisely the status of this investigation, which no doubt will be dragged out until after the elections by those appointed to the Prosecution Office by the Rama government.
The wiretaps show that the worries of the opposition – notwithstanding their inability to provide a credible alternative to the current political system – are legitimate and have been, since 2017. The international representatives in Albania, not in the least the OSCE and EU Delegations, will now have to solve an impossible dilemma: accept elections without opposition, without new Electoral Code, and with the risk even more massive vote-buying activities; or advocate delaying the elections to allow the opposition to participate under a new Electoral Code.
The first option will certainly lead down the road of a one-party state and a deformation of the Albanian legal system that will take a dozen constitutional courts to fix. The second option will certainly involve further weakening the rule of law and the Constitution, because the opposition cannot legally “return” to Parliament until the next parliamentary elections, and the election date cannot be legally moved.
Moreover, the internationals, compared to 2017, have been seriously weakened. The US’s foreign policy is in disarray, while the European Union is getting ready for the next European Commission, with no doubt new policies as regards enlargement. And the OSCE? Well… talking about loss of credibility!