Preliminary conclusions of the international election observers

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 30, 2017 09:40

Preliminary conclusions of the international election observers

Prepared by OSCE/ODHIR, EU and CoE International Observer Mission

 

The 25 June 2017 parliamentary elections took place following a political agreement between the leaders of the Socialist Party (SP) and Democratic Party (DP) that secured the participation of the opposition. Electoral contestants were able to campaign freely and fundamental freedoms were respected. The implementation of the political agreement created challenges for the election administration and resulted in a selective and inconsistent application of the law. The continued politicisation of election-related bodies and institutions as well as widespread allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters detracted from public trust in the electoral process. In an overall orderly election day, important procedures were not fully respected in a considerable number of voting centres observed. There were delays in counting in many areas.

The elections were held in the context of a longstanding and deep political division between the SP of the ruling coalition and the DP of the opposition, as well as low public trust in the electoral process. In a positive development, an internationally mediated political agreement was reached on 18 May between the leaders of the SP and DP that ended a three-month standoff, and allowed the DP to nominate several key ministerial positions, including a deputy prime minister, and chairs of other institutions.

The legal framework provides an adequate basis for the conduct of democratic elections, even though many prior OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe’s Venice Commission recommendations were not addressed, including the need to depoliticize key aspects of the election administration. Legal changes following the political agreement aimed to enhance campaign finance oversight and ensure free-of-charge advertising in all broadcast media. The implementation demonstrated the primacy of political interests over respect for the rule of law. The late introduction of legal changes and lack of meaningful public consultation challenged legal certainty and negatively affected the administration of several electoral components, at odds with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) operated transparently with regular public sessions. Following the political agreement, the CEC and its secretariat faced a complex set of legal, institutional, financial, and administrative challenges. Despite this, the CEC implemented its core tasks. The CEC, however, did not take measures to clarify inconsistencies related to newly amended legislation and some of its decisions were not consistent or legally sound. The formation of lower-level election commissions was completed long after the legal deadlines due to late nomination by parties of the commissioners. This, together with the high number of replacements, meant many election staff were not trained. Altogether, this diminished the efficiency of the election administration.

The voter registration is passive and overall no significant issues related to the accuracy of the voter lists were raised by interlocutors of the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). The delayed publication of the final voter lists and inconsistent delivery of voter notifications limited public scrutiny of voter lists. Restrictions on voter registration related to age and mental disability are at odds with OSCE commitments and international obligations.

The CEC registered 15 political parties within the legal deadline and, following the political agreement, three additional opposition parties were registered after the deadline. At the same time, two other prospective contestants were denied registration due to late nomination. While largely inclusive, the candidate registration process suffered from selective and inconsistent application of the law and was, at times, based on the political agreement rather than the law.

The campaign presented a variety of political options. Fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression were respected. The campaign was significant throughout the country, even though the use of large-size posters and flags was limited due to the latest legal amendments. The campaign was characterized by widespread allegations of vote-buying, concerns over misuse of state resources and workplace-related pressures on voters, which further reduced public trust.

Women were active but underrepresented in the campaign. Several events specifically targeted women voters. There were some 40 per cent of women among the candidates. However, the largest political parties did not always respect the gender quotas in their candidate lists and women candidates received little media attention. Women were also underrepresented in the election administration, including in decision-making positions.

The amended legislation contributed to transparency and accountability of campaign financing, addressing some earlier OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe recommendations. New measures to reduce campaign costs were welcomed by most IEOM interlocutors. Transparency was reduced by the absence of disclosure requirements before election day.

Media provided the electorate with extensive campaign coverage, providing voters with a range of political opinions. However, media offered a limited analytical approach. Contestants were offered the possibility to participate in debates, but none were held among leaders of major parties. The OSCE/ODIHR EOM media monitoring revealed that all monitored television stations focused mainly on the activities of the three largest parties.

The public broadcaster complied with the legal obligation to provide proportional free air time to parties. National minorities were generally afforded a fair opportunity to participate in the elections, both as candidates and voters, including in mother languages. The CEC provided some voter education materials in minority languages. Some IEOM interlocutors raised particular concern about attempts to buy votes in areas with high Roma and Egyptian populations.

The Electoral Code sets out an administrative complaint procedure against decisions of lower-level commissions and judicial appeal against CEC decisions. However, the responsibility for handling complaints about violations of campaign regulations was unclear. The limited standing to bring appeals against CEC decisions may leave affected stakeholders without a legal remedy. A limited number of appeals were made before election day to the Electoral College, which respected the deadline for adjudicating complaints. Procedural rights of the parties were observed and the decisions of the College were reasoned, although not always consistent.

The law provides for citizen and international observation at all stages of elections. In a positive step, the CEC obliged the lower-level commissions to publicly display the counting results protocols, adding to transparency. Accreditation of observers was inclusive.

Election day proceeded in a mostly orderly manner but key procedural irregularities and omissions were observed. This included inconsistent inking verification procedures, instances of proxy and group voting, and interference by unauthorized party activists. Concerns were noted about possible intimidation by groups of party activists in and around voting centres. The counting process was delayed in many areas. Counting procedures were not always followed and transparency was not always guaranteed. Voter turnout was reported by the CEC as 45 per cent.

The final assessment of the elections will depend, in part, on the conduct of the remaining stages of the election process, including the counting, tabulation and announcement of results, and the handling of possible complaints or appeal.

Full report available here: goo.gl/GmgHLB.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 30, 2017 09:40