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Kamëz Part 2

Kamëz is a poor area, lacking in infrastructure. Normally, this would lead you to expect parties of the left to have a strong presence. Yet in Kamëz it is the ostensibly right wing Democratic Party that is dominant.

The local government elections of 2003 resulted in DP control of the municipality and a DP mayor, Agim Canaj. Canaj is not running in this election since he has had some difficulties in the past few years.

He was dismissed from his post in 2005 following allegations of involvement in issuing false birth certificates and failing to clear duplicate entries from the voters' list. The Constitutional Court later reinstated him.

The DP candidate this time round is Xhelal Mziu. Unfortunately for the DP his nomination resulted in a split in the party and the nomination of a disgruntled DP member, Remzi Tota, as an independent candidate.

Tota's registration was initially turned down by the Local Government Election Commission and by the Central Election Commission. These decisions were overturned by the Electoral College and Tota was allowed to stand.

The third candidate for mayor is Sul Cara from the LSI.

And so we found ourselves on Sunday morning standing in a schoolyard waiting for the Voting Centre Commission (VCC) to turn up and set up. Over the course of the day we visited ten voting centres and the Municipal building, where birth certificates were being issues to those who lacked proper documentation.

Without identifying particular voting centres, here are some broad impressions formed from our observations throughout the day.
  • Many of the people who made up the VCC's - 13 individuals plus a secretary for each voting centre - clearly had no idea of the procedures. Perhaps they never saw any documentation explaining these, or perhaps they saw some but never read it.
  • Either way, many of them did not know what the procedures were and appeared not to care whether they were followed or not. None of the centres we visited were free of irregularities.
  • All voters should have been marked with indelible ink - some were not; one man wiped it off and refused to have it reapplied but was still allowed to vote.
  • All voters should have signed the voters list - some did not. In a number of cases one member of a family group signed for all of them. No attempt was made to prevent this.
  • Birth certificates and supporting documents should have been retained - this rarely happened.
  • People were allowed to vote without the appropriate ID - one young man produced a driving licence, a valid supporting document but not acceptable on its own.
  • Families went to voting booths together, often in pairs, sometimes in threes. This happened at every voting centre we visited and no effort was made to prevent it.
Having noted all of this, I should say that at only one of the ten voting centres we visited did there appear to be anything suspicious happening. For the most part the procedural failings were down to incompetence or indifference.

At our final voting centre the power had gone off and we watched as the VCC attempted to process the last few voters by the light of a couple of small candles. One member stood in front of the voting booths and shone the torch on his mobile phone over the top so that people could read the ballot papers.

The power came on in time for the closing procedures, but the two underpowered light bulbs in the classroom provided even less light than the candles which were passed along the table as everyone signed the records.

The ballot boxes were then taken from the voting centre to the counting centre accompanied by a police officer. It was at this point that the process degenerated into chaos.

At the counting centre, two long lines formed, both focused on one small door which was the only means of access into the building. It was taking ten minutes for the ballot boxes from each voting centre to be processed - there were 51 voting centres.

There were at least 30 police officers present between those on duty at the counting centre and those accompanying the boxes. They conspicuously failed to manage the growing crowd outside the building, and actually contributed to the problem by failing to ensure that both lines were treated fairly in managing entry to the building.

By the time we left, ninety minutes later, the two lines had become a single crowd pushing and shoving to get to the door. It seemed to me that the police were doing as much pushing and shoving as everyone else.

We made it home about 16 hours after we left on Sunday morning. I still don't know the outcome in Kamëz . I haven't heard it mentioned on the local television channels and it has not yet appeared on the KQZ results board. If anyone knows, I would love to hear.

There will be one more post to come on this subject, with some personal reflections on the experience. Following that, those of you who are sick of politics will be pleased to hear, normal service will be resumed.


Ll.T. said…
Quick question; do you mind if I "steal" this post?

Let me know; if yes I'll be translating it and posting it tomorrow.

olli said…
Don't mind at all. In fact, flattered you feel it is worth the effort.
Ll.T. said…
Alwyn, this is a clearly written, concise description of a very important process by an unbiased observer. Believe me, it is worth it! :D


Anonymous said…
I am surprised that you expected better quality when you saw how the area looked. There are regions in albania, like this one, that no one talks about, in a way invisible regions. You cannot expect in such areas to have great elections and if international organizations get mad about the quality of elections in such areas; they are useless. Do you know the term Nusja krihet dhe fshati digjet. OSBE gets mad, but I wish they would get equally mad about the conditions in this area and more importantly, what led to such conditions that GDP and PPP consistently fail to describe.
I personally think that an election is fair if there is no manipulation of votes. As for the chaos, sad as it is, it is the least problem in this area.
olli said…
Yes, the key thing is that elections need to be fair with no manipulation of the vote. But people have to believe that the election is fair.

People will have more confidence that an election was fair if procedures for running the election were scrupulously observed with no cutting of corners.

Process matters - both to ensure a fair election and to convince people that it was fair.

Regarding Kamez, I don't see why I should lower my expectations just because people are poor. Why should they be any less able to organise an election than anyone else?

Besides, there is plenty of evidence that the same issues arose across Albania - often to a much worse degree than in Kamez.

Regarding poverty in Kamez, what exactly is it you want of us useless, greedy internationals?

To get mad about stuff? What use is that to anyone? Politicians in Albania get mad about all sorts of things at the drop of a hat, but getting mad doesn't change anything.

Albanians are responsible for the mess that is Kamez and Albanians will have to fix it.

All internationals can do is offer a bit of advice and some cash. Some provide good advice, some don't. But if you don't want or need either, instead of getting mad at them, you should persuade the Albanian government to throw them all out.

Regarding the 'minor' problem of chaos. The chaos is a result of the failure of process. And EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM in Kamez is a consequence of the absence of or failure of process - or to put it another way, the absence of or failure of an effective managerial and bureaucratic process.

We in the west may have too much bureaucracy at times, but Albania has nowhere near enough.
Ll.T. said…
OMIT, I'm going to ignore your pun about the useless, greedy internationsls :)

I started translating it this and I stopped at the first paragraph. Just a quick note on Albanian politics; if policies pursued are an indicator, the SP is sometimes much more right-wing then the DP. Plus, the newcomers owe their existence to the fact that the DP was in power from '92-'97 when the majority of them moved to the area so that is why the area leans on the side of the DP.
olli said…
Hence the 'ostensibly' in there. I decided now was not the time to critique the left-right assumptions of both the internationals and the local media.

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