Tirana, 15.09.2016. The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections and Sustainable Democracy (CFFE) closely monitored the electoral process of the Partial Elections for Mayor in the Municipality of Dibër, on September 11, 2016. This process was very important as it was organized one year after the 2015 Local Elections, and very close to the 2017 Parliamentary Elections, but more importantly, on the eve of an electoral reform which is necessary to ensure free and fair elections in Albania, according to the much needed international standards.
CFFE accredited 10 volunteers' long-term observers, to monitor the electoral process, focusing on the electoral campaign, the work of the election administration in preparing and holding elections and the vote counting process. These phases of the electoral process have constantly been subject to the observations and recommendations of local and international observers.
The Election Day and the counting process was characterized by commitment on the side of the electoral management bodies in order to ensure the peaceful and free voting of Dibra's citizens. But the electoral campaign was spoiled by numerous incidents, including threats and physical violence and allegations of vote buying.
The electoral campaign for the Mayor of Dibra was dominated by political parties, turning Dibra into a battlefield where a bitter, divisive and discriminatory political discourse prevailed with mutual accusations of vote buying, involvement with organized crime and an attitude to entirely denigrate the opposing party. Furthermore, there was an apathy of the responsible authorities to investigate and uncover the truth about many suspicious aspects of this issues, as an important obligation towards Dibra citizens and Albanian citizens in general.
As always, the candidates' voices, on what they were promising to do for the numerous economic and social problems of Dibra Municipality, were rarely heard. Candidates were left in the background while part of the cabinet and opposition leaders landed in Dibra, mainly promising major investments. No convincing program was discussed by candidates, with specific timelines and budgets, in order to improve many aspects of Dibra citizens' lives, in the upcoming three years.
When it comes to the election management bodies, an unprecedented change happened, with 98.3% of polling stations' commissioners changing one day prior to Election Day, followed by the change of the majority of vote counters just hours before the start of the counting process. All these electoral tactics, now old in the Albanian reality, jeopardize the progress of elections in line with international standards. The appointment of new commissioners in the final minutes, their fast training, mainly on technical issues rather than standards, brought delays in the allocation of electoral materials or delays in the counting of votes, because the training of vote counters took place one hour before the beginning of the counting process. Most importantly, the immoderate replacement of commissioners shows the irresponsibility of political parties towards spending a significant amount of public money for the training of those who changed. A negative aspect of the change of commissioners was the repetitive interruption of the vote counting process due to the exhaustion of some counters, who had previously served as commissioners to the polling stations.
The presence of MPs from the two competing coalitions at the Ballot Counting Center (BCC) and the pressure of any form that they perpetrated on counters and the EAZ's 19 commissioner is not justified, as it is against the law. On the other hand, the need for a police intervention to clear the BCC from all unauthorized political representatives and the resulting chaos further blemishes the process and its standards.
Equal gender representation in all election managing bodies remains a problem. Before the final replacement of VC commissioners, only 14 commissioners out 826 were women .
Both CEC and CEAZ 19 performed well in managing the process within the basic standards, despite close legal deadlines and a climate of non-collaboration from the political parties.
CFFE would like to congratulate the citizens of Dibra Municipality for their considerable turnout, of over 60%, in these elections .
The Partial Local Elections in Dibra emphasize once more the need for an all-inclusive Electoral Reform, the need for the depolitization of the process and of the election managing bodies, in order to hand the process' ownership to the citizens.
Based on the above findings and the constant engagement of CFFE in Albania to promote free and fair elections and comply with accepted standards, we are offering a few recommendations as follows:
• CFFE urges the Ad Hoc Committee on the Electoral Reform to intensify its work, by including all stakeholders, to address long-standing recommendations from domestic and international observers as well as the issues identified in the last two elections, for the successful completion and compliance with international standards of the Electoral Reform and the New Electoral Code of the Republic of Albania.
• As part of the expected Electoral Reform, CFFE recommends the introduction of a Code of Conduct for elections to regulate the behavior of political actors, including high officials, during elections.
• All cases of violence or intimidation and coercion during electoral campaigns towards voters and/or electoral subjects should be duly investigated and prosecuted by the respective authorities.
• As part of the Electoral Reform, CFFE demands the partial or complete depolitization of the electoral administration at all its levels, in order to increase citizens' ownership of the electoral process, to provide a more professional administration of elections and to increase credibility in the process.
• Equal gender representation, notwithstanding professional standards, at all levels of the electoral administration must be a requirement of the Electoral Reform.
• The new Electoral Code must stipulate adequate measures, up to the revocation of the mandate, for all MPs and/or state officials whose presence in the premises of electoral management bodies during an electoral process is unauthorized.
The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections and for Sustainable Democracy (CFFE) is an independent, non-partisan organization established to promote civic participation for sustainable democracy and monitoring of the electoral process. CFFE focuses on issues that influence the upholding of human rights, gender equality and the rights of people with disability. CFFE consists of 30 partner organizations and hundreds of Albanian citizens who volunteer their time to CFFE's efforts and actions since 2013.