Observers report some flaws in Albania vote, despite improvements

By Nebi Qena, AP
Monday, June 29, 2009

Observers say flaws in Albania vote count

TIRANA, Albania — International observers said on Friday that political interference had delayed the vote count of last month’s general election in Albania.

Some 500 international election observers have been monitoring Albania’s election process, considered an important test for the tiny Balkan country’s progress of democracy.

“The vote count was protracted and marked by high levels of mistrust among political parties and their representatives at all levels of the election administration,” said an interim report by an international observer mission headed by the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Albania’s election commission is currently considering complaints from political parties before the final allocation of seats can be made in the 140-seat parliament.

According to preliminary results, conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha won 47.99 percent, the opposition Socialist won 44.31 percent and the small SMI party 5.48 percent.

Berisha’s Democrats and the SMI promised to form a coalition and to advance Albania’s goal of European Union membership a priority.

But opposition Socialists accuse the governing party of interfering with a recount in an effort to win more seats in parliament and threatening not to recognize the final result.

The observers assessed the count as bad or very bad at 22 out of 66 voting centers, which “provoked tensions among parties, especially where results were or appeared to be close.”

They also noted procedural problems due to lack of sufficient training and guidance, and criticized the Central Elections Commission, the leading administrative body, of insufficient guidance of lower level administration and inconsistent handling of complaints.

In their first reaction after the June 28 election, the observers reported some improvement but cited a need for further progress to comply with international standards including an end to widespread family voting and the polarized political climate.

The election dispute comes as Albania is seeking to improve its election standards and to gain eventual EU membership. Albania, which joined NATO in April, has been under intense international pressure to ensure the seventh post-communist vote was free of the kind of fraud that marred the first six elections held after the Balkan country’s communist regime fell in 1990.

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