Updated: Aug 3, 2018
Albanian American Civic League Delegation Report
on the July 3, 2005 Parliamentary Elections in Albania
The recent Albanian elections had both positive and negative elements. On the positive side, the overwhelming majority of voters were peaceful, even though the two main parties were trying hard, with their propaganda and their militants, to generate tension and conflict. On the negative side, there was violence, albeit limited, that included the killing of the electoral commissioner of the Republican Party in Tirana’s zone number 37. In this zone, the local neighborhood leader and his brother, along with their Socialist commissioner, a former convict who was deported from the United States many years ago, were caught trying to stuff the ballot boxes with votes based on phony birth certificates. When the Republican Party commissioner tried to stop them, he was shot and killed on the spot. The murderer got away with the help of friends, only to return to the neighborhood the next day as if nothing had happened.
Suppression of Smaller Parties
In the city of Shkodra, where a successful Albanian American businessman was a candidate, a large number of people in many of Shkodra’s election districts were not registered to vote. The two main parties, the Socialist and the Democratic parties, had registered only their sympathizers and supporters. Those with different political views and allegiances were directed to polling stations in other districts, which made it difficult, if not impossible, to account for their votes. In one of Shkodra’s election districts, for example, out of 1,600 eligible voters, only 310 were registered, and most were members of either the Socialist or Democratic parties. In many cases, members of the same family were sent to different polling stations—all part of an effort by the Socialist and Democratic parties to create a two-party monopoly in parliament. The biggest losers, as a result of this deception, turned out to be LZHK (Movement for the Future of Albania), LSI (Socialist Movement for Integration), and other small, unaligned parties. The two major parties prevented them from receiving the voter registration lists until the final weeks before the election, which meant that they had no time to inspect the lists and correct them for inaccuracies and omission.
When it came to monitoring the results of the elections, it was very difficult for small, unaligned parties like LZHK and LSI to have a meaningful role, because they were not allowed to either count the votes or observe the counting at close range. Instead, they were required to stand at a distance of ten to fifteen feet as members of the two main parties counted the votes. Whenever they raised objections about the way votes were being counted, they were told to shut up and sit down or they would be forcibly removed from the polling station.
In another form of electoral fraud, twenty to thirty votes out of every box of votes were disqualified by the electoral commissioners, who in many cases, we were told, were not even qualified to read or count the votes. (For example, in zone number 4, when the
candidate for LZHK voted with five members of his immediate family and his cousins,
he was told that there were only four votes for him in the box.) If one multiplies the lower estimate by 30 boxes, it would equal 600 votes per candidate, and if one extrapolates from this number by multiplying it by 100 candidates in the country, the total number may be tens of thousands of votes overall. If only 20 percent of this number belonged to either LZHK or LSI, then these two parties would have had enough votes on the proportional list to put at least one of their candidates in parliament.
As far as the media was concerned, they discriminated in favor of the ruling political establishment and were not fair at all. Television, radio, and newspapers in Albania are totally controlled by the two major parties, with the exception of a few small, private TV stations that people have to pay to watch. The major television stations did not broadcast any of the activities of the smaller parties in primetime, apart from a few small news clips, usually after primetime when few were watching. When the LZHK candidate from Shkodra, for example, spoke in the main square of Tirana, not even a news clip appeared on the major TV stations. Nor did they cover his activities at a public meeting at a movie theater, press conferences at Hotel Coliseum and the Tirana International Hotel, visits to Shkodra’s hospital, museum, and Catholic church, and a meeting with the daughter of Adem Borici, who was decorated by Israel for saving a Jewish family during the Nazi occupation of Albania. Only paid local TV stations provided coverage, while the major media, who were invited to attend, focused solely on candidates in the two large parties, especially the ruling Socialist Party.
Another clear example of media control and discrimination impacted the work of our delegation directly. Because of the good relationship that the Albanian American Civic League enjoys with the leaders of the House International Relations Committee, we were able to get Chairman Henry Hyde to write a letter to Prime Minister Nano, warning him about campaign irregularities and corruption (see Hyde’s letter in the box). Although this letter was widely disseminated to the media at press conferences in Shkodra and Tirana, only one newspaper, Tema, published it. On the other hand, a letter from Senator Bob Dole, which was clearly politically motivated to help Fatos Nano just before the election, in which Dole stated that he looked forward to joining Nano at a meeting with President Bush in the White House after the election, was covered in every major newspaper and television and radio news broadcast.
As this election made clear, one of the biggest problems in Albania is the politicization of almost every government institution, the media, the police, the military, and the intelligence services. As a result of almost complete government control, the democratic process is severely compromised. The Albanian American Civic League delegation concluded that the only way to have genuine change in Albania is to ensure the protection of the rights of political minorities and the new political movements that have no connection to the old hierarchy and whose leaders have been educated in the West. Many believe that the Socialist and Democratic parties have collaborated to suppress the two most popular new parties, LZHK and LSI, and have artificially inflated the numbers of proportional votes for themselves in an attempt, on the one hand, to control as many seats as possible and, on the other hand, to deny Albania the possibility of having a multiparty coalition government. Only a multiparty coalition government can bring competition and new ideas to the political process in Albania and break the grip that the Socialist and Democratic parties currently have on the country.
The danger of this election is that, if parties like LZHK and LSI are not given a representation in parliament, the Albanian government will be in the hands of people who came to power through political deals. If the Democratic Party is declared the winner (which is likely with 73 out of 140 seats) and Sali Berisha does not keep his promises to the people, they will turn against him, and this will do great damage to Albania and to prospects for peace in Southeast Europe for years to come.
Many changes must be made in the electoral system if Albania is to have truly free and fair elections in the future. First, votes should be counted by machines, not by people. Second, voter registration cards should be disseminated to all eligible voters and used in place of birth certificates at polling stations on Election Day. Third, new laws must be passed to give equal media time to all political candidates. Fourth, voter registration lists must be given to all political parties at least three months in advance of Election Day, and people must be allowed to register without government interference. Fifth, commissioners must protect the rights of all political parties, both large and small. Sixth, absentee voting should be allowed. (Almost one third of Albania’s adult population lives and works outside the country, and they have become the backbone of Albania’s economy, and if Albanians in the diaspora could cast their votes either at the Albanian embassy in the country in which they reside or by mail, the result would be better government for Albania.) Finally, it is absolutely essential for Albania to make it illegal for political parties to obtain power through deals and voter fraud. Winning honest votes in free and fair elections is the only answer. This means that both the Socialist and Democratic parties will have to reform themselves, if genuine democracy is to take root in Albania.
Achieving genuine democracy in Albania is important not only for 3.1 million Albanians living in Albania, but also for the United States and the international community. Albania is located at the intersection of three continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa—and this makes it strategically important, both militarily and economically, for the West. If things go wrong in Albania, it will become the major hub for trafficking in weapons, drugs, contraband, and human beings. Albania is home to Islam, Catholicism, and Orthodox Christianity, and their adherents have lived side by side in great harmony and tolerance for centuries, making Albania a bulwark against religiously motivated terrorism in the heart of Europe. Albania is surrounded by countries, such as Kosova, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, that are still unstable after years of war and genocide instigated by former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Albania is also close to three NATO allies ( Italy, Greece, and Turkey) and to the Middle East. A peaceful and democratic Albania is, therefore, important not only for political and economic progress for Albanians, but for maintaining regional stability. AACL delegation:
Joe DioGuardi, Chairman (NY)
Arian Borici, (NY)
Marash Nuculaj, (MI)
Mark Gjonaj, (NY)
Kole Zagreda, (NY)
Ahmet Zeka, (PA)