Question: Madam Ambassador, why did you choose Elbasan today?
Ambassador Kim: Well first of all it’s a great pleasure to be in Elbasan. I was here a few months ago for a breast cancer awareness event, but I only spent one hour here. As everybody knows, this is an important week. On Monday, parties submitted their candidate lists. And I think in the past, Elbasan’s candidates, the race, has been very important. So I thought now would be a good time to come here, to see the situation myself, to meet with leaders myself, and also to talk to people myself.
Question: What were some of the concerns that the leaders raised and what did you suggest to them?
Ambassador Kim: The United States has been very clear about what our expectations are in terms of clean candidates. It’s essential for political leaders to take responsibility, to ensure that their lists comply with Albanian law, that they take into consideration the U.S. designation, which is not made lightly. I know some people may say, “Yes, he’s designated, but he’s not convicted.” I think most people with common sense agree that is not an evidence of innocence. It is evidence of the shortcomings of the justice system in Albania and the need for justice reform. So, this is not about whether the United States likes someone or doesn’t like someone. It’s about whether the Secretary of State has determined – after extensive research, information, and time – that someone is a threat to U.S. security. And if someone is a threat to U.S. security, I think it’s worthwhile for Albanian voters and Albanian authorities to consider whether this person could be a threat to your security.
Question: Madam Ambassador, some time ago you talked about not allowing Mr. Doshi run for MP in the Shkodra district. Are there similar cases in the district of Elbasan in the two or three lists that parties submitted that may have served to citizens such names in the lists that have been submitted to the CEC since 48 hours ago?
Ambassador Kim: There are three people that the U.S. Secretary of State has designated. I will not carry their names in my mouth, but you can find the record for yourself. On the list, on the issue of the list, the view of the United States is very clear and maybe undiplomatic on my part. I think parties have taken that into consideration; not all of them, but most of them. It’s now with the Central Election Commission, and it’s their job, along with the prosecutors, to vet these candidates. And I think we would not be surprised if some candidates are disqualified after that process. But, here’s where the ultimate power lies: the ultimate power lies with voters. In a significant improvement from the past, in this election voters will be able to choose not just the party, but the candidate. I hear that vote buying is a problem in Elbasan, but not just in Elbasan. Here is what I would say: To those that are trying to buy votes, you are breaking the law and you are committing a shame on your own honor. For those that are being asked to sell their votes, I would say to you: your vote is your power and don’t give up that power.
Question: Madam Ambassador, how far will Albanians be in the April 25 elections from vote-buying? It’s a known phenomenon in Albania.
Ambassador Kim: So as you know, when I did an interview a month ago, we talked about the common practice of people taking their phones into the polling booth, to take a picture and then collect their fee. I’m glad to hear that the election commission has said that they will strictly enforce the prohibition of cell phones inside the polling booths. And I think it’s up to election authorities to take practical measures to make it harder, not easier, to buy votes.
Question: Madam Ambassador, besides the names you mentioned, do you have information about other names that have problems with the law that are included in the lists?
Ambassador Kim: I think the U.S. position is very clear and our conversations with political leaders, as you know, are in my style very frank. So, I thank you very much. I wish I had more time in Elbasan.
Question: What happens if Albania doesn’t hold free and fair elections this time, does it miss the train or does it not even get on it?
Ambassador Kim: I am confident that Albania will hold free and fair elections. That’s my expectation. But it doesn’t mean we can just relax. We all have a role to play, including the press.
Question: You referred to three names. Is that for Elbasan or for all of Albania?
Ambassador Kim: No, no, this is all Albania. You can find it on the State Department’s website. Thank you!