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OSCE Documents Flagrant Election Violations in Albania

Prague, June 13 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says that Albania violated electoral rules during a recent parliamentary contest.

The Vienna-based OSCE says in a report made public yesterday that 32 out of 79 articles in Albania's own election law were violated during the ballotting and pre-election period.

It also says Albania failed to meet several (five of the nine) election-related commitments made by all OSCE member countries.

The OSCE's list of irregularities included flagrant deviations from the electoral law; obstruction of election observers; lack of sufficient time to organize voting; inaccurate voters lists that were not published in time and tampered with after voting; police intimidation at opposition rallies; bias by the state media and ballot counting errors.

It says that in many cases the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of signatures on the voter register. In some polling stations, comparisons of the number of votes on the register and the number of ballots in the box never took place.

The report noted cases of "people voting with several ballot papers." OSCE observers reported seeing "unidentified persons and armed civilians... playing an active role" in the voting process. Locals identified them as secret police.

President Sali Berisha's governing conservative Democratic Party won 101 out of 140 parliamentary seats in two rounds of voting on May 26 and June 2.

But most opposition parties withdrew from the election halfway through the first round. They claimed that the government had manipulated the ballot.

The OSCE says that its observers had noted numerous instances of manipulation in the conduct of the election. There were widespread reports that ballots cast for opposition parties had been altered so as to make them invalid. The report says that in many cases, huge number of ballots cast for opposition parties were later found invalid by the official electoral commission.

In one case, an observer who understood Albanian overheard the chairman of a polling station phoning somebody to apologize for being unable to deliver the required result because of the presence of international observers.

The OSCE said the second round of voting on June 2 showed fewer irregularities and significant improvements over the first round, but it cautioned that the elections had to be viewed as a whole. It said that its monitors considered that the second round "took place in an already compromised election process."

The report itself stopped short of calling for a re-run of the entire election. Its recommendations focused on suggestions for future polls.

But the findings may prompt increased pressure from the West to re-run the controversial contest.

Even before the OSCE report was issued, the European Union and the United States had called for a rerun in all constituencies where irregularities were found. Western governments said the alleged irregularities cast a shadow over the country's fledgling democracy.

Last week, Albania's Central Election Commission had ordered a re-run in 17 of the 115 constituencies because of "serious irregularities." That ballot is set to take place on June 16.

But opposition parties say 17 constituencies isn't enough. They are demanding a full investigation and new elections under democratic conditions and international scrutiny. The also have declined to take part in the partial re-run on June 16.

Berisha's Democratic Party has categorically ruled out any new polls.

But leaders of Albania's opposition Social Democrats and the Democratic Alliance have called on Austria to mediate in the political crisis.

A delegation of Albania opposition leaders is currently in Athens to discuss the issue with Greek leaders.