(As prepared for delivery)
Speaker Meta, Prime Minister Rama, Chairman Basha, ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
My mother is a saint. After raising three kids and working a full-time job, she still had time to volunteer as the head of an election precinct in California. We Californians are big complainers. She had to deal with angry people who forgot their identification, or could not find their names on the list of registered voters. In California, we are so crazy that if you demand to vote from your car, we actually bring out an electronic machine to you in your car to allow you to vote.
She volunteered not because of the small amount of money she was paid, but because she believed in the importance of fair elections and the obligation of citizens to be part of building a strong democracy.
When I visited polling locations in Albania during last summer’s local elections, I mostly saw the same thing — hard working people, like my mother, committed to doing the best job that they could. The Albanian poll workers I met with were regular people — teachers, factory workers and farmers.
So, it made me angry to see party militants seeking to undermine the work of these honest volunteers at the polling places. Several EU ambassadors and I saw large groups of young thugs standing directly outside polling places obviously seeking to intimidate voters. Many people also provided us with evidence of vote buying and group voting. And, as we know, several of the candidates had shameful criminal backgrounds. Electoral abuses are a betrayal of Albanian democracy.
These electoral issues were noted in ODHIR’s assessment of the election. ODHIR also praised the work of thousands of poll workers who performed their jobs honorably on the day of the vote. The United States strongly supports the reforms based on the ODHIR recommendations and calls upon the Kuvendi to implement them this year.
But to achieve true reform, even more needs to be done.
Political parties need to take seriously their obligation to ensure transparent party finances. We have seen one party announce a plan for transparency of its finances. We encourage all political parties to introduce international auditing for their party finances and campaign finances and to make public the asset declarations of all candidates.
Party leaders also need to do more to remove corrupt and criminally linked politicians from their ranks and not put them on the ballots in the first place. The passage of the decriminalization law was an important first step, but now the full implementation of this law is equally as important.
Finally, Albanian voters need to take responsibility as well — the responsibility not to accept money for their vote and not to vote for criminals. Albanians and Americans love to complain about their politicians. We can complain all we want, but in a democracy we are ultimately responsible for the politicians we elect.