Democrats seek to overturn election results

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 12, 2021 10:36

Democrats seek to overturn election results

In a request submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC), the Democratic Party has formally contested the results in 9 electoral districts. In its submissions, the DP describes the parliamentary elections of the 25th of April as an “electoral massacre” in which the will of the people was thwarted through electoral fraud.

In its allegations, the DP claims that the Government engaged in massive vote-buying in an effort to rig the election. Although the full details of the submission are yet to be published, it is clear that the Socialist Party is accused of instrumentalizing the public administration, misusing public funds and enlisting the help of criminal-gangs in order to buy votes. In support of such claims, the DP points to several facts, all of which have been publicized by the media in recent months.

In April 2021, a database used by the Socialist Party during the campaign containing highly sensitive personal data from more than 900,000 voters living in Tirana was leaked to the press. The database listed their generalities, details of where they were employed and whether they had any pending applications with governmental institutions, including construction or legalization permits. This is the clearest indication that the government was indeed instrumentalizing governmental institutions in order to coerce citizens to vote for the Socialists in exchange for the granting of permits or other political favors. The DP recently published a set of messages purportedly sent to the Minister of Infrastructure and Energy, Ms. Belinda Balluku, wherein it is indicated that votes for the socialists would be guaranteed in exchange for legalization permits. In a recently leaked audio recording, a government official is heard instructing his employees to hold off from telling citizens that their permits will be granted until after the elections.

Accusations of electoral fraud: what we know so far

Another set of facts which lends strength to the argument that the government used the public administration and public resources in order to buy votes, relates to the recent bloating of the public administration – almost 10,000 people were hired at the end of 2020 – as well as the large number of payments that were made to citizens in the period leading up to the elections. The funds were withdrawn from the so called “earthquake fund” which was set up more than a year ago. A total of 120 million euros were distributed in the four months leading to the elections from this fund. This signifies a 500% increase in the rate of payment compared to the previous year.

In a recent public statement, the Democratic Party stated that they had submitted evidence clearly indicating that citizens were offered cash in return for votes by members of criminal gangs, who the DP claims were enlisted by the socialists in order to gather votes. Such allegations were often publicized throughout the electoral campaign, and in Elbasan a confrontation between members of the “vote-protection unit” created by the Democrats and individuals who were allegedly caught-in-the-act by the unit whilst trying to buy votes resulted in the death of one individual. The DP claims that one of the members of their unit shot one of the individuals in self-defense, and that personal IDs of voters as well a large amount of cash was found in their car. An investigation by BIRN confirms these statements, whereas the chief of police denies that such documents were found inside the car. Investigations into this matter are still on-going.

Regardless of whether such accusations are true, the fact that Tom Doshi’s Party (PDIU) and Orlando Rakipi managed to gather enough votes to gain 5 seats in parliament is extremely worrying. On the 24th of April, after a majority of the votes had been counted, Mr. Doshi resigned from his party, purportedly because a few weeks earlier the prime-minister had assured the American ambassador that Mr. Doshi – who has been declared a persona-non-grata by the US State Department – would not be a part of his government. Orlando Rakipi, a 27 year old newly graduated student with no previous political exposure,  ran as a candidate for the Socialist Party and managed to gather almost 16,000 votes in Tirana. Orlando is the son of Aqif Rakipi, an ex-member of parliament who was forced to resign from his public duties in light of his failure to report his  criminal dealings. 

How hard is it to overturn an election?

The result of the elections has been certified by the CEC and acknowledged by the International Community. In a preliminary report, the OSCE states that “fundamental freedoms were respected, and electoral could all campaign freely.” However, the report acknowledges much of the claims made by the Democratic Party regarding vote-buying efforts, the misuse of public funds, and the coercion of members of the public administration to vote for the government amongst others.

In order for the CEC to overturn an election, it would have to be presented with legal evidence that a number of votes sufficient to overturn the result in a specific district are invalid. Providing legal evidence of numerous cases of vote-buying is extremely difficult. Proving a causal relation between the misuse of public funds or promises made by members of the public administration to citizens in exchange for their votes is also not an easy task.

The CEC is more likely to overturn an election due to irregularities during the vote counting process, and the Democratic Party has provided proof of such instances. On the other hand, individuals who engage in vote-buying, coerce citizens or misuse public funds may be prosecuted by the State. The Democratic Party has filed several such cases with the Special Anti-Corruption-Structure (SPAK). It is imperative and in the public interest that the claims presented to SPAK should be reviewed as soon as possible. Previous cases of potential vote-buying efforts such as the infamous “case-file 184”, containing audio-recordings of members of the public administrations have still not been reviewed.

Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct

Occam’s Razor is a scientific rule which states that, for a given problem or set of data, the simplest possible theoretical explanation should be accepted. The Socialist Party has consistently denied the claims put forth by the Democrats, with the prime-minister stating that “losers focus on the winners, the winners focus on what’s ahead”

Is it really plausible to think that the database containing detailed information of 900,000 voters was used as a method to “get to know your voters”, as the SP claims? If so, why did the SP need to know where these individuals worked and whether they “needed to get anything done” from the state? Why would a member of the “vote-protection-force” shoot a person unless they acted in self-defense, especially considering the negative publicity that this would attract towards the democrats? How can it be that BIRN, a highly respectable news portal and the chief of police report two completely opposite stories regarding whether ID cards of citizens and cash was found in the car involved in the incident in Elbasan? How can it be that candidates from obscure and irrelevant parties which are de-facto ran by known criminals managed to outperform some of the most popular politicians in these elections?

The simplest explanation to these any many other questions would be one which more or less sides with the claims made by the DP. It is in the interest of the Albanian people and democracy that such claims be thoroughly examined by the judiciary as well as the CEC. A careful examination of these issues is also in the interest of the government, especially when one considers fact that only 38% of Albanians believe that the present government may be changed through elections. 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 12, 2021 10:36