Albania’s 30 June local elections were held with little regard for the interests of the voters in a climate of political standoff, said observers with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in a preliminary statement of their findings.
The opposition decided not to participate, but the government was determined to hold the elections regardless. Mayoral candidates ran unopposed in 31 of 61 municipalities. In this context, voters often did not have a meaningful choice among political options, the statement concluded.
“While a number of political parties, coalitions and groups of voters fielded candidates, the absence of the major opposition parties from the election considerably limited the choice of candidates for voters,” said Ambassador Audrey Glover, Head of the ODIHR election observation mission. “Initial refusal by the same parties to nominate members of election administration, plus the later politicized interpretation of electoral law, left the country’s election management imbalanced and reduced trust in the elections.”
Political confrontation led to legal uncertainty, and many decisions of the election administration were taken with the political objective of ensuring the conduct of elections. Although local issues were addressed at some small-scale events, the main focus in the campaign was on the non-participation of the main opposition parties and the date of the elections. There were also credible allegations of voters being pressured by both sides, the observers found.
Ambassador Glover continued: “We saw evidence that voters were pressured by all political sides. This, along with polarized media focusing on the political crisis rather than providing impartial information about candidates, kept some voters from making free and informed choices.”
Positively, voting was conducted in a generally peaceful and orderly manner. Over 3.5 million people were registered to vote and an estimated 21 per cent cast their ballots in 5,410 polling stations across the country. In total, 97 mayoral candidates, including 11 women, and 544 candidate lists for local councils, which were all gender balanced in accordance with electoral law, were registered in the 61 municipalities.