VOA: What is the purpose of the tour in the country’s north ahead of the local elections?
Ambassador Kim: I’m touring the country going to every corner of Albania irrespective of the elections. So, as you know, I’ve tried to go to all 61 municipalities in this beautiful country and I’m just continuing that effort.
VOA: A phenomenon that is often mentioned in Albania is that of vote buying and selling on the one hand and lack of transparency on party finances on the other; parties make considerable expenses but then report almost modest amounts. You have probably raised these issues with Albanian officials. What is the response you get from them? Do they admit or deny these?
Ambassador Kim: The U.S. position when it comes to fair and free elections is very consistent and very clear. Our expectation is that a country like Albania, which is a member of NATO and an aspirant for EU membership, will do its very best to ensure that the elections are conducted in accordance with international standards and norms. We also know that there is room for improvement.
We saw in ODIHRs report following the April 2021 election that some deficiencies were noted and that includes vote buying. It includes abuse and misuse of state funds, and it speaks to the politicization of certain elements and activities of administration. We expect that the government of Albania and those who are responsible, entities that are responsible, including the Central Election Committee and political leaders, will take action.
VOA: Another fact that is mentioned by ODIHR and is quoted in the latest (Human Rights) report of the State Department is that “the ruling party derived significant advantage from its incumbency, including through its control of local administrations and misuse of administrative resources.” What guarantees may its opponents have that this will not be repeated, especially given that in the last four years, socialists control the entire local government?
Ambassador Kim: It’s the responsibility of the government and of political leaders to make sure that they understand and respond to the concerns expressed by ODIHR. The U.S. position on this has always been very clear. We will of course work with all the authorities. We will work with all the political party leaders and members to try to do our best to support free and fair elections.
But ultimately this is the responsibility of the Albanian government and of political leaders. It’s very important that political leaders, that party leaders take seriously their responsibility to follow the rules, and that includes creating a party list and offering candidates who have integrity. The people of Albania deserve clean candidates. We want to see with every election that the list of candidates becomes cleaner and cleaner.
VOA: A last question. In meetings with political party leaders, you have stressed the importance of clean candidates with integrity. However, we have noticed that even persons designated by the State Department, not just Mr. Berisha, are openly engaged in elections, this time not running personally but engaging in campaigns or supporting family members or relatives who run for office. Are you concerned about this?
Ambassador Kim: It’s wrong. It’s wrong. In the objective considered opinion of the United States government, those who are designated should not be the representatives of the Albanian people. They deserve better and they demand better. This is what democracy is about. It’s what justice reform is about. And I think that when you have people who are designated by the United States for significant corruption, when those individuals claim that they are going to get rid of corruption, it is like the village arsonist saying that they’re going to stop all the fires and not only that, demanding all the matches that they can find from the other villagers.
It’s wrong. It’s wrong. And I think normal Albanian people are smart and they know that this does not make sense. I think the Albanian people deserve better and more than that, the United States believes that Albania deserves and should be better.
VOA: Madam Ambassador, thank you for the interview.
Ambassador Kim: Thank you.