Observation of the parliamentary elections in Albania (25 April 2021)
Election observation report
| Doc. 15293
| 21 May 2021
1. On 6 September 2020, the President
of Albania called parliamentary elections for 25 April 2021. On 22 January
2021 the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly decided to observe
these elections, subject to the receipt of an invitation, to set
up an ad hoc committee composed of 20 members (SOC-7; EPP/CD-6;
EC/DA-3; ALDE-3; UEL-1) as well as the two corapporteurs of the
Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member
States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) and to conduct
a pre-electoral mission (which eventually, due to travel restrictions
linked to the pandemic, had to be cancelled). On 1 February, the
Bureau appointed Mr Aleksander Pociej (Poland, EPP/CD) as its Chairperson.
On 9 February 2021, the President of the Parliament of Albania invited
the Assembly to observe the parliamentary elections. On 16 April,
the Bureau approved the final list of members of the ad hoc committee
to observe these elections. The list of members having participated
in the election observation mission is set up in Appendix 1.
2. In accordance with the co-operation agreement signed between
the Assembly and the European Commission for Democracy through Law
(Venice Commission) on 4 October 2004, a representative from the Venice
Commission was invited to join the ad hoc committee as an adviser.
3. The Assembly ad hoc committee worked from 21 to 26 April 2021.
It operated as part of an International Election Observation Mission
(IEOM) together with a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE-PA)
and the limited electoral observation mission of the OSCE’s Office
for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR LEOM).
The programme of the delegation’s meetings is set out in Appendix 2.
4. On election day the Assembly delegation split into 11 teams
and observed the voting process in a number of polling stations
in Tirana and its surroundings, as well as in Elbasan, Durres, Kavaje,
Diber, Lezhe, Fier and in the countryside.
5. The Assembly delegation concluded that the parliamentary elections
were characterized by a lively and inclusive campaign, thanks to
a legal framework that helped ensure respect of fundamental freedoms.
At the same time the campaign saw authorities taking advantage of
public office and allegations of pervasive vote buying. The press
release by the IEOM is set out in Appendix 3.
6. The Assembly delegation wishes to thank the heads and members
of the parliamentary delegation of the OSCE-PA and of the OSCE/ODIHR
LEOM for their excellent co-operation within the IEOM. It also wishes to
thank the Council of Europe Office in Tirana for the co-operation
2 Political context
7. The Assembly has observed all
parliamentary elections in Albania since 1991. The last parliamentary elections
in Albania took place on 27 June 2017. The Parliamentary Assembly
observation delegation concluded: “the candidates were able to campaign
freely and fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression were
respected. The continued politicisation of election related bodies
and institutions, as well as widespread allegations of vote-buying
and pressure on voters, reduced voter trust in the electoral process.
At the same time, the Head of the Assembly delegation welcomed the
agreement reached by the leaders of the two main political parties
which made the election possible, and stressed that it was time
for Albania to move forward towards genuine democracy bound by the
rule of law”.
8. The Socialist Party (SP) won the last 2017 parliamentary elections,
receiving 74 out of 140 mandates. Most members of parliament (MPs)
of the opposition parties relinquished their mandates in a gesture
of protest in February 2019. As a result, the Democratic Party (DP)
and the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI) continued to act
as an extra-parliamentary political force. The 2019 municipal elections
were subsequently held without the participation of the boycotting
opposition parties, which resulted in a complete takeover of all
mayor positions by the SP-led European Albania coalition. In effect,
the SP gained absolute control over central and local government.
9. The political climate in Albania is characterised by polarisation
and longstanding distrust between major parties, which culminated
in the DP and SMI members of parliament remitting their mandates
in February 2019, and since then constituting an extra-parliamentary
opposition. The stalemate continued until the establishment of a
multi-party Political Council in January 2020, composed of SP and
the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition. The Political
Council was mandated to resume the the stalled electoral reform,
which was one of the conditions for accession to negotiation for
European Union (EU) membership.
10. In June 2020, the ruling party, the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary
opposition parties reached an agreement to end the political stalemate,
focusing on electoral reform. This brought the opposition parties
back into the political process.
11. The political landscape remained dominated by two major parties,
the SP and the DP. President Meta, formerly the chairperson of the
SMI, in exercising a constitutionally non-political role, has a
strained public relationship with the Prime Minister Edi Rama and
often took initiatives or publicly criticised the government in the
strongest terms, directly affecting the elections.
12. The parliamentary elections took place in the context of the
global Covid-19 pandemic and were the first to be held in Albania
since the earthquake of November 2019, which resulted in fatalities
and widespread damage, especially in the region of Durres.
framework and electoral system
13. The Assembly delegation recalls
that Albania signed and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights
(ETS No. 5) and its Additional Protocol (ETS No. 9), which enshrine
a number of principles crucial for an effective and meaningful democracy,
such as the right to free elections (Article 3 of the Additional
Protocol), freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association,
as well as prohibition of discrimination (Articles 10, 11 and 14
of the Convention).
14. The legal framework consists of the 1998 Constitution, the
2008 Electoral Code (both last amended in 2020) and other relevant
laws and regulations.
15. The Electoral Code serves as an adequate basis for the conduct
of democratic elections. However, several inconsistencies and ambiguities
in the law, including those caused by the recent changes, impair
legal certainty and efficient administration of the elections. In
addition, there were several instances of overly broad interpretation
of the legislation, including by the Central electoral commission
(CEC) when enacting by-laws, often resulting in a more restrictive
regulation. Several interlocutors of the IEOM, including in the
CEC, said that the recent changes in the Electoral Code created
a number of ambiguities and raised concerns about technical capacity
to implement them, especially given the short time between the amendments
and the elections.
16. The parliament adopted a number of amendments to the Electoral
Code on 23 July 2020. During this process, the authorities and political
parties engaged in open, inclusive and comprehensive consultation
and discussion with many stakeholders of the electoral process including
legal advisors nominated by political parties and civil society,
as well as international experts. These amendments provided for,
among others, additional regulatory safeguards against misuse of
public resources and strengthened guarantees for gender balance
on candidate lists, addressing previous ODIHR recommendations. Amendments
also altered the structure of the CEC and related to verification
of the candidate nomination procedure, public and private financing
of the campaign, oversight of campaign coverage in the media, and
the election dispute resolution. The reform also provided for electronic
identification of voters on election day, the possibility of introducing voting
from abroad, and piloting new voting and counting technologies.
17. On 30 July, constitutional amendments introduced preferential
voting. The Electoral Code was subsequently amended on 5 October
– it replaced the regional thresholds for contestants to qualify
with a national threshold of 1%, provided for a minimum number of
candidates on the party lists, and allowed leaders of political
parties and coalitions to be nominated as candidates in up to four
18. Despite the constitutional and electoral reforms of 2020,
several previous recommendations remain unaddressed, including those
related to suffrage rights of people with intellectual or psychosocial
disabilities, criminal liability for defamation, use of party campaign
materials in the news, and equal rights of party and citizen observers.
In December 2020, in the aftermath of the electoral reform,
the Venice Commission and ODIHR issued a Joint Opinion related to
the amendments of the Constitution (30 July 2020) and to the Electoral
Code (Law 118 of 5 October 2020).Note
In accordance with the opinion’s
request by the President of the Republic, the document did not address
issues of the 23 July 2020 amendments of the Electoral Code, and
it did not constitute a comprehensive review of the entire legal
framework governing elections. As per constant methodology of the
Venice Commission and ODIHR, the opinion did not address the issue
of constitutionality of the reform.
The opinion stated that the procedure for the adoption of
the amendments to the Constitution as well as of Law No. 118 was
extremely hasty, even in light of the explanation by the Prime Minister
that the possibility to organise public consultations was limited
by the Covid-19 measures. A wide consultation among the political stakeholders
and non-governmental organisations, providing adequate timeframe,
should have taken place before the amendment of such fundamental
was the case with the previous amendments of 23 July 2020 where
positively, the authorities and political parties engaged in an
open and inclusive process.
The electoral legal framework was amended less than 12 months
before the elections (25 April), and entered into force after the
President of the Republic had called for the elections (on 6 September)
thus officially opening the electoral process. According to the
Venice Commission’s Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters and
the Interpretative Declaration on the Stability of Electoral Law,
no changes of fundamental elements of the electoral process such
as the electoral system should be introduced 12 months before the elections.
Stability of the electoral law is crucial to ensure trust in the
electoral process and in particular to exclude any suspicion of
manipulation of the electoral legal framework. Note
the Opinion concluded that three main changes introduced by the
constitutional amendments such as rules on delimitation of constituencies,
introduction of open lists and the partial suppression of the coalitions
(with introduction of so-called Apparentements
alone or in a combination, were not such as to represent a fundamental
change to the electoral system of Albania. That said, their implementation
and effects in the upcoming elections had still to be assessed.Note
The opinion also noted that both amendments to the Electoral
Code and the Constitution were approved by an overwhelming majority,
however, regrettably, all opposition MPs then present in parliament
resigned in 2019 and had since then constituted an extra-parliamentary
opposition. The fact that the parliament was not composed of the
full number of members was not in itself problematic with a view
to international standards, provided that it operates in line with
the constitutionally prescribed quorum.Note
the opinion urged the Albanian political forces – both in and outside
parliament – to ensure the democratic functioning of the institutions
in the country, in the interest of the Albanian people.
23. It also noted that the amendments concerning the minimum number
of candidates disadvantages smaller parties, and that the possibility
for party leaders to stand in several constituencies violates the
right to stand on equal terms.
Specifically, the Joint Opinion put forward the following
recommendations for the parliamentary elections:
- Before the 2021 parliamentary
elections: all authorities should enter into a constructive dialogue
and do their utmost to implement the electoral law on time; they
should start as soon as possible, and in a transparent manner, to
clarify the impact of the amendments, and the electoral administration
should be provided with sufficient means to implement them; any
further amendments of the electoral legislation before the next
parliamentary elections should be avoided; in particular, the delimitation
of constituencies should not be changed; leaders of political parties
should refrain from being candidates in multiple constituencies.
- After the 2021 parliamentary elections: to abolish the
possibility for leaders of political parties to compete in several
constituencies; to respect equal rights for all parties in a coalition
to appeal actions and decisions of the coalition; to introduce the
possibility for individual candidates to submit complaints and appeals
against the allocation of seats inside a list; to clarify the definition
of the threshold for local elections in the sense that it applies
at municipality level, if necessary through a by-law; to revise
Article 67(4) of the Electoral Code [providing that the number of
candidates must be no less that the number of seats to the filled
in the respective constituency] in order to reduce the minimum number
of candidates to appear on a list [which could be a challenged for
small parties]; to consider making an exception to the 1% national
threshold for national minorities; to continue addressing any outstanding
and future ODIHR election-related recommendations.
25. The 140-member parliament is elected for a four-year term
through a regional proportional system. Candidates are elected from
12 multi-seat electoral districts, which correspond to administrative
regions. The number of seats allocated for each district depends
on the number of citizens registered in the respective district
and in general ensured the equality of the vote. The newly introduced
preferential voting within party lists allows voters to potentially
influence the ranking of candidates on the list.
26. To qualify for seat allocation in parliament, an electoral
subject, including independent candidates, must pass a 1% nationwide
threshold. Applying this threshold to independent candidates may
result in the candidate requiring a significantly higher number
of votes to enter parliament than for the party candidates in the respective
district. As such, applying the 1% nationwide threshold to independent
candidates potentially challenges the principle of standing on equal
27. The election administration
comprises the CEC, 92 Commissions of Electoral Administration Zones (CEAZs),
and 5199 Voting Centre Commissions (VCCs). Counting is held by Counting
Teams in 92 Ballot Counting Centres (BCCs), one for each Electoral
Administration Zone (EAZ).
28. The 2020 legal amendments changed the formation rules of the
CEC and introduced three distinct branches in its structure: the
State Election Commissioner (the Commissioner), the Regulatory Commission (the
Regulator) and the Complaints and Sanctions Commission (CSC). The
Regulator and the CSC each have five members. The CEAZs and VCCs
have seven members nominated by the parliamentary majority and opposition.
Women are underrepresented throughout the election administration;
the 30% gender quota is prescribed by the law only for CEAZ members.
29. Overall, the election administration worked transparently,
and the CEC enjoyed the trust and confidence of stakeholders.
30. The amendments to the legal framework created new obligations
for the CEC. Sufficient time and resources were unavailable to implement
these effectively, despite the commitment of the election administration.
Overall, the CEC coped with a progressive increase in workload due
to late introduction of electronic voter identification and a pilot
project on electronic voting and counting. Transparency was further enhanced
by periodic online discussions of election-related issues with civil
society, and by the availability of draft decisions on the website
prior to their approval.
31. Political parties could still recall their nominees from the
CEAZs at their own discretion despite previous ODIHR recommendations.
As of 23 April, the CEC replaced 128 out 736 CEAZ members (17%)
and had to ensure training of all new members. These changes did
not have a significant impact on the performance of the CEAZs, whose
activities were in general conducted professionally.
32. The CEC was responsible for voter education, including targeting
first-time voters and vulnerable groups. Topics included the concept
of the new electronic voter identification, the new design of the
ballot paper, voting procedures and vote buying. Besides posters
and billboards, spots were aired on TV and available on social networks.
Nevertheless, many IEOM interlocutors claimed that the voter information campaign
was insufficient and started late in the process, especially so
with respect to electronic voter identification, and the layout
of the ballot. This contributed to some confusion during election
33. Electronic voting and ballot counting were piloted in one
of the EAZs of Tirana city encompassing 32 voting centres (VCs)
with 23 597 registered voters. In these VCs, the voter identification
process was technologically separated from voting process to guarantee
secrecy of the vote. The CEC organised a nine-day demonstration
of the equipment with access for all interested parties and held
a functionality test of the technology three days before election
day. However, no independent audit or certification was performed,
as it is not prescribed for in the law. The procurement process
of voting equipment ended a month before and the configuration of
the software a week before election day. Notwithstanding the limited
scope of the pilot, the extremely short timeframe did not allow
for substantive public discourse and independent scrutiny, including by
civil society, both of which are important components for ensuring
trust in a new voting technology.
lists and candidate registration
34. Albanian citizens aged 18 years
or older on election day are eligible to vote. Citizens found incompetent by
a court decision cannot vote, which is at odds with international
obligations prohibiting discrimination based on disability. Citizens
serving a prison sentence for committing certain crimes may not
35. While foreseen as a possibility in the Electoral Code, no
out-of-country voting was offered to citizens. Voters residing abroad
could however return and vote in their respective VCs, although
in practice this may have been hampered by Covid-19 measures.
36. The voter registration system is passive. At odds with international
commitments, voters over 100 years of age were automatically removed
from voter lists and had to confirm their records for re-inclusion.
Voter lists were based on the electronic database of the National
Civil Status Register, maintained by the General Directorate of
Civil Status of the Ministry of Interior (GDCS). Corrections to
voter lists were possible up to 40 days before election day, and
after that voters could correct their data through local courts.
After the final publication of the voter lists, voters could check
the printed voter lists at local GDCS offices and VCs or online. As
of 15 March, the total number of registered voters was 3 588 869,
including those who reside abroad.
37. The CEC supervised the voter list compilation process. Two
auditors, appointed by the CEC in October 2020, assessed the accuracy
of the voter lists, and noted issues such as change of voters’ address
data without informing voters and delayed delivery of voter notifications
in some municipalities. There was confidence in the overall process
of compiling voter lists.
38. Voters are included in the voter list of the VC serving their
place of residence. According to the Electoral Code, voters can
only vote in-person at the VC. Voting by mail or via mobile ballot
box is not provided for. Special voting centres can be, according
to the law, organised in prisons, pre-trial detention centres and hospitals.
Voters who had contracted Covid-19 and were in self-isolation were
required to adhere to the rules of isolation, resulting in the de
39. For the first time, an electronic voter identification system
(e-identification) was installed in all VCs on election day to mitigate
the risk of double voting, family voting or voter impersonation.
Additionally, the devices scan fingerprint, which may be used as
evidence in possible complaints. A technical operator, assigned
by the CEC for each VC, facilitated the voter identification process.
The CEC experienced a shortage of technical operators outside the
main urban centres and last-minute resignations.
40. Operational and technical policies and regulations of e-identification
were adopted only a few weeks before election day. In line with
the Electoral Code, the functional testing was performed by the
CEC nine days before election day on 3% of the devices used. No
independent audit of the procedures and final software was performed.
Although most IEOM interlocutors, including all of the four largest
political parties, expressed support for the e-identification, the
time constraint, lack of public scrutiny and lack of impartial audit
made it difficult for stakeholders to develop an independent assessment
of the preparatory procedures and correct functioning of the e-identification
41. Any eligible voter enjoys the right to stand, except those
serving a prison sentence or with a prior conviction for specific
crimes as well as those deported from a number of countries or subject
to a search warrant. Restrictions on those deported and under a
search warrant, whose guilt has not been established by a court,
are contrary to the principle of presumption of innocence enshrined
in key international human rights instruments. The Constitution
lists categories of officials whose position is incompatible with
the right to stand.
42. Candidate lists can be submitted by political parties and
coalitions of parties, which are first registered with the CEC as
electoral subjects. A list must be submitted for each of the 12
electoral districts. Independent candidates can compete through
nomination by a group of voters. A candidate may only appear in
one list. Candidate lists must be supported by 5 000 voters signatures
for parties or 7 000 signatures for coalitions nationwide. Voters
can support multiple lists.
43. At least one third of candidates of the under-represented
gender must be nominated in each list. The Electoral Code effectively
defines women as the under-represented gender. Given that the Code
is unclear about the sequencing of women in candidate lists, the
CEC interpreted that in every triplet of candidates (starting with
number one) at least one should be a woman. The number of candidates
on the list may not be less than the number of seats assigned to
the respective electoral district in parliament and may be increased by
up to two.
44. Candidacies were verified by the CEC in line with the Electoral
Code and the Law on Decriminalization. Before the registration of
the lists by the CEC, ineligible candidates were removed and the
parties were granted the opportunity to replace them. If new information
resulting in the disqualification of the candidate comes to light
after the list is registered, the candidate remains on the list
but cannot hold the mandate if elected. The process of disqualification
and revocation of mandate is continuous throughout the electoral
45. Candidate and party registration were inclusive. The CEC registered
10 political parties and 2 coalitions to compete nationwide, and
5 independent candidates to contest in 5 districts. In total, 1
871 candidates, including 732 women (40%) were registered.
campaign, funding and the media
46. The official campaign period
commenced on 26 March 2021. The political campaign lacked vigour,
with messaging often focusing on the main party leaders, rather
than genuine issue-driven discourse. In realistic terms, the electorate
was presented with a choice between continuity and an SP-led government,
or change, with a planned DP-SMI coalition arrangement. The tone
of the language used during the campaign by some party leaders and,
in particular, the president, was confrontational and occasionally
47. The platform of the SP focused on the Covid-19 vaccination
programme and achievements of government, including ongoing reconstructions
following the 2019 earthquake. The DP-led coalition and SMI rallied
around the core theme of countering the heavily centralised power
of Prime Minister Rama. The opposition also campaigned on the economy,
financial incentives for youth and farmers, wages and employment.
All parties shared the objective of EU accession. Allegations of
corruption, misuse of State resources and links to organised crimes
were regularly made by all opposition parties.
48. Fundamental freedoms were respected, and electoral subjects
could all campaign freely. The campaign was conducted mainly through
social networks, public meetings and door-to-door canvassing. Promotional posters
were only permitted in designated areas. Restrictions were imposed
due to Covid-19 pandemic, including limitations on gatherings, distancing
requirements and the use of facemasks, which created difficulties
and stifled the campaign for all contestants. The implementation
of fines and other measures for breach of Covid-19 related regulations
was not applied consistently. Non-compliance with Covid-19 regulations during
most of the events was tolerated. In other cases, sanctions were
applied, with fines affecting the independent candidates disproportionately
and introducing uncertainty.
49. Allegations of vote buying were pervasive during the campaign,
indicating that it remained a problem. The DP adopted interventionist
methods, self-justified in public statements, to counter alleged
50. The Special Anti-Corruption Structure (SPAK) informed the
international observers that as of 24 April 2021, it had opened
over 30 cases related to vote buying. The ODIHR LEOM was also informed
by prosecutor officers in Berat and Shkoder that they had launched
official investigations into vote-buying incidents. The DP filed
a complaint with the Special Anti-Corruption Structure (SPAK) containing
dozens of allegations of vote-buying incidents in Elbasan.
51. In this regard, the Assembly’s observation delegation recalls
its report on observation of the 2017 parliamentary elections, in
which it pointed out: “The Parliamentary Assembly delegation was
informed by various people, including political party representatives,
of recurrent problems identified during the election campaign, in
particular vote-buying and selling, pressure exerted on voters,
especially on civil servants, and misuse of administrative resources.
The Assembly delegation strongly condemns such practices and calls
on the competent authorities in Albania to take all the necessary
measures to put an end to these irregularities and boost voter confidence
in the democratic process».
52. The legal framework prohibits the misuse of administrative
resources, reduces the advantage of incumbency, and limits budgetary
spending during the four months prior to the elections. The CEC
maintained a webpage where citizens can denounce electoral violations.
The efforts of the CEC to deploy 64 campaign monitors to oversee
compliance with regulations were commendable. The reports of the
monitors were published on the website, but were limited in scope,
analysis, and clarity, which diminished their usefulness.
53. The Electoral Code requires that official engagements within
the four months preceding election day be reported at least five
days in advance to the CEC. Ministers continued with official engagements
throughout the campaign. They regularly appeared at “inspection
visits” of key facilities such as vaccination centres, wearing facemasks
or t-shirts with “No. 12” (the SP ballot number), which drew significant
publicity and constituted electioneering. The Prime Minister also
inaugurated several major infrastructure projects during the campaign
period. These types of events provided the SP with a significant
advantage, which was already reinforced by the dominance of the
SP in the local administration. In addition, public employment increased significantly
in the lead up to the elections, in the period immediately preceding
the moratorium on authorisation of new employment in the public
54. During the campaign, it emerged that a database containing
the personal information and contact details of approximately 900
000 Albanian citizens, also containing likely voting preferences
leaked into the public domain. Opposition parties, the president
and many in the media called for an investigation by the Special
Anti-corruption Structure (SPAK) into the alleged misuse of the
personal data of citizens. Several IEOM interlocutors from key political
parties believed that this kind of incident could be considered
by the electorate as misuse of personal data for party interests.
55. There were reports that attempts were made to influence the
vote through the provision of incentives. The reports also alleged
that many civil servants, an employment group vulnerable to pressure,
were encouraged to vote for the ruling party.
56. With regard the funding of the election campaign, political
parties which competed in the last parliamentary elections receive
public funding for their regular activities. Parties which obtained
at least 1% of votes in the last parliamentary elections also receive
public funding for their campaigns, proportional to the number of
votes gained. Independent candidates are not entitled to public
funding. Contestants may also finance their campaigns from their
own funds, donations from Albanian citizens, legal entities, and
bank loans. Donations, including in-kind, are capped at ALL 1 million
(approximately EUR 8 130). Contributions above ALL 50 000 must be
made through a designated bank account. The total campaign expenses
of a party may not exceed ALL 167 480 000; the expenses of independent
candidates cannot exceed ALL 27 913 000.
57. By law, the CEC oversees compliance with campaign finance
regulations. While the Electoral Code requires CEC monitors to report
on campaign finance, as of 23 April their reports did not contain
any methodically collected testimony on the contestants’ financial
activity. The CEC is authorized to apply sanctions for non-compliance
with the respective rules, but no such sanction was applied.
58. Contestants are required to submit financial reports only
after the elections, within 60 days from the announcement of election
results, and the CEC should appoint auditors to review these reports.
Auditors’ findings must be published within 30 days of their submission.
Absence of a legal requirement for interim reporting during the
campaign on the source and amount of funds raised limits transparency
of campaign finance and reduces the possibility of voters to make
an informed choice based on knowledge of sources of campaign funds.
59. The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, media freedom,
right to information, and prohibits censorship of means of communication.
Although defamation is punishable only with fines, it remains a
criminal offence, despite previous recommendations. Campaign coverage
in the audio-visual media is regulated in detail by the Electoral
Code. Provisions for free-of-charge campaign opportunities on the
public TV station RTSH ensure a minimum visibility for all electoral
contestants. However, the absence of a minimum requirement of coverage
in the news of non-parliamentary parties and independent candidates
narrows their media access.
60. The crowded media environment is constrained by a limited
advertising market concentrated among a few outlets. Television
remains the primary source of political information. Media outlets
often serve as lobbying platforms for their owners, thus challenging
their editorial independence and inducing self-censorship. Many interlocutors
stated, that in the absence of effective self-regulation and uncertain
labour conditions, journalists remain vulnerable to pressure.
61. Only 1 print/online media outlet and 10 out of over 100 private
TV and radio stations, in line with the law, submitted their pricelists
for campaign advertisements to the CEC. Thus, transparency of advertisement conditions
62. The Audio-visual Media Authority (AMA) monitored compliance
of the broadcasters with the rules and provided the CEC with daily
and weekly reports, which were published on the CEC website. Many
IEOM interlocutors questioned AMA’s capacity in conducting sufficient
oversight. The AMA findings indicated that the SP systematically
received more coverage than other contestants did. Some broadcasters
ignored the repeated public appeals of the AMA and the CEC to compensate
the time for the low coverage of some parties. The reports also
showed that there were numerous cases of paid advertisements within
the news and beyond the timeline prescribed by the law.
63. By narrowly interpreting the law and the CEC regulations,
broadcasters failed to provide comprehensive coverage of all the
contestants. The widespread practice among the main political parties
to provide media outlets with pre-recorded or live footage from
campaign events that the media often chose not to attend limited voters’
ability to obtain objective information during the campaign. The
Assembly delegation was informed that the parties did not inform
the media about campaign events in advance.
64. The media monitoring indicated that while there were no televised
debates between party leaders in the monitored TV channels, the
coverage was saturated with current affairs and political talk-shows.
Major media outlets refrained from in-depth analysis and limited
their role to simply conveying opinions lacking the meaningful discussions
of electoral platforms. Some of the electoral advertising spots
were not clearly labelled. Some channels placed campaign banners
during programmes and films, and Klan News aired those within the news,
contrary to the law.
65. The DP and SP were dominating the political news coverage
at all media outlets monitored, with the SP receiving between 27
and 35% and the DP between 26 and 32% of such coverage. The main
parties aired negative campaign spots against each other. In the
monitored channels, the SP was covered in more positive tone than
the DP. In addition, in 9% of news and current affairs programmes
monitored candidate Rama was covered in his official capacity as
Prime Minister. The SP also received additional 15% through the
coverage dedicated to the ministries and other public institutions.
This narrowed the information available to voters about the contestants
limiting their opportunity to make an informed choice.
66. The IEOM, due to its limited
size, did not observe election day proceedings in a systematic and comprehensive
manner and did not proceed to statistical analysis.
67. The Assembly delegation split into 11 teams and observed the
voting process in a number of polling stations in Tirana and its
surroundings, as well as in Elbasan, Durres, Kavaje, Diber, Lezhe,
Fier and in the countryside.
68. In most voting centres visited, the voting process was overall
calm. The procedures were in general followed but voters sometimes
did not remove their face mask for the purpose of identification,
and inking procedure was not strictly adhered to. The Covid-19 preventive
measures were not well implemented, and social distancing not always
respected. Secrecy of the vote was respected. Overcrowding represented
a problem in some polling stations visited by PACE teams.
69. E-identification was generally conducted according to procedures;
however, according to the CEC, 4% of VCs opened with delay mainly
due to issues pertaining to the start-up of e-identification devices.
Further, the CEC also reported that in some 3% of VCs, either due
to the malfunction of e-identification devices or to the absence
of technical operators, voters were registered using paper voter
lists. Assembly teams observed cases when in particular older people
could not be identified by their fingerprints. In some of the VCs
observed, commissioners used both the e-identification and the paper
voter lists in parallel.
70. For these elections, every VC was equipped with cameras. Most
VCs visited were not barrier-free for persons with physical disabilities.
The IEOM observed electronic voting in a limited number of voting
centres, where many voters required assistance in their voting process.
71. In several regions, the IEOM observed groups of young men
gathered outside voting centres who appeared to be controlling the
area and keeping track of who was voting. In Shkoder region, observers
noticed a person dragging another into the VC and, once the voter
had gone through the identification procedure, the voter was further
instructed on who to vote for. In the same region was witnessed
a case of money distributed to voters in the vicinity of a voting
centre. An Assembly delegation team observed a case of family voting. Another
Assembly team observed party propaganda (flags) outside polling
stations and even led by voters during the voting process within
the polling station.
72. In the limited number of counts observed, process was largely
transparent and smooth. The IEOM observed that some counting teams
were appointed and trained during election night. Transparency of
the process was, at times, hampered due to observers being placed
too far from the counting tables, and counting teams not exposing
the ballots to the camera for sufficient time to ensure public scrutiny.
Covid-19 preventive measures were not followed in the counts observed
by the IEOM.
73. The State Election Commissioner announced the preliminary
results on 25 April. The turnout was of 46.32%. The total number
of voters was of 1 662 386, including 792 262 women voters. The
number of valid votes was of 1 578 296. The number of invalid votes
was of 83 024.
74. Out of the 140 seats in the parliament 74 would be occupied
by SP, 59 by PD, 4 by LSI and 3 by PSD. 93 MBs are men (66,43%)
and 47 are women (33,57%).
75. The Assembly election observation
delegation concluded that the parliamentary elections were characterised
by a lively and inclusive campaign, thanks to a legal framework
that helped ensure respect of fundamental freedoms. At the same
time the campaign saw authorities taking advantage of public office.
76. The Assembly observation delegation noted that on election
day in most voting centres visited by members of the delegation
the voting process was overall calm and the procedures were in general
followed. Secrecy of the vote was respected. The Covid-19 preventive
measures were not well implemented and social distancing not always
77. The parliamentary elections were held following a breakthrough
political agreement achieved in June 2020, which was followed by
an electoral reform. The Assembly’s delegation found that, in spite
of some ambiguities and inconsistencies, the legal framework constitutes
an adequate basis for conducting democratic elections. Recent changes
to the legal framework provided additional safeguards and were based
on a broad political consensus; while a number of Venice Commission
ODIHR recommendations were addressed during the reform, several
recommendations remain outstanding.
78. The Assembly’s delegation noted that the voters had a choice
of candidates, who were able to campaign freely, under a legal framework
which respects fundamental freedoms. The ruling party derived significant advantage
from its incumbency, including through its control of local administrations
and from the misuse of administrative resources. This was amplified
by positive coverage of State institutions in the media.
79. The Assembly delegation expressed its concern about allegations
of vote buying by political parties which were pervasive during
the campaign. It noted that a number of investigations were opened
in this regard. Therefore, the Assembly’s delegation expects the
relevant Albanian authorities to undertake proper investigations
and to be informed about the results in due course.
80. The parliamentary elections were generally well organized
by the election administration. The election administration at all
levels overall enjoyed the trust of stakeholders. The candidates
and parties registration process was inclusive.
81. The delegation was informed that fundamental freedom of assembly
was respected during the election campaign, and electoral subjects
could all campaign freely, despite restrictions imposed due to the
Covid-19 pandemic and the inconsistent application of fines for
breach of regulations. The campaign lacked vigour, and messaging
focused on the main party leaders, rather than on genuine issue-driven
discourse. The leaking of sensitive personal data, including political
preferences of citizens, is of serious concern and makes voters vulnerable.
82. As for funding of the election campaign, contestants could
finance their campaigns from their own funds, donations from Albanian
citizens, legal entities, and bank loans. The oversight of campaign
finance is vested with the CEC. Contestants are required to submit
financial reports only after the elections, thus limiting transparency
and the ability of voters to make an informed choice based on knowledge
of sources of campaign funds.
83. The media environment is crowded. Editorial independence is
negatively impacted by the owner’s interests, which induces self-censorship.
Journalists remain vulnerable to pressure and corruption. Regulations governing
media coverage of the campaign narrow the access to media of smaller
parties and independent candidates. Broadcasters refrained from
in-depth and analytical coverage of all contestants. This combined with
party-produced content in news programmes limited voters ability
to make an informed choice. Regrettably, no televised debate between
political leaders was organised.
84. The Assembly and the Venice Commission are ready to continue
the collaboration with the Albanian authorities to further improve
the legal framework and electoral practices in the country.
Appendix 1 – Composition
of the ad hoc committee
Based on the proposals by the political groups
of the Assembly, the ad hoc committee was composed as follows:
Chairperson: Mr Aleksander
and Greens Group (SOC)
- Ms Marina BERLINGHIERI,
- Mr Stefan SCHENNACH, Austria
- Mr Krzystof ŚMISZEK, Poland
- Ms Margreet De BOER, Netherlands
- Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ, Spain
- Ms Sibel ARSLAN, Switzerland
- Mr Givi MIKANADZE, Georgia
Group of the European
People’s Party (EPP/CD)
- Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ,
- Mr Viorel Riceard BADEA, Romania
- Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ, France
- Mr Aleksander POCIEJ, Poland
- Mr Jacek PROTASIEWICZ, Poland
Alliance of Liberals
and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
- Mr Frédéric PETIT, France
- Mr Jean-Pierre GRIN, Switzerland
- Ms Lesia ZABURANNA, Ukraine
Group and Democratic Alliance (EC/DA)
- Mr Alberto RIBOLLA,
- Mr Ulrich OEHME, Germany
Group of the Unified
European Left (UEL)
- Ms Renata TARDIOLI,
- Mr Bogdan TORCATORIU,
Administrator, Election observation and Interparliamentary co-operation division
- Mr Michael JANSSEN, Legal advisor, Venice Commission
- Mr Franck DAESCHLER, Principal Administrative Assistant,
Election observation and Interparliamentary co-operation division
- Ms Anne GODFREY, Assistant, Election observation and Interparliamentary
Appendix 2 – Programme
of the meetings of the International Election Observation Mission
21 April 2021
14:00-14:30 Briefing on practicalities for all observers
14:30-15:15 Welcome and Introductory Remarks
- Mr Azay Guliyev, Special Co-ordinator
and Leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission
- Mr Viorel Riceard Badea, PACE Observer Delegation
- Mr Reinhold Lopatka, Head of the OSCE PA Observer Delegation
- Ms Jutta Gutzkow, Head of the Council of Europe Office
- Ambassador Vincenzo Del Monaco, Head of OSCE Presence
15:15-16:45 ODIHR LEOM Briefing part I
- Welcome and overview of the ODIHR LEOM’s work, Ambassador
Urszula Gacek, Head of Mission
- Electoral legal framework, Mr Armen Mazmanyan, Legal Analyst
- Political landscape, candidate registration and campaign,
Mr William Romans, Political Analyst
- Media landscape and coverage of the elections, Ms Kira
Kalinina, Media Analyst
- Security issues, Mr Davor Ćorluka, Security Expert
- Questions and Answers
17:00-18:00 ODIHR LEOM Briefing part II
- Election administration, Dr Robert Bystrický, Election
- Voter registration and New voting technologies, Mr Priit
Vinkel, NVT Analyst
- Election Day procedures, Dr Robert Bystrický, Election
- Questions and Answers
Thursday, 22 April 2021
14:00-15:15 Socio-political context of the elections
- Academy of Political Studies,
Executive Director, Mr Erjon Tase
- Albanian Helsinki Committee, Project Coordinator on Monitoring
2021 Elections, Ms Ardita Kolmarku
- Albanian Institute for Election System Development, Executive
Director, Mr Andon Kume
- Coalition for Reforms, Integration and Consolidated Institutions
(KRIIK) Albania, Chairperson, Mr Premto Gogo
- Institute of Romani Culture in Albania (IRCA), Executive
Director, Mr Bledar Taho
15:30-16:30 Representatives of political parties/coalitions
- Democratic party
– Alliance for Change, Member of the presidency of the DP Party, Mr Oerd
- Republican Party, Chairperson, Mr Fatmir Mediu
- Party for Justice Integration and Unity, Secretary General,
Ms Mesila Doda
- Unity for Human Rights Party, Jurist for CEC, Mr Thodhori
- Socialist Movement for Integration, Vice Chairman, Mr Petrit Vasili
- Socialist Party, Political Co-Chair of Tirana Region,
Secretary of the Socialist Parliamentary Group, Mr Ervin Bushati
16:45-18:00 Representatives of political parties/coalitions
- Democratic Conviction
Party, Candidate for District of Tirana and Party Representative
at the CEC, Mr Fabian Topollaj
- Hashtag Initiative Party, Candidate for District of Korca,
Ms Klajdi Pllaha
- Movement for Change Party, Candidate for District of Dibra,
Ms Sandra Xheleshi
Friday, 23 April 2021
09:00- 11:00 Election administration and campaign
- Audio-visual Media Authority
(AMA), Chairperson, Mr Gentian Sala
- Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), Country
Director, Ms Kristina Voko
- Central Election Commission, State Election Commissioner,
Mr Ilirjan Celibashi, Deputy State Election Commissioner, Ms Lealba
- Euronews Albania, News Director, Ms Ilva Tare
- Ministry of Internal Affairs, Deputy Minister, Mr Besfort
- Public Broadcaster – Albanian Radio and Television RTSH,
Director of international relations and projects, Mr Kleart Duraj
- Top Channel, Editor in Chief, Mr Altin Krekas
11:15-11:45 Briefing by ODIHR long term observers deployed
in the Tirana region
- LTO Co-ordinator,
Ms Kerstin Dokter
- LTO 6 Tirana, Ms Marketa Nekvindova and Mr Dimitrios Kanakidis
11:45-12:00 Closing remarks
Saturday, 24 April 2021
16:30 Meeting with E-Day drivers and interpreters – GROUP
17:00 Meeting with E-Day drivers and interpreters – GROUP
18:00 TESTS RT-PCR – GROUP 1
Sunday, 25 April 2021
All day Election Day – Observation in polling stations
17:30 TESTS RT-PCR – GROUP 2
Monday, 26 April 2021
08:00 Debriefing of the PACE delegation
15:00 Press conference
Appendix 3 – Press release
of the International Election Observation Mission
saw inclusive campaigning and improved administration, but misuse
of state resources was of concern, international observers say
TIRANA, 26 April 2021 – The Albanian parliamentary elections
were characterized by a lively and inclusive campaign, thanks to
a legal framework that helped ensure respect of fundamental freedoms.
At the same time the campaign saw authorities taking advantage of
public office and allegations of pervasive vote buying, international
observers said in a statement today.
The joint observation mission from the OSCE Office for Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
(OSCE PA), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE),
found that in spite of some ambiguities and inconsistencies, the
legal framework forms an adequate basis for democratic elections
to take place. Recent changes to the legal framework provided additional safeguards
and were based on a broad political consensus. The new election
administration coped well with the extensive new tasks it had taken
on, and enjoyed overall trust.
“Last year's political agreement triggered important reforms
and introduced e-technology which served to boost confidence in
the electoral process. This shows that political compromise and
convergence serves the best interest of the Albanian people,” said
Azay Guliyev, Special co-ordinator and leader of the OSCE short-term observers.
“I encourage all political forces to maintain the same spirit in
the steps that follow election day and to take additional actions
to pre-empt a misuse of administrative resources and pressure on
public civil servants in future electoral cycles.”
Some 3.5 million people were registered to vote in the elections,
which took place against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
While fundamental freedoms were respected, messaging during the
election campaign focused on party leaders rather than political
platforms. The tone of the language used during the campaign by
some leading politicians was confrontational, and at the same time,
the media did not provide essential information for the voters to
make their choice. The prevalence of vote buying throughout the
country was also of concern.
“In spite of the general improvements to the overall framework,
allegations of widespread practices of vote buying throughout the
election process remain a serious problem in Albania, and this has
a negative impact on the general public perception and trust in
the electoral process. So do the incentives and the pressure put
on civil servants,” said Aleksander Pociej, Head of the PACE delegation.
“PACE and the Venice Commission are ready to continue the collaboration
with the Albanian authorities to further improve the legal electoral
framework in the country.”
The newly introduced electronic voter identification system
was set up in all polling stations. Its aim was to reduce the risk
of voter fraud, although the hasty introduction left no time for
a public discussion or independent scrutiny of the new system. While
the process on election day itself was mostly transparent and smooth, pandemic-related
measures were poorly implemented and social distancing was not always
“The introduction of e-voting technology represents an important
and welcome improvement for Albania. I was pleased to witness the
large-scale effectiveness of the biometric identification system,
which was used countrywide. This is an important step which can
only strengthen confidence in the electoral process,” said Reinhold
Lopatka, Head of the OSCE PA delegation. “I was concerned about
the incidents that have preceded election day and I want to underscore
that incitement to violence will not be tolerated.”
Despite a well-developed legal framework in place to stop
the misuse of state resources, many public figures continued to
campaign during their official capacity. This, together with the
launch of several large government infrastructure projects in the
run-up to the election, gave the ruling party a considerable advantage.
“After the many political conflicts in Albania in recent times,
it is encouraging to see that trust in the election process is slowly
being rebuilt,” said Urszula Gacek, who headed the ODIHR limited
election observation mission. “All parties participated and voters
turned out in greater numbers. It is regrettable that irregularities such
as misuse of office and instances of vote buying still remain.”
The international election observation mission to the Albanian
parliamentary elections totalled 125 observers from 32 countries,
consisting of 42 ODIHR-deployed experts and long-term observers, 60 parliamentarians and
staff from the OSCE PA, and 23 from PACE.