Voice of America - Interview with Robert Benjamin on the 2021 Albanian Parliamentary Election
In an interview with VOA, Robert Benjamin, Director for Central and Eastern Europe at the National Democratic Institute in the United States, said the allegations and disputes need to be thoroughly analyzed so that voters can be sure that their voices have been heard. In a conversation with his colleague Keida Kostreci, Mr. Benjamin said that Albania has a chance to create a broad consensus to solve the country's problems.
VOA: Mr. Benjamin, what is your opinion on the recent election process in Albania?
Robert Benjamin: It is important to note at the outset that the electoral process is not over yet. Thus, while there are preliminary conclusions to date, a full assessment of the electoral process will only be possible when the process is complete. However, some of the preliminary statements issued by the ODIHR and KRIIK, an independent Albanian election observation body, have made some positive assessments of the process, particularly the election administration by the Central Election Commission, despite the short time available after changes in the election procedure. But at the same time we have seen and observers have reported and highlighted problems talking about violations similar to those of previous election cycles. I refer to allegations of vote buying, voter intimidation and unfortunately local episodes of party violence, unbalanced media coverage and controversial, illegal use of public resources for partisan campaign purposes. It is really important that allegations of infringement are fully investigated and when there is credible evidence, they should be prosecuted.
VOA: As someone who has followed the previous elections, how would you evaluate this process compared to the previous elections in Albania?
Robert Benjamin: We can say that the last cycles of elections in Albania have been accompanied by a very visible degree of political or party tension.
I think this election campaign was undoubtedly accompanied by great party tension. I would say it was harsh in rhetoric, but without much substance.
It is important for political parties to address not only their party supporters, but also to extend their appeal to a large part of Albanian society that does not necessarily belong to one party, but sees what is the best offer. as to the program of the political party that meets their interests.
VOA: The Democratic Party has not explicitly recognized the election result and its chairman Lulzim Basha is talking about an "electoral massacre" and distortion of the result due to the practices of the government and the Socialist Party. How do you see this position of the main opposition party?
Robert Benjamin: I think it should be seen in the context of the fact that the election process is not over yet. If the parties have objections to how the voting process was conducted, how the vote counting worked, now is the time to gather evidence and present it and use the legal mechanisms that should decide on these issues. These legal mechanisms should work transparently to ensure that complaints and disputes are resolved in accordance with the law and in the interest of the voters. It is very clear that political parties like the Democratic Party are interested in following the process of resolving disputes in full and I believe that Mr. Basha has made clear his intention to follow those legal mechanisms.
And I repeat that this must be done quickly and transparently.
On the other hand, it is very important for political leaders to use their voice constructively and to avoid the kind of rhetoric that may excite their supporters, but that keeps the tension that needs to be eased after the election.
VOA: It is the first time since the fall of communism that a party in Albania wins a third term. On the other hand, concerns have been repeatedly expressed in international reports on corruption, reforms, steps back in the democratic process, problems with the media. How do you think the situation can be improved for these problems that have hindered Albania's integration so far?
Robert Benjamin: These problems have been in the spotlight throughout the transition of Albania's democracy.
We know that the European Union is closely monitoring the conduct of these elections as a signal of Albania 's progress towards democracy and will use this assessment to determine how and when to take further steps in formal membership negotiations.
I think this is a chance for the government and civil society and the private sector to build bridges, to establish dialogue and to reach a consensus on public policy such as the public finance system, public procurement, fair access to media, access and fair treatment by the court system and other independent agencies.
The return to parliament of all the major parties will serve this process tremendously.
VOA: As a representative of NDI, what message would you send to the Prime Minister and his party, and the Democratic Party and its leader?
Robert Benjamin: I would say it is time to govern. It is time to join the common institutions of government such as parliament, to be active and to work intensively for the people of Albania to resolve these issues. I would like it to be really important to involve civil society partners and finally focus on public policies and ways to solve the problems that the people of Albania face. I know both leaders in both parties know this, and I know they want to start working on it. And we, NDI, for our part, are very pleased to be able to support political parties, parliament and civil society. And we are very optimistic about the future.