By Roberto Battelli*
Albanian voters could be forgiven for wondering whether Sunday’s election is about the future direction of Albanian politics or about the very institutions of democracy. As long-standing differences between the main political forces have again impacted the process of conducting elections, I think it is fair to say that both politics and democracy will both be in focus on Sunday.
Having closely followed the campaign, and travelled to Albania three times in the past month alone, I have been pleased to see an active and vibrant campaign develop. These elections are about politics. Elections should be about politics, as they are an opportunity for a grand national debate on where the country is, and where it should be going. I commend those who have contributed to this debate, and therefore to Albania’s future.
The people of Albania deserve an active discussion as they continue their further integration within European structures, an aim shared by all main political forces in the country.Albania has achieved so much in political, social and economic terms in two decades, since those times when the path to Brussels was considered inconceivable.
At the same time, unfortunately, we have seen that some of the institutions intended to administer the elections have also become a focus of the political campaign. Voters’ confidence in the electoral system has been shaken as the system itself, through which the voters have the opportunity to express their views, has been used for partisan political ends.If it turns out that the institutions of democracy are undermined in the process of campaigning, it will be the Albanian electorate that ultimately loses, regardless of the outcome.
Parliamentarians from the OSCE have observed elections in Albania in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2005, and 2009. We have seen the fundamental institutions necessary to establish a true democratic process gradually put in place over these 20 years.Following previous improvements to the voter registration and identification process praised by the OSCE in 2009, electoral reforms enacted last year further strengthened technical aspects of Albania’s election process. The consensual manner in which all of these important changes were developed, representing broad political support, is a reminder of how things can work when there is sufficient political will.
As an elected parliamentarian myself, with many elected colleagues and friends in this region, I have witnessed first-hand the significant changes that have been brought about by people of different coexisting nationalities exercising their democratic rightsin various OSCE countries.
Throughout Albania on Sunday we will be present with open eyes, and we look forward to sharing our observations with the public the following day. We come not to prejudge any election but to proclaim our shared commitments to fundamental freedoms so necessary to our collective security community.
Elections, after all, are about more than the personalities on the ballot. Every election is a test, not only about the strength of parties but the strength of processes, a nation’s chance to affirm its own commitment to democratic governance. All those who participate in this process have a role to ensure that the will of the people is not only expressed but accepted and respected as well.
* The author is a member of the Slovenian parliament and the leader of the OSCE short-term Observation Mission for the 2013 parliamentary elections